JUPITER, Fla. — Jorge Cantu literally limped home at the end of last season. He arrived at the Marlins’ spring training complex Sunday walking unaided, but getting back to that point was an arduous process.
Cantu sprained his right ankle on the base paths in the second-to-last game in Philadelphia. It took three months before the discomfort subsided. Had the injury occurred any earlier during the season, Cantu said, “I would have been screwed. The pain was incredible.”
It precluded Cantu from beginning his offseason program in earnest until mid-January, more than a month later than usual. Cantu said he put on 10 pounds of “pure fat” from eating and the inactivity. He’s already shed it thanks to an intense month of rehab and workouts at the Texas Sports Medicine Center in Houston with trainer Dennis Fay.
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His work there the last several offseasons in large part is why Cantu has experienced a renaissance after his career stalled with the Tampa Bay Rays.
“It was a battle,” said Cantu, adding he felt pain from the high sprain even on the back of the ankle by his Achilles’ tendon. “I’m 100 percent now, but I tape it to prevent whatever.”
Durability hasn’t been an issue for Cantu in his two seasons with the Marlins. In 2008, he appeared in a career high 155 games and followed that up with 149-game campaign.
Eligible for free agency after 2010, Cantu agreed to a $6 million, one-year deal last month. Right now the plan is for him to start at third base.
In the fold: Right-hander Mike MacDougal, who the Marlins signed to a minor league contract last week, joined the club Sunday and threw his first bullpen session. His late-inning experience and affordability made him an ideal fit for the Marlins after the Nationals non-tendered him in December.
That he went two months without an employer wasn’t a source of angst.
“It wasn’t necessarily nerve-racking,” he said. “I wanted to get going and get somewhere, but there were options. … My agent and I just waited, kind of wanted to come here. I told him to figure out what he could do to get me to come here.”
Being here on a minor league deal was a bit surprising to MacDougal, who saved 20 of 21 games for the Nationals with a 3.60 ERA in 50 innings after the White Sox cut him at the end of April. An All-Star with the Royals in 2003, MacDougal walked as many batters as he struck out (31) with the Nationals. Including the five games he pitched for the White Sox, MacDougal walked 38 in 54 1/3 innings and 12 of those base runners scored.
At his best in 2005, MacDougal stuck out three batters for every one he walked. In 142 2/3 major league innings since then, that ratio has plummeted to 1.2 strikeouts for every base on balls.
“I’ve always been fairly good at striking out people,” MacDougal said. “(The Nationals) just told me to throw my sinker and let them hit it into the ground. I wasn’t trying to strike out people. I was just trying to get outs. It was a totally different game plan, but it worked. The strikeouts will be there. Most of the time the walks came in situations where we were losing anyway. I’ll try to avoid that this year.”
The Royals’ first-round pick (25th overall) out of Wake Forest in 1999, MacDougal had offseason hip surgery, but has no lingering effects.