Schmidt to start for Dodgers on Monday
Righty's return marks first Major League outing since '07
LOS ANGELES -- Jason Schmidt, out more than two years with shoulder problems, will start for the Dodgers against the Reds on Monday night, manager Joe Torre announced Saturday.
It will be Schmidt's first Major League appearance since June 16, 2007, and another chapter in a remarkably frustrating saga for the 36-year-old former All-Star and the club that signed him as a free agent after the 2006 season.
The decision to start Schmidt was made because the Dodgers are desperate for a fifth starter and curious to see if Schmidt has anything left after an on-again, off-again rehab ordeal. Swingman Jeff Weaver pitched 4 1/3 innings Friday night after Chad Billingsley's early knockout or he would have started Monday, Torre said.
It's been speculated that Schmidt's return precludes the Dodgers from collecting on a disability policy, but the club won't discuss insurance matters. Now that Schmidt is healthy and his rehab assignment is expiring, the club's only other option would be to release him.
Schmidt could get two (and as many as three) starts before the July 31 Trade Deadline, with the Dodgers clearly in pursuit of the best pitchers available, the list headed by Toronto's Roy Halladay.
In rehab stints this year, Schmidt went 1-1 with a 2.25 ERA in two starts for Class A Inland Empire and 2-0 with a 4.18 ERA in six appearances (five starts) for Triple-A Albuquerque. His longest start was 7 2/3 innings on June 26 and his most recent start was July 12.
"We're going to see what we have," Torre said. "I haven't talked to him. Velocity-wise, we all know he's not what he once was. He seems to be able to pitch within his ability. Knowing how to pitch is what he'll have to rely on. Physically, he seems to be OK. He's throwing 100 pitches. We're all anxious to see what it will be on Monday. It doesn't matter what I say, we'll have to look at it."
Schmidt signed a three-year, $47 million deal during the Winter Meetings of 2006 to be the workhorse of the starting rotation, but he reported to his first Dodgers Spring Training and never looked right. He lacked velocity and command in games and even noticed his long tosses weren't going very long, something he described as "the first tipoff" of trouble.
With much expected from Schmidt as the centerpiece of offseason changes going into the 2007 season, he made only six regular-season starts, went 1-4 with a 6.31 ERA and underwent exploratory surgery on June 20. Dr. Neal ElAttrache repaired a labrum tear, a frayed biceps tendon and cleaned up scarring in the bursa sac. The labrum tear was not anticipated and was the most severe of the three injuries, requiring anchors to reattach it to the bone and a lengthy recovery time to ensure it won't detach.
The labrum is cartilage that forms a cup in the ball-and-socket shoulder joint, allowing the head of the upper arm a wide range of motion. The tear, common among pitchers, was at the posterior rim of the shoulder socket. The biceps tendon attaches into the shoulder socket and the bursa decreases friction between the tendon and bone. The combination of damage was believed responsible for Schmidt's dramatic loss of velocity.
Schmidt came to training camp in 2008 encouraged and the club joined him after a very impressive initial bullpen session, but that triggered a major setback with discomfort down his arm. He worked his way back for a pair of Minor League rehabilitation assignments, pitching in four games from June 28 through July 13, shutting down for six weeks, then making another attempt Aug. 29, before being shut down for the season.
Before the 2007 operation, Schmidt told doctors the pain he felt was located somewhere else altogether, in the acromio-clavicular joint, where the collarbone meets the scapula (shoulder blade) at the top of the shoulder. The pain persisted after the first operation and despite several false starts on the rehab trail, he never made it back to the Major Leagues last year. It wasn't until doctors removed the arthritic tip of the clavicle last September that Schmidt noticed "instant relief."
He came to training camp this spring as Torre's front-runner for the fifth-starter spot but lacked the arm strength and command to make a serious run at the job. Since June 21, he has made five consecutive starts on regular rest.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.