Mariners reliever George Sherrill working his way back slowly
Left-hander George Sherrill was shut down with a sore elbow late last season, pitching for the Atlanta Braves. The Mariners signed him during the offseason, bringing him back to the team that gave him his pro start.
Seattle Times staff reporter
PEORIA, Ariz. — George Sherrill reaches for his left elbow and points to the fleshy part just to the right of the joint.
"That's where it's at," he says of the nagging ache and stiffness that won't go completely away. "I guess that's what happens when you get up to throw 150 times in less than a full season."
That's what Sherrill, a month shy of his 35th birthday, figures the Atlanta Braves had him do last season in making 51 appearances by late August and warming him up twice as often in the bullpen without actually using him in games. Factor in Sherrill's age and his 440 career outings and it's small wonder his elbow is talking back despite a late start to professional baseball coming out of the independent leagues in 2003.
Sherrill is learning to manage the pain that just might be there the remainder of his playing days. And it won't happen by partaking in the same number of bullpen sessions or Cactus League games as the pitchers alongside him in Mariners camp.
The Mariners signed Sherrill for $1.1 million in December knowing that patience might be a virtue this spring. And with veteran left-hander Hong-Chih Kuo facing his own challenges in camp, the Mariners are showing ample patience with Sherrill, knowing he might be the best left-side hope their bullpen has.
"When you have a veteran guy like him, he knows his body and what it will take to get ready," Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. "You want to have him ready for the season and be able to keep him going all season. That means you might have to back off a little down here."
It's why Sherrill wasn't on the bus to Tempe, Ariz., on Wednesday to help the Mariners defeat the Los Angeles Angels, 6-4, behind four shutout innings delivered by starting pitcher Blake Beavan. Making a few more bus rides or facing an extra dozen Class AAA and AA hitters this spring won't determine whether Sherrill can get batters out when it counts this season.
Instead, Sherrill's biggest measure of success might be in how well the infrared laser beam penetrating his elbow each morning gets the swelling inside it to subside. The laser treatments are part of Sherrill's pre-workout ritual, along with the mild strengthening exercises designed to loosen the elbow up just enough that he can put it through the violent act of pitching.
Once that throwing is done, he'll come back inside and do manual resistance work with rubber tubing to make the elbow stronger. Then he'll get electronic stimulation and ice treatments so that the pain of what he put his arm through can subside. In coming days, he'll have a team trainer knead the fleshy part of the elbow near the bone to try to break up some of the stiffness even more.
It's not that Sherrill actually pitching the ball to opposing hitters has become an afterthought.
But this new routine is a concession by Sherrill and the Mariners that he has only so many bullets left and they'd best be used sparingly.
"It's nothing to where if I took the rest of the spring off throwing, I could just show up opening day and be lights-out," Sherrill said. "But it's something to where I don't necessarily need three bullpen (sessions), three live BPs (batting practices), an intrasquad (game) or two and then 10 appearances. I don't think it necessarily has to be mapped out like that."
Instead, Sherrill made his Cactus League debut Monday against the Padres with a scoreless inning in which one walk was erased by a double-play grounder. He had a day off Tuesday, was to throw a bullpen session Wednesday, followed by another day off and then a second Cactus League outing Friday.
"He's been pretty consistent with his work," Wedge said. "From where we started late with the bullpens and live hitters ... I like the way he's throwing the ball right now."
Sherrill liked how his elbow felt during his spring debut, rating it an 8 of 10 as to what he'd expected the pain to be. He says the pain that shut his season down a month early last year is more like a nagging ache and stiffness now and manageable, even if it never entirely goes away.
"It'll hold up," he said of the elbow. "There's nothing structurally wrong. It's just a matter of getting the taco meat beat up, I guess."
That outing Monday was Sherrill's first in a Seattle uniform since 2007. He was part of a five-player trade to Baltimore for pitcher Erik Bedard the following winter.
It was the Mariners who plucked Sherrill out of independent league baseball and gave him his late career start. He now wants to make it last as long as possible, and not merely because it took so long to make it to the majors.
"People who work day-in and day-out, they have to work until they're 65," he said. "We get a much smaller window and I think we owe it to ourselves and to those other people to make this opportunity last as long as we can.
"I want to play as long as they'll give me a uniform. I don't want to pitch until I'm (Jamie) Moyer's age. But do I want to pitch another five or six years? Sure, I do."
• Vinnie Catricala hit a two-run homer in the eighth inning against the Angels. It was the first home run for Catricala this spring.
• Michael Saunders lined singles to right field and then left field on a 2-for-3 day and also made a nice running catch of a line drive to the right-field corner. Saunders started in right field while Chone Figgins played center and led off, notching his first hit of the spring on an infield single.
|Figgins cf||3||0||1||0||Aybar ss||3||0||1||0|
|TRobinsn cf||1||2||1||0||ARomine ss||2||1||0||1|
|Ackley 2b||3||0||1||0||HKendrck 2b||3||0||1||0|
|SRmero 2b||2||1||1||1||T.Lindsey 2b||2||0||2||2|
|Seager 3b||3||0||0||0||B.Abreu lf||1||0||0||0|
|VCtricala 3b||2||1||1||2||D.Deeds lf||3||0||0||0|
|J.Montero c||3||0||2||0||Tor.Hunter rf||2||0||1||0|
|Jaso c||1||1||0||0||M.Long rf||1||0||0||0|
|Carp lf||3||0||0||0||Iannetta c||3||0||0||0|
|Ford lf||1||0||1||1||Langerhns cf||1||0||0||0|
|Olivo dh||2||0||0||0||Bourjos cf||3||1||1||0|
|MWilsn ph||1||0||0||0||A.Rosario c||1||1||1||0|
|Saunders rf||3||0||2||0||Conger dh||4||0||1||1|
|J.Chavez rf||1||0||0||1||E.Navarro 1b||3||0||0||0|
|Ryan ss||3||0||1||0||Diaz ph||1||1||1||0|
|B.Miller ss||2||0||0||0||Trumbo 3b||0||0||0||0|
|LRodrigz 1b||5||1||1||0||Cantu ph-3b||2||0||0||0|
|Seattle||000 000 420||— 6||12||1|
|Los Angeles||000 000 103||— 4||10||2|
|Furbush W, 1-0||2||2||0||0||0||1|
|L.Van Mil L, 0-1||1 1/3||3||3||2||1||2|