Braden makes strong progress from shoulder surgery
Dallas Braden decided against being a world traveler this winter, realizing his rehabilitation from shoulder surgery took top priority.
Braden is working with the hope of returning to the Oakland Athletics' depleted rotation come mid-April or perhaps early May. He understands the urgency for a pitching staff that traded away All-Star starters Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez this offseason, along with All-Star closer Andrew Bailey.
Everybody wants to know when his first start will be.
''So do I, so do I,'' Braden said. ''For two years I'd been throwing in pain, not with pain but in pain. That's tough to do, and now just to be able to throw a baseball pain-free has been tremendous.''
The 28-year-old Braden hopes to return to his 2010 form, when he pitched an improbable perfect game against Tampa Bay on May 9, the highlight of a year in which he went 11-14 with a 3.50 ERA in a career-best 192 2-3 innings.
Braden received a $3.35 million, one-year contract in mid-December. He made three starts last season before being sidelined by a shoulder injury. He was 1-1 with a 3.00 ERA before going on the disabled list April 18. He had surgery to a repair a torn capsule in his left shoulder May 17.
''He's a guy that we're definitely looking to rely on,'' reliever Grant Balfour said Sunday. ''He's been around a while now and he went through the surgery. They kept him for a reason: He's had success, and that's what they're looking for, to come back and put up those numbers he's put up in the past.''
Fellow left-hander Brett Anderson also is working his way back from reconstructive elbow surgery last July. He has thrown two bullpen sessions this spring since having Tommy John surgery.
Both pitchers are on a schedule that includes throwing two bullpen sessions each week.
Manager Bob Melvin has noted neither looks as if he is working back from surgery.
''It's a credit to them and how hard they rehabbed,'' Melvin said Sunday. ''Based on the fact Dallas has rehabbed as hard as he had, I think has really bridged the gap on how good he feels each and every time out. If you slack on that a little bit in the shoulder, it's a little bit different. He's a hard-working kid, we all know that, and he's dedicated to what he does. Seeing that the fruits of that right now is a credit to him and the training staff and those who are working with him.''
Catcher Kurt Suzuki knows Braden will be prepared when his day back on the mound finally comes.
''He wants to go out there,'' Suzuki said. ''He wanted to pitch even with a sore shoulder last year. He's a competitor, he wants to get on the field. That's definitely the kind of guys you want. Dallas is looking good, Anderson is looking good. That's a good sign.''
Doctors told Braden no amount of rehab would heal his shoulder, so surgery became the best option. And he has kept himself ahead of schedule in his throwing program.
He did a lot of work before surgery to strengthen the area ''so that when I came out of it I wasn't like a baby deer on training wheels.''
''By the middle of October I had already completed a throwing program that had me out to 150 feet,'' he said.
Getting Braden and Anderson back will mean a lot.
Anderson was 3-6 with a 4.00 ERA in 13 starts last season before going on the 15-day disabled list on June 7 with elbow soreness. The 24-year-old pitcher originally had a platelet-rich plasma injection in his elbow and was going to see whether rehabilitation could help him.
In April 2010, Anderson received a $12.5 million, four-year contract that includes team options for 2014 and 2015. The total value of the deal could reach $31 million. He went 7-6 with a 2.80 ERA in 19 starts that year.
Now, each time Braden pitches he is able to think less about how he feels ''and more and more about getting something out of it.''
''How I feel is the only timetable we can go on. I've understood because I've been through this before. Putting a date on it right now for me isn't important, because I feel so good in terms of throwing that the day will just come, and it will come before I know it,'' Braden said. ''To be getting back to a position where I can learn from my work, that's Christmas for me. The biggest thing for us right now is to make sure because we are heading in the right direction that we don't take a wrong turn.''
Notes: 3B Scott Sizemore is scheduled for an MRI exam with a specialist Monday. He sprained his left knee during Saturday's first full-squad workout. ... RHP Brian Fuentes threw batting practice two days after having his regular session halted due to a tweaked hamstring. ''He threw the ball really well,'' Melvin said. ''He was on it, with good stuff. There's a potential open role at the end I know he'd like to have. For his first on-field endeavor it was good to see.'' ... OF Jonny Gomes called his shot on the final pitch of the day, thrown by Melvin. ''Somebody's car might have been damaged for all I know,'' Melvin said with a chuckle. ''He got to me the most. It was the bat flip that irked me.''
AP Freelance Writer Rick Eymer contributed to this story.