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Sticks and stones

Note: Some sources refute that Brian Roberts' discomfort could be from back spasms and not kidney stones, contrary to Buster Olney's initial report.

Word out of Baltimore Orioles camp today is that Brian Roberts is suffering with kidney stones. If you’ve ever suffered from that dreaded affliction, then you know that Robert Johnson was right when he sang that if you have stones in your passway, then your road seems dark at night. At one time, I was too ignorant to know this. Back in August, 1997, Tony Gwynn was enjoying his last great season. He was hitting .383, within striking distance of the .400 average that he just missed in the shortened 1994 season. I was rooting for him, so when he had to step out of the lineup with kidney stones, whatever they were, I was sorely disappointed. I hadn’t read the reports of his discomfort. According to an AP story at the time: "Gwynn… writhed in pain on the floor of the trainer’s room in the visitor’s clubhouse at Wrigley Field on Saturday, covered in blankets." Had I done so, I probably wouldn’t have had any thoughts along the lines of, "Oh, come on, Tony, man up. Get back on the field and hit .400 already."

The universe has a way of punishing you for a lack of sympathy. About three years later, I found out what kidney stones were like. A year later, I found out again. In fact, I have been forced to apologize to Tony about eight times, almost once for each year since 2000, most recently in November. I have been told that kidney stone pain is comparable to that of natural childbirth or a gunshot wound. I haven’t had either of those experiences, but I can testify that on a scale of one to 10, kidney-stone pain is an 11, a real 11 -- not the Spinal Tap kind. Decency forbids me from mentioning some of the particular sensations that affect the male of the species as his body tries different tactics to cope with the presence of a rock in his guts.

As such: Brian Roberts, get well soon. That you have been condemned to spend your life as the Orioles’ second baseman probably means you did something cosmically wrong somewhere. You don’t deserve this. Drink plenty of fluids, down some Flomax and good luck.

George King had a piece in the Post today about the Yankees’ batting order. The main concern, at least in the article, is whether Curtis Granderson or Nick Johnson will bat second, following Derek Jeter. Whoops! There we go again, supplying binary solution-sets to complex problems. If Granderson or Johnson bats second against right-handers, the differences will really be incremental, assuming each does about what they’ve typically done in their careers. You lose a few walks with Granderson there, but gain some power as well as double-play-saving strikeouts and speed. Johnson’s aforementioned walks should go some way towards offsetting the extra double-plays he would hit into.

The bigger, more important question is "Who hits second against left-handed pitching?" because that’s not something that Granderson, with his career-long struggles against southpaws, should be asked to do. Perhaps Kevin Long can help him in that regard, but it seems like a long shot given length and depth of the player’s career

record. If nothing changes, Granderson shouldn’t bat second against lefties: he should bat 10th or 11th, which is another way of saying that he should probably take the day off against the tougher lefties. Between defense and home park effects, you might prefer to leave him in the lineup, albeit lower down, against select southpaws when the Yankees are in the Bronx. The rest of the time, it would be better to try Johnson, who has had success against lefties in his career, Randy Winn, who conceivably might hit left-handers again, Brett Gardner, who had a .381 on-base percentage against lefties last year in a small sample (let’s guess he can slap-hit against most pitchers, just for the sake of argument), or just do what Billy Martin did with Don Mattingly and forget all about the #2 hitter and move Mark Teixeira up to second in the order. Or put Nick Swisher there, as happened several times last year. Really, anything else.

Essentially, the correct answers are, "Granderson or Johnson most of the time, whatever you feel like, it’s all copacetic," and "Anyone in the universe except Granderson when Scott Kazmir comes to town." It doesn’t have to be an either-or thing.

The chat I spoke of earlier this week has been delayed until next week. More info to follow. In the meantime, after much hesitation I’ve revved up Wholesome Reading again. Warning: politics!