Archive for Monday, February 18, 2008

Two comeback stories add another chapter

February 18, 2008

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The first weekend of spring training was potentially pivotal in two of baseball's longest running comeback stories.

The Mike Hampton Comeback, Version 2008 got off to a solid start in Kissimmee, Fla., on Sunday, a day after The Annual Mark Prior Hopefest debuted to enthusiastic reviews in Peoria, Ariz.

Hampton, who hasn't pitched in two years for the Braves, is now in the final year of the infamous eight-year, $121 million deal he signed with Colorado in 2001. He's back on the mound, trying to show in the early days of spring training that he's still got a little something left in that scarred-up pitching arm.

"I've been preparing for this day since the day after the surgery," Hampton said. "I'm excited."

San Diego must feel the same way about Prior. The 27-year-old former phenom joined the Padres on Dec. 26 after spending six seasons with the Cubs, signing a one-year, incentive-laden contract.

His day on the mound was Saturday, when he threw 31 pitches. The big news came Sunday: no soreness.

"It felt good," Prior said. "I felt pretty comfortable on the mound. I was able to focus more on some spots than mechanics and arm."

An 18-game winner with the Chicago Cubs in 2003, Prior hasn't pitched in the major leagues since Aug. 10, 2006. The right-hander had shoulder surgery last season and isn't expected back until mid-May or possibly June. He has been placed on the disabled list nine times in his six-year career, including six times since the start of 2005.

Prior is throwing off the mound every fifth day while doing various rehab activities in between. Prior said he's playing long toss at distances up to 130 feet with accuracy. He said he was encouraged when he began playing long toss beyond 80 feet during January workouts at Petco Park, a feat he hadn't performed in two offseasons.

Two other veteran hurlers took the mound Sunday, with encouraging results.

At Tucson, Ariz., 44-year-old Randy Johnson of the Diamondbacks threw off a mound, impressing his manager and his catcher. Six months ago, Johnson had his second back surgery in less than a year.

At Lakeland, Fla., 43-year-old Kenny Rogers of Detroit had to be coerced into ending his session on the mound.

Tigers pitching coach Chuck Hernandez stepped between Rogers and the bullpen catcher, ending the session Sunday.

"Get out of here!" Hernandez shouted.

Rogers reluctantly walked away, with sweat on his brow and grass stains on his knees.

"I just keep going until Chuck stops me," Rogers said with a smile.

He started just 11 games last year - his fewest since becoming a starter in 1993 - because of two stints on the disabled list.

Just before the season began, Rogers had surgery to remove a blood clot from his left shoulder and was on the DL until late June. He was sidelined again a month later with a left-elbow injury, which an exam later revealed didn't include any tearing.

"But nothing I have works the way you want it to," he said. "That's the way it is unfortunately."

Teammate Nate Robertson isn't buying it.

"I call him the biggest sandbagger on the team because he downplays every thing he does - his golf game, fielding his position, playing cards," Robertson said.

As for Johnson, the results were extremely positive.

"He came out throwing bullets the first pitch he threw," Diamondbacks manager Bob Melvin said. "As I've discussed before, the arm's not the issue here. I haven't talked to him since he finished, but I think he's probably pretty pleased with the way it went."

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