Exclusive Interview - Blake Hawksworth

The Cardinals' pitching prospect talks with Brian Walton about his injury setback, rehab and plans for the future.

Despite still being only 22 years old, righthanded starting pitcher Blake Hawksworth has been a top Cardinals prospect for what seems like forever. The Washington resident was a draft-and-follow in 2001 and after signing prior to the 2002 season, tasted his first professional success with Johnson City and New Jersey at the tender age of 19.


In 2003, Hawksworth continued to impress, striking out a batter per inning while splitting time between Palm Beach and Peoria. The only thing that seemed to slow Hawksworth down was his body, as he was sidelined for the remainder of the season after undergoing ankle surgery in June of that year.


His 2004 season began and ended quickly, as he underwent labrum surgery after just two starts for Palm Beach. Hawksworth fell from being the Cardinals' organization's top prospect last year "all the way down" to #3 in 2005, behind 23-year-old righthanders Anthony Reyes and Adam Wainwright (rankings by Baseball America).


While still recovering, Hawksworth returned to the mound in 2005. In the first step of his rehabilitation, he was asked to rejoin those same New Jersey Cardinals for whom he had pitched three years earlier. Almost two months later, Hawksworth's recovery has slowed and he finds himself resigned to spend the rest of the regular season right where he is. But, he remains very upbeat and optimistic about his future.


I caught up with Blake Hawksworth this weekend for this exclusive interview.


Let's start with the most important question of all. Tell me about the condition of your shoulder.


It has been up and down this year. I went through extended spring (training) and it was good. It was good and everything was pretty much on track. They sent me here to Jersey on a 30-day rehab assignment just to get a little more flexibility with pitch count and as to when I throw. I started throwing and it felt good and then it started flaring up a little bit and that is pretty much where I am now. I had a little strain in the back of the shoulder.


What is your current status regarding being able to throw?


I actually just started throwing again a few days ago. I am scheduled to throw bullpen here in a couple of days (Monday?).


Then what?


We'll just see how it goes at this point. We're so close to the end of the year and we want to be extra cautious, especially the second time around, to ensure I am ready to go on the mound, so we don't have another little setback. Besides that, it has been going well.


When they diagnosed the shoulder strain this time, did they say it was related to your earlier labrum surgery?


It was something different. I have what is like a cartilage defect in my shoulder. When they operated on the shoulder, some cartilage actually got removed. New cartilage has grown in now. But, it is a lot harder than the other cartilage surrounding the joints. So, I just have some friction and a little pain there.


How do they characterize it?


This thing now is just rotator cuff. It's just a strain; much like if you pulled your hamstring or your quad. It just takes some time for it to heal.


No plans for any more surgery, then?


No, just time. Rest. Just rehab and the little things to get ready.


So, it looks like you'll stay with New Jersey for the rest of the season?


That is what it is looking like. If everything stays on pace now, I will probably make a couple of starts here at the end. And, if I am feeling good at the end of the first week in September, then I will go down to the Instructional League and continue to throw and continue to throw and just get ready for '06.


Even though it is early, I have to ask. Did Bruce Manno (Cards Farm Director) talk to you about the Arizona Fall League?


They haven't actually. I have heard of the people that are going. It might just be who is ready to go at that time. Anything can happen. I can't figure this thing out (laughs).


That's right. Look at last season with Adam Wainwright, who had to leave for his wedding, opening up a spot for Brad Thompson and Reid Gorecki, playing himself off the taxi squad.


That's exactly it. You just never know. Gorecki redeemed his whole season. That got him on the 40-man…


Do you feel any additional pressure, having been a top prospect for a long time now?


I don't feel the pressure. I apply the pressure on myself. This, being my fourth season, I know when I am healthy, I can pitch with the best of them. And, when I am not, your ability is limited. There is no pressure.


How has the organization treated you?


The Cardinals have been super supportive. They have stood by me the whole time. They have been patient with me. I couldn't ask for a better support system here within the organization. It has been great.


If everything goes the way you'd like, where will you end up next spring?


You know, I'd like to be in Double-A to start the spring. I've been at Palm Beach for years now, it seems like (laughs again). I always seem to get hurt there.


Maybe it is time for a change.


Yeah, maybe we should tell Bruce to mix up the scenery a bit (more laughing).


Have you seen the new Springfield ballpark?


No, I haven't yet, but I hear it is pretty nice.


I hear it is only second to Memphis as best in the minors…


Memphis is gorgeous.


Hopefully, you'll get to play in both places before too much longer.


It can only get better from here, for sure!


Given that you've been in the system for four years now and most of the guys here are first or second-year players, do you find they come to you for advice?


Sure, sure. Coming out of college, the first year feels overwhelming; getting to know the guys, getting to know the instructors. I remember, I was just so nervous to meet (Minor League Pitching Coordinator Mark) Riggins and all these guys for the first time. First impressions are so big. They're great. This is a really good group of guys. With D.J. (Manager Mark DeJohn) and Sid (Pitching Coach Sid Monge), they have a lot of good instruction. They are learning a lot and we are playing some pretty good baseball, too, so that is enjoyable.


Thanks for your time and good luck when you get back out there.


Alright. Take care.


Brian Walton can be reached via email at brwalton@earthlink.net.


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