Big Unit, Jered Weaver Among Pitchers Hoping To Get Healthy This Spring

Saturday, February 17th 2007, 9:35 pm
By: News On 6

Randy Johnson arrived at spring training ready to work his way back from surgery, while Jered Weaver is confident his sore arm won't slow him down too much.

Back with the Arizona Diamondbacks, Johnson made the familiar trek down Interstate 10 from his Paradise Valley home and found his name on the same spring training locker he occupied during the best seasons of his extraordinary career.

After two tumultuous years with the New York Yankees, the Big Unit is obviously comfortable with his return to Arizona. And he believes his offseason back surgery will allow him to be a strong starter again -- if not the dominant pitcher he was in his first stint with the Diamondbacks.

"I'm very optimistic that the tough part is behind me now," the 43-year-old Johnson said Saturday in Tucson, Ariz. "It's just now getting out on the mound and proving to myself and everybody else, and then everything else will fall in its place."

While the rest of the pitchers and catchers worked out on minor league fields, Johnson played catch with trainer Ken Crenshaw and rode a stationary bike. The five-time Cy Young Award winner said he probably could throw off a mound right now, but is taking a cautious approach that would have him doing so sometime next week. He is not expected to be ready until mid-to-late April.

"We'll just continue to stay on this schedule and progressively add things as my body allows it," Johnson said.

The Los Angeles Angels are being careful with Weaver, who has tendinitis in his biceps and will be limited early in spring training. He is not expected to throw off a mound for a while -- perhaps about two weeks.

"I'm just going to work into it slow until it loosens up a little bit," Weaver said in Tempe, Ariz.

But the right-hander, who went 11-2 with a 2.56 ERA as a rookie last season, downplayed any talk about the injury, pointing to an MRI he had a few weeks ago.

"Everything came out negative," Weaver said. "It's just a matter of working it out."

The Angels are already without 2005 AL Cy Young Award winner Bartolo Colon, who is not expected to pitch this spring after tearing his rotator cuff last year. The Angels aren't sure when he'll be able to return to the mound.

The Florida Marlins also have a key pitcher who is ailing. Josh Johnson, who went 12-7 with a 3.10 ERA as a rookie last year, has been sidelined since January because of a sore right forearm – and there's still no timeframe for when he'll start throwing.

"We're going to back him off a little bit and maybe go a little slower with him," new manager Fredi Gonzalez said in Jupiter, Fla. "There's a little bit of concern here, but nothing major."

Two other top pitchers coming off injuries did get back on the mound Saturday, and both looked good.

Rich Harden, Oakland's No. 1 starter following the departure of Barry Zito, threw 30 pitches during a closely watched session in Phoenix. The right-hander made only nine starts last year because of back and elbow injuries.

"I'm trying not to do too much too early and build up arm strength," Harden said. "My command felt good this early. More importantly, my body felt good."

Tampa Bay lefty Scott Kazmir said the same after he worked off a mound in St. Petersburg, Fla. An All-Star last season, Kazmir had his season cut short by left shoulder inflammation.

"It felt real free, real easy," he said. "It's kind of at the point where you want to test it out as far as you can. But this is not the time to do it right now. ... I feel really good where I'm at."

So does Seattle starter Felix Hernandez, who has lost about 20 pounds from the pudgy frame he had in spring training last year, which he finished 12-14 with a 4.52 ERA.

Now, he says he's more confident.

"I don't like to have a bad year," Hernandez said in Peoria, Ariz. "I don't like to lose. It's motivation for me."

The Baltimore Orioles avoided arbitration with one of their best pitchers, agreeing to a $3.4 million, one-year contract with Erik Bedard.

He had asked for $4 million in arbitration, while the Orioles offered $2.7 million. The left-hander went 15-11 with a 3.76 ERA in 33 starts last season, when he earned $1,625,000.

"We feel like it is certainly a good deal for the player and we're happy to get through this process," Orioles executive vice president Mike Flanagan said.

The case had been scheduled to be heard Tuesday.

Miguel Cabrera did go to a hearing with the Marlins, becoming the first player to win in arbitration this year when the All-Star 3rd baseman was awarded a $7.4 million salary Saturday instead of the team's offer of $6.7 million.

"It was a lot of money either way for a great player," Florida general manager Larry Beinfest said.

Cabrera made $472,000 last year and was eligible for arbitration for the first time. He was second in the NL last season with a .339 batting average, and he had 26 homers and 114 RBIs.

Cabrera received the third-highest salary in arbitration, trailing only the $10 million Alfonso Soriano earned after losing to Washington last year and the $8.2 million Andruw Jones got when he defeated Atlanta in 2001.