Young Pitcher, Once on the Fast Track, is Cautious

<b> VERO BEACH, Florida</b>-- In the spring of 2004 Brian Pilkington had to feel that he was one step removed from Dodger Stadium. He has pushed his career forward with a series of strong performances so that in the previous season he had advanced from Vero Beach to Jacksonville doing well at both stops.

Now, as he started his fourth professional year, the righthander from the Los Angeles suburb of Garden Grove was ready to move up to Las Vegas. But in his second bullpen session of last spring, he felt a pain in his shoulder. "Like a stabbing," he recalls.

When it was still there after another session, he was shut down, laid off for a bit, then started working again. He even got in an inning in an intra-squad game. But the next day, "It was the same sensation, only worse."

Sent to Los Angeles for a thorough examination in the Jobe Clinic, Pilkington was probed and x-rayed. On May 19, an operation was performed which found that tightening was needed in the capsule. Then, began the long rehabilition process.

In Brian's case the operation was really the first of its kind so the comeback length was a bit unpredictable. "They had to see how my body would react. When I finally started throwing, I had to teach myself how to throw again. After four months there was really no pain so I was up to long toss. Then the pain started coming again. I figured it was scar tissue breaking down so kept on but finally had to take a week off."

He had an ultra sound, went home after the hurricanes touched down at Vero Beach, where the rehab facilities are located and threw more. "I had to be shut down twice. Since this was new surgery, they have to see if my shoulder is too loose or too tight."

This up-and down process, move forward, then move back is rather typical of the ordeal that every rehabber(who are usually pitchers with arm problems) endures. "It's tough mentally," Pilkington admits. "You want to get out there as fast as you can but sometimes you have to hold yourself back. I want 12 years in this game not just a year or so you can't be in a hurry."

To help with the mental process, he has been able to turn to his uncle Bert, a man he has consulted ever since he became a pitcher. That's Bert Blyleven. who, Brian points out, "had a couple of major arm problems but he had a career that lasted 23 years."

Nor is it the first time that Pilkington himself has undergone shoulder problems. The first occurred in August 2001 but he had battled back from that.

When does he feel he'll make it back this time? "Your body will tell you. Some days it's hard not to be pitching because you feel great. It's really all mental. I want to be sure I'm 100 percent, not 75 percent."

He's confident though that he can return to what he was before. "I never was a pitcher who threw the ball 95 miles per hour. I've always worked on hitting spots and changing speeds. If I can stay healthy, I can do that again."

"I'm throwing again. Just fast balls, no curves yet. I was on the fast track once but the way I've always looked at, things happen for a reason. I'm only 23 so I have lots of time. I hope the Dodgers feel that way about me. When I'm ready, I'll be healthier than I was the last time."

The injury has caused his name to slide from the spot on the list of top prospects that it once occupied. So, he'll continue to work, obscured in the shadows of the sidelines, toward the time when he'll emerge into the sunlight of prospect's prosperity again.