March 28, 2010 in Sports

Something to prove

Big-name pitchers hit the comeback trail
By The Spokesman-Review
 
Associated Press photo

Chicago White Sox right-hander Jake Peavy won a National League Cy Young Award while pitching for the San Diego Padres.
(Full-size photo)

TEMPE, Ariz. – Jake Peavy is pitching again with a clear head.

At last, the 2007 N.L. Cy Young Award winner is at the point where he doesn’t think about his tender ankle or worry about what might happen next to derail his young 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.”

He is thrilled to be on the comeback trail and at the end of an ordeal many top pitchers know so well – and he’s not the only one eager to get going in 2010.

New York Mets ace Johan Santana is healthy again after the two-time Cy Young winner had surgery on his left elbow late last season. Then there’s Ben Sheets, Justin Duchscherer and Joey Devine on the Oakland Athletics alone. They didn’t throw one pitch between them in 2009.

Others aren’t quite ready but are working hard to return: Boston Red Sox star Daisuke Matsuzaka, Arizona ace Brandon Webb and Chien-Ming Wang of the Washington Nationals.

Minnesota Twins closer Joe Nathan needed season-ending Tommy John elbow surgery and was set to begin the emotionally and physically demanding process that comes with a major injury and working back through countless hours of rehabilitation.

For managers, pitchers especially 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 ballclub, I have a sense that these guys will try to go out there and maybe accelerate something they can’t accelerate,” Los Angeles Dodgers manager Joe Torre 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 returned for all of three starts with his new team after Chicago dealt for him just before the trading deadline. He didn’t pitch again until September. 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 percent healthy.”

The right-hander is among a long list of big-name pitchers hoping for successful, healthy seasons in 2010.

Like Dice-K and Webb, Seattle lefty Erik Bedard probably will begin the season on the disabled list. He is returning from shoulder surgery, while new No. 1 starter and 2008 A.L. Cy Young Award winner Cliff Lee is coming off an operation on his foot and has been nursing an abdominal strain that could delay his Mariners debut.

Tim Hudson can’t wait for a fresh start with the Atlanta Braves, who rewarded the right-hander with a $28 million, three-year contract in November. They’re counting on him staying in the rotation.

Hudson, a former 20-game winner in Oakland, was the Braves’ ace until injuring his elbow during the 2008 season. He underwent Tommy John surgery and missed an entire year.

Hudson returned late in ’09 to go 2-1 with a 3.61 ERA in his seven starts, showing manager Bobby Cox and the Braves that he may be his old self again.

Webb is still working his way back from August shoulder surgery.

Matsuzaka is dealing with continued shoulder trouble, more bad news in Beantown considering the Red Sox paid $103 million to acquire the right-hander before the 2007 season.

Dice-K, an 18-game winner in 2008, was limited to 12 starts last season because of a lengthy stint on the DL with a strained shoulder.

Wang, a two-time 19-game winner for the Yankees before joining Washington this winter, went 1-6 with a 9.54 ERA for New York last season before a shoulder injury ended his year in late July. He then had surgery.

Sheets joins Duchscherer, who missed all of 2009 because of an elbow injury and was later treated for clinical depression. Devine, a top reliever on the club, didn’t pitch last season following Tommy John surgery.

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