Schmidt working shoulder into shape
Not expected to be ready for Opening Day, righty feeling better
VERO BEACH, Fla. -- Jason Schmidt won't start Spring Training with a normal pitcher's routine and is not expected to be ready for Opening Day.
"We're not planning on him being ready when the season starts," Dodgers manager Joe Torre said on Thursday. "I'm not saying he won't be. But I don't want there to be a red flag if one day he's not throwing. In a lot of ways, he's ahead of some guys. But the fact is, he had surgery. I think he'll be real close, if he's not ready."
Nonetheless, pencil Esteban Loaiza into that fifth-starter's spot and pencil Schmidt still in "rehab mode," even though he's had no major setbacks during a recovery of eight months and counting. Torre said Schmidt would likely be eased into simulated or "B" games as his recovery progresses. Clearly, the club is managing expectations on when that will be.
The arthroscopic operation he underwent June 20 -- the one where doctors found and repaired three separate injuries -- was major enough that he won't attempt the same workload as other starting pitchers, even though he's been throwing off a mound for the past month.
Schmidt, who signed a three-year, $47 million contract, then won only one game last year before needing surgery, doesn't consider his uncertain status a disappointment. In fact, he's encouraged by a breakthrough he experienced two weeks ago, when "something literally overnight happened" and a daily soreness disappeared.
"I'm starting to see a light at the end of the road where all the work is starting to pay off," Schmidt said. "It was nice leaving for Spring Training with a lot of the stuff resolved, physically and mentally.
"If I'm ready, I'm ready. If I'm not, I'm not. It's day-to-day, and there's no timetable on it. I'm a competitive athlete and I want to push the envelope, but it's not about one day. It's about a whole season."
A year ago, Schmidt reported to his first Dodgers Spring Training and never looked right. He lacked velocity and command in games and even noticed his long-tosses weren't going very long, something he described as "the first tipoff" of trouble. He still insists the aches and pains he experienced last spring were no worse than in previous years.
With much expected from Schmidt as the centerpiece of offseason changes, he made only six regular-season starts, went 1-4 with a 6.31 ERA and underwent exploratory surgery by Dr. Neal ElAttrache.
In an arthroscopic procedure, ElAttrache repaired a labrum tear, a frayed bicep tendon and cleaned up scarring in the bursa sac. The labrum tear was not anticipated and was the most severe of the three injuries, requiring anchors to reattach it to the bone and the lengthy recovery time to ensure it won't detach.
The labrum is cartilage that forms a cup in the ball-and-socket shoulder joint, allowing the head of the upper arm a wide range of motion. The tear, common among pitchers, was at the posterior rim of the shoulder socket. The bicep tendon attaches into the shoulder socket and the bursa decreases friction between the tendon and bone. The combination of damage was believed responsible for the dramatic loss of velocity.
Schmidt spent the winter rehabbing with celebrity sports therapist Brett Fischer in Tempe, Ariz. Among the ballplayers Schmidt worked with was Cubs pitcher Kerry Wood, who has recovered from shoulder injuries similar to Schmidt's. Wood, a once-dominating starter, is now a reliever, but Schmidt said there's been no discussion of any such move for him.
He concedes the recovery has been more demanding than he expected. Schmidt had 2000 surgery to trim his labrum and a frayed rotator cuff.
"I thought this would be a piece of cake," he said. "It's been tougher than I thought. There have been bumps in the road.
"I've been confident I can come back the whole time. I didn't know how long it would take, but I never doubted it. I've been working every day since June. I've been pressing toward the goal [Opening Day]. I don't think one day will kill me if I won't be out there. There is that possibility that it may not happen right on Opening Day, and I'm sure I'll be able to deal with that."
Schmidt is now 35 years old with 13 seasons and nearly 2,000 Major League innings logged on that shoulder. He might be forced to become more of a pitcher and less of a thrower, but he's not far enough along to know even that. He said he's hopeful he'll come out of this good as new, or at least good enough.
"I don't know if I'll be better than I've ever been," he said. "I'll just be happy to compete. I'm not getting too up or too down. Just trying to stay on an even keel."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.