Q&A with Kerry Ligtenberg

At age 35, Kerry Ligtenberg admits some days he just feels old. But after past injuries to his elbow (which required Tommy John Surgery), hip and knee, the veteran relief pitcher and former Atlanta Braves closer says he's as healthy as he'll ever be.

Ligtenberg debuted for the Braves in 1997. One year later, he went on to have the best season of his major league career, saving 30 games and posting a 2.71 ERA for a club that fell two wins short of the World Series.

Prior to signing a minor league contract with the Cubs this past April, Ligtenberg was attempting a comeback with the Florida Marlins in Spring Training. He appeared in nine games in the Grapefruit League, posting a 2.53 ERA in 10 2/3 innings, but was released.

Ligtenberg felt the Marlins simply had more of an influx in younger arms and that his best shot was to catch on with a team that might have a better shot at reaching the post-season in 2006.

Since signing a minor league contract with the Cubs, the right-hander has gone 4-4 with 14 saves and a 3.79 ERA in 49 appearances for Triple-A Iowa after a promising start with the team, in which he allowed two earned runs despite 20 hits in his first 17 1/3 innings.

Ligtenberg was named to the 2006 Triple-A All-Star team in Toledo, Ohio, this past month, but did not participate due to a prior commitment.

We visited with Ligtenberg recently and asked what his future holds in store.

Q: Since joining the I-Cubs, you've totaled over 54 innings. How would put into words the year you've had?

A: This spring with the Marlins, I think I pitched pretty well. In the end, it came down to the fact that they had some good young arms. I threw well enough where I could have made the team out of Spring Training. I went home for about three weeks and the Cubs called. It was close to home for me. Being near Minneapolis, it's a three-hour drive to Des Moines. I came down to Iowa and for the most part, I haven't been throwing too bad. My hip and knee have been healthy this year and I have worked on a few things. I've changed the grip on my slider, which has been coming along well. I feel like I can pitch, it's just a matter of getting into the right situation.

Q: What can you tell us about the injuries you've dealt with?

A: In 2004, I had a bad hip. I don't even know what the injury was officially called. I had surgery on my left knee. I'm as close to healthy as I can be, but I'm still 35. Some days I feel old and some days I don't. For the most part, my arm has been healthy and I've been throwing 88 to 91.

Q: With the spring you had with the Marlins, are you surprised not to have been given an audition with the Cubs' big league club?

A: I've been realistic and you have to understand how the game works. I think the fact that they're 20 games out of first or whatever, they're looking more toward next year, so they're giving their young guys a look. I think right now, they're just trying to get the young men up to see what they can do going into next year. I think maybe it would have been different if they were in the playoff race. Next year, I'll have to make a decision whether I want to play some more.

Q: How much thought have you put into that decision?

A: It's still up to me. I enjoy pitching and also the fact that I was somewhat close to home this year with my family. I still feel like I can pitch up there, I just don't know if I would go and play in Triple-A again. I've been trying to make the [major league] team and want to get myself up in big league camp next season.

Q: If you fall short of that goal, what are your plans for life after baseball?

A: I'd still like to go pitch every day, but if not, I'd like to spend some time with my family. I have a degree, but would like to go back to school. It's been years since I've been in school. I'd like to look into some options there.

Q: Who of the young guys on the staff have impressed you the most?

A: I think Rich Hill, when he was here, pretty much dominated at this level. Angel Guzman has good stuff I think. They have some guys with good arms. Jae-Kuk Ryu has a pretty good idea of how to pitch and he's pitched OK. It's just a matter of going up there and getting it done.

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