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Monday, March 22, 2010

SPH 2010 Shoulder Surgery Survey (March)

About a month ago I outlined my intentions to follow the trials and tribulations of eight starting pitchers attempting to return from shoulder surgeries in 2010.  We have gotten off to an auspicious start.  When Spring Training began, at least six of our eight participants were aiming to make the Opening Day roster.  Now, with the regular season about two weeks away, that number is falling fast.

Brandon Webb, the most notable pitcher in the group, complained in early March that he felt "stagnant." Unable to build upon his early progress, he has resigned himself to opening the season on the D.L. and is aiming for a late April return, at the earliest.

Chien-Ming Wang, another former Ace, trying to make a comeback with the Nationals, threw his first bullpen session on Wednesday.  While reports were very positive regarding Wang's control and the movement on his sinker, two concerns following his disastrous '09 season, the timetable for his return has been tentatively set for early May.  With Stephen Strasburg headed to the minors and Wang joining Ross Detwiler and Jordan Zimmerman on the D.L., the Nats are forced to audition guys like Garrett Mock and J. D. Martin for the rotation.

Ted Lilly, whose surgery this offseason was supposed to be "routine," suffered a couple early setbacks and has yet to appear in a preseason game.  He threw off the mound for the first time this week and is optimistic he could be ready by the middle of April.  The Cubs don't need a fifth starter until April 19th.

Dustin McGowan made a Spring Training start on Friday, but as he surgery was more invasive than Lilly's his rehabilitation process is dramatically longer.  Since Toronto is in rebuilding mode and have a number of starting pitchers who they'd like to have a long look at in 2010, they will not rush McGowan, who is certainly one of the most talented in the group.  He was capable of throwing in the high 90s prior to the injury, but hadn't thrown a pitch for about eighteen months.  He will build up his arm strength during an extended Spring Training, likely followed by a long rehab assignment working his way up through the Jays minor-league system.  If all goes well, I'd bet on a June return to Toronto.

Erik Bedard, who the Mariners re-signed with the full knowledge that he was unlikely to return prior to June, has been cleared to throw his first bullpen session this week.  Seattle GM, Jack Zduriencik, even speculates that Bedard may be a little ahead of schedule.  However, I wouldn't put much stock in any diagnosis when Bedard has yet to throw off a mound.  The Marines signed him hoping to get half a season.  Hopefully, they'll stick with that timetable for his return.

While most of our roster won't make an active roster this April, there is some good news as well.

The Tigers' Jeremy Bonderman has made four Spring Training appearances and is likely to make the Opening Day rotation.  His overall numbers are skewed by a very rough outing in early March, but in his last two outing he's thrown a total of six innings, allowing eight hits and three earned runs, while walking two and striking out four.  Bonderman is struggling to regain his control after missing most of the last two season, which is to be expected, but he's throwing the ball in the mid-nineties, an encouraging sign that he will could eventually regain the velocity he featured prior to surgery.  The Tigers rotation hasn't been set, but Bonderman would probably make his first start against Cleveland in the Tigers first home series, April 9th through 11th.

Jeff Francis of the Rockies is also on schedule for an early April return.  He's thrown nine innings so far this spring and is one schedule to throw 85-95 pitches in his first regular season start, which will likely be the Rockies home opener against San Diego on April 9th.

Finally, Freddy Garcia is on track to make his first start on the 11th against Minnesota.  Garcia was able to make nine starts at the end of 2009 and is now more than two year removed from his surgery, so the White Sox haven't been treating the veteran with any kid gloves this spring, never questioning that he would be their #5 starter.

With the possible exception of Garcia, who the White Sox believe will be capable of pitching deep into games, as he did during his tenure with them from 2004 to 2006, most of these pitchers will be on strick pitch counts during the opening months.  For Francis and Lilly, who have always made their livings pitching to contact, that shouldn't be a terrible problem.  For Bonderman and McGowan, that could be a major adjustment, as both are strikeout artists who tend towards high pitch counts even when they are throwing well.  

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