Big League Stew - MLB

Who knows what tomorrow brings in a world where few playing careers survive?

After making just one appearance in 2009 because of shoulder pain, Arizona Diamondbacks ace Brandon Webb(notes) hopes tomorrow brings the usual 34 starts and other goodies that make him a perennial Cy Young contender in the NL West.

A healthy Webb also puts the D'backs into the postseason conversation. So, he's a pretty big deal. 

Webb climbed a big step toward a healthy season Tuesday by throwing from a mound for the first time since shoulder surgery this past August.

From MLB.com:

"[It] went good," Webb told MLB.com. "[The] ball came out well, but I was just thinking about arm slot on every throw. That's to be expected, not having thrown on the mound in so long."

Steve Gilbert's story says Webb's shoulder surgery was minor — just a cleanup — but anybody coming off a one-start season obviously should be watched closely.

At the same time, the post was titled "Webb back where he belongs — on a mound," which makes me think of "Love Lift Us Up Where We Belong," the Oscar-winning theme from "An Officer and a Gentleman." So take it away, Mr. Joe Cocker and Ms. Jennifer Warnes!

It's an optimistic tune, one which hopefully will help carry these other players who, like Webb, are coming back from injuries that decimated all or a good chunk of their 2009 seasons.

Let's start with a certain New York Mets shortstop.

Jose Reyes, New York Mets: He averaged 48 steals from 2003-2008, but was limited to 11 in 36 games in '09. He had surgery Oct. 10 to repair a torn right hamstring tendon. A Mets trainer said Reyes is "100 percent" and Reyes told the New York Post, "I'll be ready in 2010. Be there, it’s going to be a show."

Ben Sheets(notes), Oakland Athletics: Missed the '09 season because of elbow surgery but signed a free-agent deal for $10 million plus incentives with A's and is preparing to be the opening day starter. Manager Bob Geren says Sheets makes the A's a legit playoff contender: "If you think about what he's done in the past and look at how rejuvenated he feels to get back on the mound, it's a big plus for us."

Xavier Nady(notes), Chicago Cubs: Made 29 plate appearances for the New York Yankees before undergoing Tommy John ligament replacement surgery on his right elbow for the second time in his career (also in 2002). Signed with the Cubs, who admit Nady will be limited defensively at the start of the season because he'll be about 11 months removed from the operation. "First and foremost, he's going to be paid to knock in runs," general manager Jim Hendry said upon signing Nady. "We'll see how the throwing program goes in the next two months and if 'X' is limited throwing at the full-throttle level on April 1, we're not going to tax him."

Erik Bedard(notes), Seattle Mariners: Made 15 starts with a remarkable amount of effectiveness for someone pitching with a torn labrum. Bedard signed an incentive-laden contract (with a club option for 2011) and says he might be ready to pitch by May. Even if it's June or July, a healthy Bedard gives the middle of the M's rotation as much credibility as Cliff Lee(notes) and Felix Hernandez(notes) do at the top.

Justin Duchscherer(notes), Oakland Athletics: Missed the entire season because of elbow, back and emotional pain. Duchscherer admitted he was being treated for clinical depression, a disclosure that hopefully will help him and others better fight the illness. Expected to be in the rotation again, he was an All-Star in 2008 and would help put the A's in contention if he returned to form.

Conor Jackson(notes), Arizona Diamondbacks: Hit .182 with one homer in 99 at-bats and no wonder: Jackson was suffering from Valley Fever. It's the kind of illness that will drop your OPS 300 points. He did manage to appear on an episode of "General Hospital," where they apparently couldn't treat him properly either.

General manager Josh Byrnes says Jackson was feeling much better at winter ball and should be ready to go. "He's very important to our team, whether he's playing left field or first base," Byrnes said. "He's a clubhouse leader for us. Everyone likes and respects him, and he's important to our chemistry. He doesn't swing and miss a lot, and he hits left-handed pitching. We've made some additions this offseason, but his return is as important as any of them."

Scot Shields(notes), Los Angeles Angels: I'm still kind of surprised the Angels managed to make the playoffs without Shields, who spent the final 117 days of the '09 season on the disabled list after undergoing patellar surgery on his left knee. Shields, one of the league's better relievers when healthy, says he is ready to go. "I'm on schedule," Shields said. "I just don't know if I'm going to get [atop] a mound as soon as everybody else. They don't want me to rush it, but as far as being ready to go when it counts, I have no concerns at all."

Shaun Marcum(notes), Toronto Blue Jays: Another one in Tommy John recovery, he missed all of 2009 after being hurt at the end of 2008, but the reports on his elbow are good. He's no Roy Halladay(notes), but Marcum is effective when healthy. General manager Alex Anthopoulos said of Marcum, "There's no restrictions. No limitations at all. He looks great. He's going to come into camp with full guns-a-blazing. We think he's going to be ready to go to pitch, hopefully, a full season for us and have a great year."

Alex Gordon(notes), Kansas City Royals: His career provided some angst for Royals fans even before he injured his hip and eventually had surgery after toiling through 49 games. Sam Mellinger of the KC Star recently wrote of Gordon: "His 2008 season included some real signs for optimism, particularly with an increased walk rate. At last week’s FanFest, Gordon said he was 100 percent healthy and eager to put the disappointment of last season behind him."

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