Back in the swing of things

The road to recovery is almost over for several pitchers hoping for a fresh start in 2010, writes Janie McCayley

At last, Jake Peavy is at the point where he doesn't think about his tender ankle or worry about what might happen next to derail his tenure with the Chicago White Sox. "I think I've just now come out of that," Peavy said. "Last year I really pushed the envelope trying to get out there because I thought I owed it to my teammates, the fans."

Peavy, the 2007 Pitcher of the Year in Major League Baseball, is thrilled to be on the comeback trail. He is nearing the end of an ordeal many top pitchers know so well - and he is not the only one eager to get going in 2010. Johan Santana of the New York Mets is healthy again after the two-time award-winning pitcher had surgery on his left elbow late last season. Then there are Ben Sheets, Justin Duchscherer and Joey Devine, all on the Oakland Athletics' roster. They did not throw one pitch between them in 2009.

Others are not quite ready but are working hard to return: Boston's Daisuke Matsuzaka, Arizona's Brandon Webb and Washington's Wang Chien-ming. For managers, pitchers present a fine line, a balance in pushing these players to regain their former form while also protecting them from further problems. "Especially being the main guy on their ball club, I have a sense that these guys will try to go out there and maybe accelerate something they can't accelerate," Joe Torre, the Los Angeles Dodgers manager, said. "I don't think it's going to be physical problems long-term for them, but I think they're going to probably find they're going to have to be a little more patient.

"I read where Webb started off really good and then they backed off a little bit. Pitching is pretty unique in what you do, especially the guys who have all this responsibility I think they're going to feel it. Jake Peavy's one, too." Peavy missed three months last season for San Diego after injuring a tendon in his right ankle. He was traded to Chicago late in the season and won all three games he started for his new team. All of that after he was shut down for a time in 2008 with an inflamed elbow.

"It's not that people were impatient but I just felt like I owed it to them after the trade," Peavy said. "When you trade four players for a guy, to kind of be absent wasn't what I wanted to do. I wanted to end the season just how we ended it, on a positive note saying, 'Hey, this guy can help us win a championship next year.' "It was a positive note but I still wasn't 100 per cent healthy." Peavy is among a long list of big-name pitchers hoping for successful, healthy seasons in 2010. Matsuzaki, Webb and Erik Bedard, the Seattle lefty, probably will begin the season on the disabled list, all because of shoulder problems.

Meanwhile, Seattle's new No 1 starter and 2008 Cy Young Award winner, Cliff Lee, is coming back from an operation on his foot and has been nursing an abdominal strain that could delay his Mariners debut. Tim Hudson cannot wait for a fresh start with the Atlanta Braves, who rewarded him with a US$28 million (Dh103m), three-year contract in November. They are counting on him staying in the rotation.Hudson, a former 20-game winner in Oakland, was the Braves' ace until injuring his elbow in 2008. He had surgery and missed an entire year. Hudson returned late last year to go 2-1 with a 3.61 ERA in seven starts, showing the manager Bobby Cox and the Braves that he may be his old self again. Mike Scioscia, the LA Angels manager, said monitoring these pitchers' progress and health often comes down to experience.

Do you trust those veteran guys to know how to best handle their own bodies, or do they still require constant attention? Scioscia said he is always in favour of a pitcher doing less work in the spring to make sure he is healthy over the long haul of a 162-game season. "You're a little more concerned with young pitchers trying to impress you," he said. "With veterans they will usually have some kind of a baseline that says, 'I know where I need to be.' It comes in all forms."

* AP