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July 19, 2010 at 11:26 PM

Russell Branyan says latest back injury not comparable to the one he had last season

Well, at least we can give you good news seekers another “positive” of sorts to come out of this ash pile.
Russell Branyan told us after the game that the back injury that sidelined in the fifth inning isn’t at all like the one that knocked him out for most of August and September last season and then part of this past April with Cleveland.
The biggest difference?
“I don’t have pain down my leg,” he said. “Last year, I had some pain down my leg and a lot of tightness and stiffness in my butt. This is really, centrally in my lower back and like a spasm. So, hopefully, we treat it, it responds and it gets better in a day or so.”
Branyan says he didn’t actually hurt his back running the bases on his RBI double or his double-play grounder.
“I felt it a little before the game and I felt like I could play through it because it didn’t feel that bad,” Branyan said. “But as the game went on I just got a little bit of a spasm and just decided not to take a chance.”
He’ll be re-evaluated tomorrow, as will Rob Johnson, who left in the eighth inning after feeling spasms in his hip.
Some of you don’t care much about Branyan, given his age, but I do think he’s an important component of this team. First, he is a guy you can bring back rather cheaply as a bonafide power hitter next season — even in a rebuilding year. You’ve got to have somebody who can drive in runs.
Second, this team is at a precarious stage right now.

Some of you, I know, would like to see the M’s crash through the floor and pick up the No. 1 overall draft pick.
That’s a nice fantasy, but it’s highly unlikely to happen. And even if it did, the impact of this team losing 102 or even 105 games could possibly offset the benefit of landing that pick. Think of what a season like that could do to ticket sales and future payrolls.
Yes, many of you know that there is no significant difference between 95 losses and 105 losses.
But the public at-large may not see it that way. The image of this team could take a serious beating if it somehow manages to lose more than the 2008 team did. A stigma like that could take several years to overcome, both with the general public and in attracting other players to Seattle.
It’s the reason Branyan was acquired in the first place. To avoid having this season turn into the out-and-out disaster it could still become.
And believe me, while I wouldn’t bet the farm on this team losing 102 games, I’m not prepared to rule it out. The M’s are starting to lose all-too-routinely. If it’s not the offense, it’s the bullpen, or an overmatched starting pitcher. Davind Pauley pitched OK tonight, but frankly, not well enough to win. He admitted afterwards that he was falling behind guys too much, especially in the first and fifth innings. Pauley is still a work in progress, as is Ryan Rowland-Smith and even Doug Fister.
So, when the M’s lose a game started by Felix Hernandez, there’s always a five-game losing streak lurking just around the corner. In other words, this squad can’t afford to strand 10 runners and score just once in a game in which they draw five walks.
This team needs Branyan’s bat and some others. But especially Branyan’s. Or else, this could get real ugly. Even uglier than in 2008, minus some of the backbiting, though, who knows? There are still two-plus months to go.
This is one reason why I doubt Branyan gets traded. Nor any of the late-inning bullpen guys. The folks running this team do not want a 2008 repeat.
Dropping 13 of 16 is getting into Pittsburgh Pirates territory. And this schedule, post-break, is brutal for a team that just traded away Cliff Lee and is trying to find some offensive legs. You get Boston next, then the White Sox in Chicago — where two of the Chisox flyballs caught at the track tonight would have been home runs — and the Twins in Minnesota.
There’s also a Boston-New York trip in mid-August. So, no, it doesn’t get easier.
And believe it or not, there is still more at-stake here than finding out what Justin Smoak can do. Or Michael Saunders. The M’s want to find out what both can do, of course. But they’d rather not do it while losing 105 games in the process. They need Branyan back ASAP and then will likely not gut the team any more going forward.
Unload the contract of Jack Wilson and maybe trade an underperforming Jose Lopez? Sure, that could happen. But none of the guys actually producing what’s expected — or close to it — are going to go anyplace. The M’s don’t want their brand eroded any more than it already has been this season.
But the way this team is playing — good enough to lose just about every time out — it’s a huge possibility.



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