02/18/2003 7:01 pm ET
Brown in camp, ready to go
Veteran righty hopes arm, back ailments are history
By Ken Gurnick / MLB.com
VERO BEACH, Fla. -- Kevin Brown arrived at Dodgertown in time for Tuesday's first full-squad workout saying he feels fine and hopes to be ready to pitch by the opening of the regular season.
Brown, who turns 38 in March, has undergone operations in the past 17 months for a torn elbow muscle and a herniated disk in his back. He had three wins last year, two as a starter, and has three years and $45 million remaining on a seven-year contract.
"As far as I know, I'm doing good," he told reporters before practice. "I feel fine. We'll find out here over the next 5 1/2 weeks just how good it is. I'm happy with where things are. The focus is on getting ready as soon as I can. Opening Day would be great. I expect it, there's no reason not to.
"You're kind of anxious every year, and more so because of the injury. That's a given. I have a lot of experience to where it doesn't make me overly anxious, or make me overly worried."
Brown then went through an abbreviated workout that included stretching, running and throwing in the outfield to bullpen catcher Rob Flippo. He appeared to be pain free, his throws crisp.
"Looked like the same guy I caught before he got hurt," said Flippo.
Brown said he did not report with the rest of the pitchers and catchers because, as he does every year, he remained at home to celebrate his wedding anniversary and son's birthday. He said he did not expect any negative reaction from teammates for not arriving last week, despite his uncertain physical condition and a clubhouse undercurrent of apprehension.
"That's somebody else's problem, not mine," he said. "If it's an issue with the team, there's nothing I can do other than what I've always done. My dedication is what it's always been. If they moved the [reporting] date to Jan. 1, I'd be here Feb. 18. That's the fact of the matter. As long as it's not an issue to the people I work for, I don't worry about it.
"People can spin it any way they want to spin it. If I thought four days would cost me a chance to start the season, it would be different. If somebody wants to pick at it and gnaw at it, have fun. They're welcome to voice their opinion if they want to. Everybody knows my dedication. Anybody who watched me pitch the last two years and thinks I don't want to play or I don't care for the team or don't try to win, doesn't know what I do."
Brown met with manager Jim Tracy for 20 minutes before the workout to discuss, among other items, media coverage of Brown's absence. Tracy told reporters he "should not feel compelled to have special Kevin Brown updates every day."
Brown also spoke with outfielder Brian Jordan.
"I talked to him in the trainer's room when he first walked in," said Jordan. "He seemed in good spirits. I'm glad he came here in good spirits. I hope we have him back at 100 percent. But I hope he gets 100 percent before he comes back. We need him healthy for the long haul."
Brown said his arm, operated on in September 2001, feels fine. His back, operated on June 11, became a winter project and through research and tests it was discovered that the toll of pitching 14 seasons and 2,840 innings had shut down some muscles while other muscles compensated.
"That's why I was shifted so far over," he said, referring to his skewed posture. "I'd tightened up and locked down. I got them working again, my back and hip. It's a lot better. No pain in some time."
He said he can now stand straight, but maintenance work remains to be done and he doesn't know how the back will respond to the renewed rigors of pitching because he only played catch a few times over the winter with his family.
Although Brown appears to have rushed back from injuries repeatedly since he joined the club, he said he will be patient this spring.
"They want me to make sure I don't rush it," he said. "It's not like I'll be ready in two weeks. I'm still a work in progress. I pitched a long time with [back problems] and didn't know it. They started to show up after the surgery, from the extra stress after that."
Pitching coach Jim Colborn said Brown would follow a conservative plan, but was also confident the pitcher could be ready by Opening Day.
"Absolutely, if he only gets green lights, five weeks is plenty," he said. "And if he gets an amber or red, he still might be all right."
Last spring, Brown insisted he was ready for the start of the season despite inconsistent performances in exhibition games. He was Tracy's Opening Day starter, but was whacked by the Giants in a 9-2 loss.
Two starts later, scar tissue from the surgery released and he went on the disabled list. He was reinstated Apr. 30, made six starts, but was back on the disabled list May 27 with swelling in the elbow. While rehabilitating on the disabled list, he blew out his back and underwent surgery to remove the herniated disk. Two months after that operation he was activated and made eight more appearances, but was shut down with back pain after a Sept. 10 loss at San Francisco.
Brown said he wouldn't have done anything differently with what he knew at the time.
"My arm was fine last year, no problem with my arm," he said, apparently referring to his second-half ailments. "You get doctors telling you and therapists telling you that it's fine to pitch, what are you going to do? If you play that game, you'll never get back on the field. Your body tells you you can do something, you do it. There was no reason to expect what happened [with the back]."
Brown was asked if he can be as good as he was before the injuries.
"I hope to. I hope to be even better," he said. "I'll do what I can, and if the good Lord is willing, I'll be there. I did everything I could for two years, pitching through injuries. Sometimes I could, sometimes I couldn't.
"I'm back to my normal self. I don't have a doctor saying I won't be able to pitch. Things haven't been right the last two years, but I don't have reason to believe I'll be different than what I should be."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This article was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.