Lawrence suffers torn right labrum
MRI exam reveals injury; right-hander out until at least August
VIERA, Fla. -- Frank Robinson said recently that a baseball manager's No. 1 goal during the exhibition season is to have everybody healthy during Spring Training. That won't be the case with the Nationals, as they learned on Saturday that right-hander Brian Lawrence will miss most of the 2006 season with a torn labrum.
Lawrence will have surgery at the Washington Hospital Center in D.C. on Sunday. Dr. Weimi Douoguih, the team's orthopedic physician, will perform the surgery.
The early prognosis is that Lawrence will be out until August, but if his injury is similar to Tony Armas Jr.'s -- in which he had both a torn rotator cuff and labrum -- Lawrence would be out for the rest of the season.
"I'm disappointed that he will not be able to compete for a job on the starting staff," Robinson said. "The main thing now is for him to get this thing taken care of. [Hopefully he can] come out of the surgery OK, rehab it and get back as soon as he can."
Lawrence began to feel shoulder stiffness early this week. Lawrence thought the soreness was caused by a winter of inactivity. After a few days of rest, he had another bullpen session on Wednesday. Although Lawrence pitched the entire eight minutes on the mound, pitching coach Randy St. Claire thought Lawrence's pitching motion wasn't free and easy.
"He looked guarded on the mound, but he said he felt better," St. Claire said.
By Friday, the pain grew worse and, that evening, Lawrence had an MRI exam performed, which also revealed a lot of wear and tear on his rotator cuff.
Lawrence was acquired from the Padres in the Vinny Castilla trade on Nov. 3. Lawrence took a physical before the trade was officially announced and there was no indication that he had arm problems. Lawrence took a strength test, which, according to Dr. Bruce Thomas, "he passed with flying colors." However, Lawrence didn't have an MRI on the shoulder at that time.
"Obviously, it's disappointing," Lawrence said. "Injuries have never been an issue with me. I never felt any pain until the first day I showed up here. Hopefully, we'll get this cleared up and I'll be good and strong in August or September."
In 2005, Lawrence pitched 33 games for the Padres and went 7-15 with a 4.83 ERA. Both San Diego manager Bruce Bochy and general manager Kevin Towers expressed shock when they received word of Lawrence's injury. They said he never had arm problems with the Padres, and Towers felt that acquiring Castilla was more of a risk. Castilla had played all of 2005 with a sore left knee.
"Brian spent little time on the disabled list," Towers said. "We looked at 200 innings and at least 30 starts."
"He never had any problems," Bochy said. "He made every start. I don't remember any soreness anywhere."
Nationals general manager Jim Bowden feels that Lawrence's injury occurred during his time with the Padres.
"I don't believe it happened in one bullpen session. [The injury] may have been there for a couple of years," Bowden said. 'We saw him throw in September and we saw him throw a three-hit shutout. We watched every start the last month and he looked healthy. He said he was healthy."
The Nationals will pay Lawrence a base salary of $3.5 million in 2006. Lawrence also is scheduled to make a roster bonus, which the Padres will pay for. There is also a club option for $7.5 million for 2007 and a buyout for $550,000. If the Nationals chose to buy out Lawrence, Washington will be responsible for $125,000, while San Diego will pay the rest.
"It's a setback," Bowden said. "We were expecting 200 innings from Brian this year. We were hoping for the three-hit shutout he threw in September [against the Giants] was going to be thrown in our ballpark."
Lawrence was one of five players -- along with Armas, Ryan Drese, Ramon Ortiz and Jon Rauch -- who were vying for the last three spots in the rotation. With Lawrence out of the picture that means that left-handers Michael Hinckley and Billy Traber will get a long look.
Hinckley, who was the franchise's Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2004, had minor shoulder surgery last year and he has had no problems throwing the baseball this spring.
Traber, 26, hasn't played a Major League game since the 2003 season, when he was with the Indians. Traber had Tommy John surgery in 2004, but returned to the Indians organization last year. He was a combined 8-11 with a 4.84 ERA and 95 strikeouts for Class A Kinston, Double-A Akron and Triple-A Buffalo.
Bowden said he is not afraid to bring right-handers Collin Balester or Shawn Hill to big-league camp. Hill recently decided not to represent Canada in the World Baseball Classic because he wanted show the Nationals what he could do on the mound.
Hill, once an Expos prospect, missed all of last season because of Tommy John surgery. But he recently impressed assistant general manager Bob Boone, scouting director Dana Brown and special assistant to the general manager Jose Rijo in a bullpen session.
Balester is a player Brown has been raving about for two years. Brown recently said he wouldn't be surprised if Balester was in the big leagues sometime during the season. In 2005, Balester played for Class A Savannah and went 8-6 with a 3.67 ERA and 95 strikeouts in 125 innings.
It's also no secret that Bowden is looking outside the organization for pitching help. He is still trying to sign free agent right-hander Pedro Astacio, and the club talked to Astacio's agent a few times on Saturday. With the team desperate for pitching, the Nationals may have to give the veteran a guaranteed contract. A source said there is a chance Astacio could get a Major League deal with the Padres on May 1 if he doesn't sign with Washington.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.