Oswalt looking better

Despite a few days' reprieve with the All-Star break, the second half of the season is not lacking for injury content. Several players have come back from injury since the second half of the season started (David Ortiz, Alfonso Soriano), a few are still on the mend (Kerry Wood) and new injuries continue to crop up. We take a look at some of the key fantasy players dealing with injury below, and welcome back another Tommy John graduate this week.

Roy Oswalt, P, Houston Astros: Oswalt is scheduled to return to the mound Monday against the Cincinnati Reds after two uneventful bullpen sessions last week. Oswalt has been sidelined with what the team has been calling a hip abductor strain, although a recent MRI also confirmed a disk problem in his lower back. The two problems certainly appear to be connected, since Oswalt told the Houston Chronicle several weeks ago that a spinal injection left him feeling "great." In fact, it is difficult to completely dissociate the two problems since disk injury in the lower back often contributes, either directly or indirectly, to hip problems. The abductor muscles help to move the hip laterally, and perhaps more importantly in Oswalt's case since the involved leg is his landing leg, contribute to stability of the pelvis. I said in a prior blog that I would not be surprised to see Oswalt end up on the disabled list due to the complex nature of his injury. He has no doubt benefited from the rest and rehab afforded him during his stint on the disabled list, and the good news is that he has been able to throw off a mound recently without pain. His first bullpen session was Wednesday, at which point the Astros' official site reported that Oswalt threw at approximately 75-80 percent of full strength. On Friday he upped his intensity but capped the pitches at about 25-30 according to the Houston Chronicle. He also faced a pair of teammates in an effort to prepare for Monday's outing. Manager Cecil Cooper told the Chronicle that he expects Oswalt to throw about 90 pitches, which may be optimistic for his first outing. The concern with the type of problem that Oswalt has is recurrence. This is not a ligament sprain waiting to heal with a fairly definitive timetable. This is a more complex interplay of disk dysfunction, which tends to be chronic, and a related muscle group (hip abductors) involved in a very repetitive motion (pitching). If all goes well, it may still take Oswalt some time to build up the endurance to go deep into a game. Fantasy owners should be cautious.

Aaron Harang, P, Cincinnati Reds: As Oswalt prepares to face the Reds, the Reds are hoping for the return of one of their aces in the not too distant future. Harang, who has been on the disabled list with forearm stiffness, was able to throw from a distance of 70 feet Tuesday and surprised himself with how good he felt. On the Reds' official Web site, Harang acknowledged feeling tentative at the start of the session as he wanted to make sure that there "wasn't something there," but as the arm continued to respond, Harang said he was able to let go a little. He is scheduled to throw off a mound Monday, which will further test the forearm as he will be forced to throw harder. If the session goes well, the Reds should be able to lay out a better timetable for Harang's return, but at this point it would appear that it could happen within a couple of weeks. The fact that Harang's issues appear to have been primarily muscular, as opposed to ligamentous or a joint injury in the elbow, bodes well for his successful return.

Jose Guillen, OF, Kansas City Royals: Guillen made a decision to remain in Saturday's game after reportedly feeling his groin "snap" in the fifth inning, and came to regret it, according to the Kansas City Star. Guillen acknowledged that he couldn't even walk right after the incident and seemed to be questioning aloud why he didn't put an end to his misery sooner. Guillen was not active for Sunday's game and although he is slated to play Monday, it would not be a surprise if his status changes since Guillen himself told the Star that he pulled the groin "worse than the first time this season." Keep in mind that Guillen has also missed games in July due to back spasms and in June due to a sore hip. The musculoskeletal issues seem to be catching up with Guillen and if he cannot play effectively, it would not be a surprise if the team grants him some additional rest, despite the fact that the Royals could use his services early this week as they face the Oakland A's. While it appears that the latest setback is not particularly serious, these things can have a cumulative impact. Keep a close eye on Guillen's status this week.

Brian McCann, C, Atlanta Braves: The Braves have certainly faced their share of injury woes this season and it does not appear to be letting up. McCann took on a tough collision at the plate Sunday with Phillies outfielder Shane Victorino and the end result was a concussion. He was able to walk off the field under his own power and X-rays were negative, but it is impossible to determine with any certainty how much time he will miss. Given the long absence of the Toronto Blue Jays' Aaron Hill, out since late May after a concussion, and the persistent and recurrent symptoms that the New York Mets' Ryan Church has faced this season, one thing is certain: It is impossible to truly determine the severity of a concussion at the time of injury. Loss of consciousness, while serious, is not necessarily an indicator of concussion severity. The main thing for McCann at this point is to rest until all symptoms clear. He will then be allowed to progressively resume activity and he will be monitored to see if any symptoms, such as dizziness, nausea or headache, return with that activity. McCann will not be in the Monday lineup.

And in the good news department

We always like to end on a high note, so this week's good news is that Chris Carpenter returns to the lineup for the St. Louis Cardinals. Carpenter, who has been out since 2007 following Tommy John surgery, is expected to start Wednesday for the Cardinals. This would be his first start since Opening Day last year. His recent rehab starts are encouraging in that he has showed progressively reasonable command, something pitchers often struggle with early in their return from this procedure. Although he will no doubt continue to improve during his first few outings, there is reason to believe that Carpenter can contribute immediately. For fantasy owners, don't set unreasonable expectations, but he may be a good value pitcher, especially by late August when he will likely go deeper into games.