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Friday January 23, 2015
Story written by Scott Cruickshank, Calgary Herlad
At this point — months after shoulder surgery, weeks before spring training — Jim Henderson is aiming to stay pain-free.
Scuttling that goal, no doubt, is the upcoming trip to the dentist’s chair.
But where it matters most — on the diamond — the Calgary pitcher reports that there has been no grief.
The day before, at the Milwaukee Brewers’ practice facility in Maryvale, Ariz., Henderson had thrown from the mound for the first time since having his right-side labrum and rotator cuff cleaned up in August.
He noted zero issues.
“It felt good,” Henderson is saying on the phone as he drives to his dental appointment Tuesday afternoon. “It was just a small step, but it was a good one. It was nice to get back up on the hill. I feel a little cautious about it, but, at the same time, I’m excited that everything feels good.”
Monday’s display, a month into his carefully monitored throwing program, was nothing wild.
A total of 15 pitches from the stretch.
All fastballs. All delivered with 60 per cent mustard.
“You start seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, for sure,” says the 32-year-old reliever. “Now is the time to see how it feels and start building up strength. Right now, we’re focusing on mechanics and timing and just getting the feeling back of being on the mound.”
He repeated the exercise Wednesday and will do so again on Friday. Next week, Henderson plans to ramp up sessions to 25 tosses, with more heat — and with a date in mind.
Because, on Feb. 20, he knows pitchers and catchers report.
His anticipated participation level?
“We don’t know yet,” says Henderson. “Hopefully by … March, and a hitter steps into the box, I’m going to feel confident enough to let the ball go even harder — just let it go freely.”
It did go freely in 2013 for Henderson and the Brewers.
The six-foot-five fireballer finished 11th in the National League with 28 saves, issuing 75 strikeouts in 61 innings.
Grabbing the role of staff closer last year, his shoulder faltered, leaving him to grind through a summer of stops and starts, recurrences and reassignments.
Then, finally, mercifully, season-ending surgery.
“That sets me up, hopefully, for opening day this year — that’s been my mental focus and goal,” he says. “And to be honest with you, I’m still going to have to go out there in spring training and prove that I’m healthy, prove that I can throw two or three days in a row and be an every-day reliever.
“If I can’t do that in the spring, I might have to start in the minors for a little bit. Right now, I’m just happy to be back on the mound throwing again. It’s really nice.”
Henderson invested in this comeback, spending nearly the entire winter in Arizona, recuperating from the operation and maintaining his typical off-season regimen.
He will, however, make a quick trip back to Calgary for his induction Feb. 7 into the Dawgs-Seaman Stadium Hall of Fame. John Ircandia, the club’s founding managing director, is the other member of the 2015 class.
Henderson, in 2012, became the first Dawgs product to play a game in Major League Baseball.
“They’ve been good to me,” says Henderson, whose jersey, No. 15, was retired last year by the organization. “It’s great. To be one of the first players inducted is an honour. They’ve been a family to me. I’m happy to be included.”
Henderson was 12 years old when he joined the Dawgs.
“I was probably average — pitching, fielding, hitting — at that age,” he says. “Then you start to get more specific in what kind of roles you’d have, what kind of positions you’d play.”
Tall and lanky even then, he primarily hurled and handled first-base duties for the Dawgs.
That was 20 years ago — does it seem like a distant memory?
“Yes and no,” says Henderson, chuckling. “You come back and you get to see where the Dawgs are now. And John Ircandia and those other guys will remind you of those days and it’ll feel like yesterday. It was a tight-knit family and a lot of us still keep in touch.
“Nobody’s strayed too far from the program.”