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Why the disabled list is so crowded in first month is a puzzle

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Mike Pagliarulo laughed at his plight and said: "I laugh now, but that day when I hurt my hand, I was sitting in the trainer's room in disbelief. I couldn't believe it happened."

Because it happened, Dr. Charles Melone, a noted hand surgeon, successfully operated on Pagliarulo's right hand at New York University Medical Center last Tuesday. Six weeks earlier, a surgeon in Minneapolis repaired Pagliarulo's right eardrum.

Pagliarulo, who plays third base for the Minnesota Twins when he is not serving as a patient, is unique in this Season of Injuries: He is the only player who has been on the disabled list twice.

A David West pitch in a spring training intrasquad game perforated his eardrum, and a batting practice swing last week broke a bone in the palm of his hand. His hand will be in a cast for four weeks and it is likely to be two more weeks before he can swing a bat.

His injuries have been two of the more freakish ones players have suffered before or during the young season. Counting Pagliarulo twice, the major-league disabled list has registered 117 players this season, including 51 pitchers and a league-leading nine Philadelphia Phillies.

At a corresponding time last season, 93 players had been on the disabled list. When this season began, the list already had 69 players compared with 58 a year ago. That leaves 48 players who have been placed on the list since the start of the season compared with 35 last year.

Three starters for the New York Yankees (Danny Tartabull, Mike Gallego and Pat Kelly) and three for the Mets (Vince Coleman, Bill Pecota and Kevin Elster) are on the disabled list.

Clearly, more players are suffering injuries this season, but the maladies cannot be traced to any one source like lack of conditioning or too much conditioning.

Lou Piniella, who as manager of the Cincinnati Reds has seen five of his best players suffer disabling injuries, has said that maybe players are working too hard year-round on conditioning and don't give their bodies the rest they need. Piniella, however, is speaking from his perspective as a player who never worked out in the winter.

"I don't know how you find a common thread with these injuries," said Sandy Alderson, the general manager of the Oakland Athletics. "From things you hear, there's the typical grousing about injuries, scapegoating with weight lifting and not throwing enough in the minors and all the other stuff.

"But basically we're talking about far better-conditioned athletes than ever before. We have to make sure our conditioning methods are staying up with the capacity of players in terms of strength and speed and the stress they put on their bodies."

Bob Quinn, Cincinnati's general manager, noted that most of the Reds' injuries have stemmed from players' playing hard. Shortstop Barry Larkin, who injured his knee, collided with left fielder Glenn Braggs as they chased a fly ball. Braggs survived that episode but separated his shoulder in a collision with an outfield fence. Chris Sabo hurt his ankle sliding, and Hal Morris suffered a broken hand when he was hit by a pitch.

"There have been an inordinate number of collisions,," Quinn said. But collisions aren't the only cause of the noticeable clumps of injuries. Pitched balls, batted balls, sliding and diving also have produced disabling injuries.

For the most part, injured players are put on the 15-day disabled list; there is no maximum number of days a player can spend on the list.

Besides Pagliarulo's eardrum and Morris' hand, pitched balls have broken wrists or hands of Lenny Dykstra, Andres Galarraga, Derek Bell and Tommy Gregg, who was hurt in an exhibition game.

"Hands and wrists are so vulnerable," Melone said. "We're trying find ways to protect them more."

Wrists and hands have become more vulnerable because pitchers are starting to throw inside again and some batters are still "diving" toward the plate to hit the ball.

Pitching inside to keep batters from standing too close to the plate had become a lost practice, but the preaching of pitching coaches has begun to penetrate pitchers' minds. Throwing inside will also gain the attention of batters.

"Morris is a dive-in type of hitter," Quinn said. "He tends to dive into the pitch. When a batter is moving in when the delivery is made, it's tough to recoil. You teach going into the pitch, not moving away from it."

Terry Steinbach, Oakland's catcher, suffered a hairline fracture of his wrist behind the plate when he was struck by a foul tip. Andy Ashby, a rookie pitcher for the Phillies, broke his thumb the other day when a line drive hit it.

Rickey Jordan, his teammate, suffered a broken jaw in spring training when he was hit by a line drive in batting practice.

The disabled list census doesn't include Matt Keough, who continues to recuperate from brain surgery after a foul ball hit him in the head while he sat in the dugout during an exhibition game.

Larkin was one of two shortstops disabled in collisions with left fielders. But Ozzie Guillen of the Chicago White Sox was hurt far more severely, and his knee injury has knocked him out for the season.

Then there are players who hurt themselves sliding. Kent Hrbek of Minnesota did it in an exhibition game, Sabo in the second game of the season and Dave Gallagher of the Mets last Sunday. Jose Oquendo of St. Louis and Kelly of the Yankees, both second basemen, put themselves out by incurring injuries when they dived for ground balls.

Oquendo dislocated his shoulder in the Cardinals' opener. Galarraga, the team's first baseman, broke his wrist in the second game. Then the Cards lost Bryn Smith, their starting pitcher in the third game, after 2 2/3 innings with an elbow ailment.

The Cardinals should have known it was going to be that kind of season when a reserve infielder, Geronimo Pena, suffered a broken collarbone in an early spring training workout when he tripped over his glove as he went for a ground ball and fell.

The Reds have had to disable six players, five of whom are RTC integral to their quest for a pennant. Morris, Larkin and Sabo comprise three-quarters of their starting infield, Jose Rijo is their No. 1 starting pitcher and Rob Dibble their No. 1 reliever.

The Cardinals have had eight players on the disabled list, but they are only tied for second with the Athletics and the Texas Rangers. The Phillies have had nine players on the list, including two pitchers (Ken Howell and Jose DeJesus) they had hoped would be in their starting rotation and one (Ashby) who replaced one of them.

Their corps of injured also included Dykstra, who missed 99 games last year, most of them because of a car crash. The team's catalyst, he suffered a broken wrist in this season's opener and missed 15 games.

The Mets have had a similar experience with their so-called catalyst, Coleman. A hamstring injury limited him to 70 starts last season, and in the fourth game of this season he strained the hamstring again. He hasn't played since.

The Yankees released Alvaro Espinoza, who had been their starting shortstop for three seasons, and gave the job to Gallego, who has been on the disabled list all season with a bruised heel.

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