A healthy Paul Wilson could greatly help out the rotation come 2006.
Wilson seeing progress in rehab
Pitcher throwing fastballs on mound, ramping up velocity
By Mark Sheldon / MLB.com
CINCINNATI -- With his new-look long and flowing hair, Reds right-handed pitcher Paul Wilson knows he looks more like a hard rock singer or a skateboarder these days.
But Wilson remains every bit of a ballplayer, and he's finally starting to feel like it again.
Major surgery was performed on the 32-year-old's right shoulder in June, ending his 2005 season. Wilson was finally cleared two weeks ago to start throwing in a rehabilitation program at the Reds' Spring Training complex in Sarasota, Fla.
"When you get hurt, you don't know who you are anymore," Wilson said at Great American Ball Park on Thursday while in town for a checkup. "You're not the same ballplayer. You see your buddies out there playing and it grinds on you. It's a mental thing. It's the hardest thing."
Before beginning his program, Wilson was able to convince head trainer Mark Mann to cut short his own offseason to come down and work with him.
"There was some negotiating, some payments -- dinners and lunches and all that stuff," Wilson joked. "Anything that it took to get him down there, I was willing to do. Whether it was pay for his flights, pay for his meals, call up (former general manager) Dan O'Brien when he was here and plead for (Mann) to come down."
Mann said he didn't need much coaxing. He actually offered his services last summer.
"Paul is the kind of guy he's always been a hard working individual and had that reputation since we got him," Mann said by phone from Sarasota. "Paul is such a big part of our team and our pitching staff, you couldn't say anything but yes. The kind of character guy he is and what he means to our team, it's a no-brainer. This was something that had to be done."
Mann has helped Wilson with his stretching and working out. He has supervised a throwing program that has the pitcher working off a mound every other day and also long tossing baseballs around 150 feet to build arm strength.
Wilson has been throwing only fastballs from the mound and his sessions usually last about 60 pitches. Most of the time, he throws only with 50 percent of his velocity but escalated to 75 percent effort in the second half of Wednesday's outing.
So far, so good. No pain has been reported.
"Every week, I'm getting stronger," said Wilson, who was 1-5 with a 7.77 ERA last season before shutting down. "I can see and feel my arm getting stronger every week. I'm encouraged. I'm really encouraged."
"To this point, he's done outstanding," Mann said.
Rehab is a process Wilson has known far too well. In his days with the Mets, he missed most of 1998 following his first significant shoulder surgery in late 1997. Tommy John surgery on his right elbow wiped out all of 1999.
Reds orthopedic surgeon Dr. Tim Kremchek performed his most recent operation and Wilson has the unfortunate perspective of knowing how much medical technology has improved when it comes to fixing shoulders.
"The technology and some of the screws and wiring they put in my shoulder came about two years ago," Wilson said. "There are some new things in there. I could tell within two or three weeks after surgery that my range of motion was 10 times better. It took a few months to get my arm over my head the first time. It took three weeks to get over my head this time."
An 11-win season and 4.36 ERA in 183 2/3 innings during 2004 earned Wilson a two-year, $8.2 million contract signed before last season. Fulfilling the expectations that came with that deal was as important to the pitcher as it was for the Reds.
"It's not like I'm a young kid anymore," Wilson said. There are responsibilities and obligations, not only to me and my family but to this organization and this team. I want to live up to that."
If Wilson has no setbacks with his rehab or during Spring Training, he'll likely be able to. The Reds believe he could be fully healthy in April and be their fifth starter. With more off days in the early stretch of the schedule, manager Jerry Narron could begin with a four-man rotation that would allow Wilson extra time to get ready until the fifth spot finally comes up.
"Our goal is to have Paul Wilson back when he's Paul Wilson once again," Mann said. "We want to progress him and progress him at a rapid rate. But we want the pitcher we had in 2004 back. We don't want a guy that's going to go out there and struggle and not be the 2004 pitcher he was in the second half."
"I'm very confident," Wilson said. "There's nothing to say otherwise right now. We've mapped out exactly what we're supposed to be doing the next 1 1/2-2 months. We've been following that. We have goals every week and we've been meeting them. If things stay the way they are, I see no problems."
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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