Glavine keeps eye on possible return
No thoughts of retirement for injured future Hall of Famer
ATLANTA -- While the Braves are projecting that Tom Glavine could rejoin their starting rotation some time around the All-Star break, the 300-game winner doesn't know if that's a realistic probability.
But the fact that it's at least a possibility thrills Glavine, who learned on Thursday that the left elbow discomfort he's endured for more than a month has been a product of a small tear in his flexor tendon.
"When you hear the word tear you think, 'Oh no, that's going to be a while,'" Glavine said. "Fortunately, right now I don't need surgery. I'm just happy that they didn't find something wrong with my ligament, because when you start talking about ligaments, you're talking about a career-threatening injury.
"I feel somewhat at peace because I knew something was wrong. I was pitching through pain for a month, and it wasn't getting better. I've always felt like I could get through this kind of thing. That's why this gives me some peace in knowing that what I was feeling was real."
During a Friday afternoon conference call that included John Smoltz vowing to return next year from his shoulder surgery, Braves general manager Frank Wren revealed that Thursday's MRI had shown this partial tear. At the same time, he indicated the team's medical staff had set the All-Star break as a target for the 42-year-old southpaw's return.
"There's no specific date, but sometime around the All-Star break or a little thereafter," said Wren, while adding that Glavine would simply need to rest long enough to allow the injury to scar.
Glavine began feeling elbow discomfort during his May 4 start against the Reds, and over the course of the next seven starts, the pain steadily got worse. The durable hurler, who had never even visited the disabled list before straining his right hamstring in April, reached his breaking point while allowing the Cubs four runs in just three innings on Tuesday.
Based on the amount of discomfort that he has felt, Glavine currently thinks it might take more than a month for him to heal. But at the same time, he's hopeful that he's able to prove the expertise of the doctors by getting back on the mound sometime around the All-Star break.
"I think it's optimistic," Glavine said. "But I don't know. Like with the hamstring strain, I didn't know because I'd never done that before. So I just go with what the doctors tell me.
"There's really no exact science and no guarantees. I just have to be patient, do my thing and hope that this thing settles down in the next 4-6 weeks."
Glavine, whose 305 career wins rank fourth among all left-handed pitchers in Major League history, was just happy that the doctors didn't tell him his pain was being caused by a damaged ligament.
When Glavine returned to the Braves this season after spending the previous five with the Mets, it was assumed this year would be his last hoorah. But he's never said that, and even with this latest development, the ever-competitive athlete is still thinking about pitching in 2009.
Or at least, he's thankful that he doesn't currently have to talk about a surgery or injury that would prevent him from at least having the option to pitch again next year.
"A tear of the tendon isn't anything to sneeze at either," Glavine said. "But it's not as bad as a tear of the ligament. That's something that's career-ending. This might just set me back a few weeks or a month and allows me to pitch the second half of this year, and if I choose, also to have a chance to pitch next year, too."
If Glavine hasn't realized any improvement by the end of August or beginning of September, he says that he will at least evaluate the possibility of undergoing surgery with the purpose of giving himself a chance to pitch next year.
Glavine and Smoltz have a friendship that dates back to July 1988, when they first were part of the Braves' starting rotation together. Twenty years later, both are starting to endure the expected pains that follow a 40th birthday. But neither is inclined to let these latest setbacks allow them to start thinking about retirement.
"At this stage of our careers, we're not ready to just call it quits," Glavine said. "We're still competitive. But there will come a time when our body tells us it's time. When that time comes, I think we'll be able to say we've gotten as much out of our body as possible, and maybe even more."
It took Glavine 672 starts before he experienced what it was like to be on the disabled list. Although it lasted just two weeks, it's safe to say it was an experience that tested his stubborn determination.
Now Glavine finds himself knowing that he'll be sidelined longer than any other time in his career. But at least for now, he's at least able to remain optimistic that this isn't the end of his career.
"It's another practice in patience," Glavine said. "So we'll see how I do."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.