Schmidt makes long-awaited return
Dodgers righty tosses two innings, allows three runs
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Manny Ramirez still is expected to make his spring debut for the Dodgers on Thursday, but there was a debut of an entirely different sort on Monday.Jason Schmidt made his first spring "A" game appearance in two years, pitching two innings against the Rangers. Schmidt, who's had two shoulder operations since his last regular-season game, pitched a scoreless first inning but walked two and gave up a three-run homer to Taylor Teagarden with two outs in his second and final inning.
Schmidt came into camp as manager Joe Torre's preferred fifth starter because of his experience and success, but only in the past week has the discomfort diminished enough to get him in a game. Despite Schmidt's late start, Torre said he still has the inside track on a rotation spot."I don't think there's any question," said Torre. "His experience certainly adds a lot to the rotation. He's always had movement, he's got to keep his pitches down. I think the velocity will get better. If he stays healthy, what we saw today is not as good as it will get." Schmidt's second inning started with the classic confrontation of contract remorse, Schmidt vs. Andruw Jones, who struck out on a slider down and away. Jones later slugged a two-run homer off Claudio Vargas, further stinging the Dodgers, who must pay his remaining $21.1 million salary, and doing no good to Vargas' chances of winning the fifth-starter job. Vargas allowed another home run, four runs total in 2 1/3 innings. Schmidt made 34 pitches, 18 of them strikes. He clocked 91 mph on two of his fastballs, but most of them hovered around 87-88 mph and he lost his command as the second inning wore on after a very long wait on the bench during a seven-run top of the second inning for the Dodgers. "That was the best part -- that second inning was a long inning and he went back out there and threw," said Torre. "Then he got a little tired at the end and was overthrowing. I was surprised how good the slider was. A week ago, we didn't expect to be in this situation. It's a real plus for him. We're at the point now where the protection stuff is behind us." Schmidt said the delay wasn't a factor and he was generally pleased just to be pitching in a game again. "I just wanted to get back out there and get the feel again," he said. "I don't know if I got the feel. My arm's fine. Two days after [when he would have a bullpen session] will tell the story. I think I should come out of it OK. Next for me is to make another start. Just getting on the mound for me is half the battle. "For me, I've been through a lot of stuff and it's still a long road," Schmidt said. "Once it sunk in, I felt the butterflies. It went good. I'm pretty happy." Schmidt said he still felt strong in the second inning, but he began missing up. He said he encountered the same problem last year during Minor League rehab assignments and he's been unable to determine why it happens. He said he had no changeup, which he said is normal for him in Spring Training, but his slider was surprisingly crisp. "Where I want to be is healthy and pitching," he said. "Command-wise, I have a ways to go. Spring Training is always a battle for me, healthy or not." Eric Milton, another fifth-starter contender, rebounded from his one bad outing with three scoreless innings that impressed Torre. "He was very good and the wind was blowing out pretty good," Torre said of Milton, who is trying to come back after 1 1/2 years on the sidelines recovering from Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery. Before the game, Torre said he still intends on Thursday for Ramirez's first game, disregarding Ramirez's lobbying to play on Tuesday. Torre said Ramirez must run the bases on Monday and Tuesday before being allowed to play, even as a designated hitter. As Torre often mentioned last season, he's been impressed with Ramirez's work ethic for the few days he's been in camp. Torre said he arrived at the Camelback Ranch-Glendale complex on Monday a little before 6 a.m., made his way into the weight room shortly after that and Ramirez was already working out in full uniform. As for Jones, Torre said he reacted to the home run philosophically. "I'm happy for him," he said. "To me, I hurt for him with everything he went through. He's certainly a lot better guy than he was portrayed to be, although he brought it on himself. I hope he does well. "When he came to us, it was his first time out of the nest [leaving Atlanta, his first team]. There was a great deal of pressure, all the money and people counting on him. He dug his own hole, seeming to have a blase attitude. It would have been tough [if he had remained in Los Angeles]."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.