The odds remain against Gagne ever pitching in Dodger Stadium again, short of the organization bringing back the Oldtimers Game, and it’s almost certain he won’t break into the major-league bullpen by Opening Day. But apparently the Dodgers saw something in Gagne worth pursuing. I’m imagining there will be quite a roar if he takes the home mound one more time.
Gagne last pitched for the Dodgers on June 6, 2006 (coincidentally, the day Clayton Kershaw was drafted). After making his season debut four days earlier – nearly a year after his last major-league game – Gagne struck out two in a 14-pitch save against the Mets. There were reports he was ailing after the game, but hope persisted he would return later in the year. Here’s my report from June 26 of that year.
Gagne said that he felt a little stiffness warming up in the bullpen before his last game June 6, but that it was nothing that he hadn’t felt in the past when he was healthy. But he thinks that when he entered the game, he overthrew a changeup – “rolled it over too much” – and tweaked the nerve. Subsequent treatment with anti-inflammatories did not help.
“It got better and we started some exercises, then it got sore again,” Johnston said.
The switch to neurontin seems to have brought renewed optimism, however cautious. If the progress continues, Gagne can resume exercises before moving forward, according to Johnston.
Gagne added that he isn’t sure that a rehabilitation assignment in AAA Las Vegas will be necessary, and that he could be on the Dodger Stadium mound in July.
“It’s not a bad injury,” Gagne said. “It’s just a nagging injury.”
Still, it has been a long, impatient road for Gagne, whose injury spiral began in March 2005 when he injured his knee during a Spring Training pepper drill. When asked how Gagne has handled his time on the sidelines, Johnston said sympathetically, “not very well.”
“He’s very frustrated,” Johnston said. “He’s such a competitor. He lives to be a big part of the team.”
Interviewing Gagne, it was easy to be swayed by the feeling that he knows his body, that he will be as patient during this rehabilitation as he says, that he will warm up as carefully in the future as he promises and ultimately, that he’s right to believe he will help the Dodgers this season. Walking away, it was hard not to feel paranoid that preventing further injury was beyond his control.
Can he really be on the mend? Why couldn’t he be on the mend? Fool me once and all that.
The implication was that further rest after Gagne’s pain disappeared was unneccessary, but the question I didn’t ask is whether that is a certainty.
Overall, Gagne and Johnston seemed quite humbled by the struggle.
After sitting out the remainder of 2006, Gagne pitched well in 31 games for Texas in 2007, but was traded to Boston and soon lost his remaining effectiveness, though he did end the 2008 season with 8 2/3 shutout innings with eight strikeouts. He had a rather nondescript 2009 pitching in a Canadian independent league.
Thomas Harding of MLB.com said that in his workout for the Rockies earlier this week, Gagne looked “noticeably lighter.”
Partly to rebuild the small shoulder muscles and partly to avoid some of the back pain that affected him in recent years, Gagne took up Ja Shin Do, a mixed-martial-arts-based workout in an extremely hot room, taught by Scottsdale grandmaster Andy Bauman. Former Rockies pitchers Shawn Estes (now with the Nationals) and Jeff Fassero and Dodgers catcher Russell Martin undergo similar workouts.
The result, Gagne said, is he is in better condition and his arm is “the best it’s felt in three or four years, easy.”
Well, if Estes, Fassero and Martin are doing it …
Despite my skepticism, I’m rooting for Gagne to make it back.