Rehabs Toil Out of the Spotlight

In the closing days of the Instructional League, Tony Harper trudged by, wearing his game uniform. When someone commented on it, he answered, "Yeah, I'm in my uni but not to play." For Harper, you see, is one of those on rehab at Dodgertown, working perhaps even harder than those who comprise the team but not ready for action yet.

Although Harper is rather typical of those confined to this status, he's unique in one way -- he's the only catcher in the group. As a matter of fact there was only one other position player on the list -- infielder Brian Sprout -- for the rest are all pitchers, wear and tear on the arms they use for a livelihood being what it is.

And Harper shares the arm woes with then for he, too, had surgery to repair his right arm hurt last year in the waning days of the Gulf Coast League season. He had been making a respectable debut, hitting .264 with just one home run although the Dodgers feel he could well have more sock in his bat than that. But he went down and hasn't been in a game since.

He won't be, either until next spring, such is the nature of the recovery time. It usually takes a year to get back on the field and for some another year of play before they reach full strength and recover the finesse or timing or whatever it takes to perform their particular duties.

There are 10 pitchers in the group with lefthander Derek Thompson being the most advanced. Thompson jumped to the big league roster from Jacksonville in the mid-season, pitched in promising style only to be sent back, then go out when his arm problems emerged. Not that serious injuries are anything new to him. In 2001 while in the Indians' organization, he had a cartilage transplanted from a cadaver to his knee so, in a real way, he's a dead man walking.

The elbow transplant that has him confined to this group came from his own body, not from a newly departed one, it should be noted.

However much the Dodgers liked his style, they are now hoping that no one wants to gamble on his fragile condition for they dismissed him from the 40-man roster as they did Ryan Ketchner. Ketchner never did get a chance to make the club in spring training, arriving with a sore arm, having surgery and won't be back until 2006, either.

You'd like to believe that if anybody can come back it's this lefthander for Ketchner is a player who's overcome 90 percent deafness in his determination to make it all the way up. He wears two hearing aids but relies on lip-reading for the most part. Before this setback, in his one year in the Dodger organization after coming from Seattle in a trade for Jolbert Cabrera, he looked very much like he has the pitches to go along with his will to succeed.

Javy Guerra and Jesus Castillo were both high on the prospects list when they went out shortly after the beginning of the season at Columbus. They, too, expect to return in early 2006 since both had their surgery in May.

Jonathan Figueroa is on the list, too. They've spent most of three seasons trying to get him back to the style he showed when he broke in in 2002. They've altered his arm slot and his motion, worked on his psyche, everything short of sending him to a compound for spiritual rebirth. Now, they've gone into his shoulder arthrospcopically to tighten up loose matter. He doesn't think it will take all that long before he's back on the mound but. remember, that's what was said about Greg Miller when they first sent him in for repairs. It took a year and one-half before he came back.

And now Miller's out again, too, although they feel in his case, it's more a matter of R & R than any further cutting.

James Gilbert threw 98 mph in junior college ball, then went to the operating room but the Dodgers signed him anyway with the thought that he could well recapture the fire in that arm after recovering. Ramon Paredes pitched extremely well in the Gulf Coast League ; so well that he was promoted to Ogden but he wasn't right by that time so he, too, is here and will probably miss most if not all of next season.

Jhonny Caraballo and Sebastian Pena came over from the Dominican League for their surgery, then these sessions. And, then, there's Heath Totten who threw well enough for Las Vegas only to be victimized by the generally shoddy play of that team. He departed the camp early, though, to be with his wife who was expecting.

Maybe that's a sign that good things will happen to this contingent who sometimes have to feel like they belong to the "Whatever happened to...?" group.

What's happened to them is so much what happens to those who compete athletically for a living. Now they'll need all that competiveness to go along with the help that modern medical techniques have given then to get back on the field again.

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