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Concussions becoming a bigger issue in baseball

Baseball officials are beginning to acknowledge that head injuries are not just a part of football and hockey.

September 05, 2010

Head cases wortha closer look

Minnesota's Justin Morneau hasn't played a game since the week before the All-Star game. The New York Mets' Jason Bay hasn't played one since the week after. And no one can say for certain when either player will be back.

Both continue to suffer from the aftereffects of concussions — Morneau after getting banged in the head by the knee of Toronto's John McDonald and Bay after banging into the outfield wall at Dodger Stadium.

Morneau's former teammate, third baseman Corey Koskie, had his career ended by a similar injury in 2006. So while concussions have long been an issue in football and hockey, they're now becoming one in baseball too.

Consider how far the Mets have come. Two seasons ago outfielder Ryan Church sustained two concussions in less than three months yet the team allowed him to fly — and to play — despite the fact he reported having concussion-related side effects. But Bay, who only recently began working out again with the hope of returning to the field this month, was forced to sit until he could go two full days without a headache.

This year Minor League Baseball made mandatory the use of a bulky and ungainly new batting helmet designed to prevent brain injuries. The helmet wouldn't have helped Morneau, Bay or Koskie, who were all hurt while in the field. But it's a start — as well as an acknowledgement that head injuries are part of baseball too.

"It's good for the industry that we're learning more about it," Mets General Manager Omar Minaya told USA Today.

Arms limitationsscuttling Giants

Starting pitching was supposed to be the San Francisco Giants' strength. Instead it's become their Achilles' heel as they struggle to keep up with the pitching-rich San Diego Padres and Philadelphia Phillies in playoff races.

The top of the rotation has been especially troubling for San Francisco. Two-time Cy Young award winner Tim Lincecum, who won nine of 13 decisions with a 3.16 earned-run average in the first half, has gone 3-5 with a 4.65 ERA since the All-Star break. And Barry Zito, 7-4 before the break, was 1-6 in the second half heading into Friday's start against the Dodgers.

Zito, looking for his first winning season since signing a $126-million contract with the Giants four years ago, entered the weekend winless since mid-July and will finish with double-digit losses for the eighth consecutive season.

Lincecum, a wisp of a pitcher with a complex windup, has thrown more pitches over the last three seasons than all but three big league pitchers. That may explain why his velocity dropped noticeably during a career-worst five-game losing streak, which he snapped last Wednesday with a brilliant eight-inning effort against Colorado.

The win was the first quality start in five tries for Lincecum. He and Zito will need more of those if they hope to keep pitching in October.

Carlos Marmoland the K Factor

Cubs closer Carlos Marmol is on pace to shatter an impressive, if almost unrecognized, record.

Entering the weekend, Marmol had struck out 114 batters in 63 1/3 innings — an average of 16.20 per nine innings. No pitcher who has thrown more than 14 innings in a season has averaged as many as 15 strikeouts per nine innings. Former Dodger Eric Gagne holds the record, with 14.98 strikeouts per nine innings in 2003.

— Kevin Baxter

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