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COMEBACK KIDS
Albert Chen
March 22, 2004
Look for these players, injured last season, to have big years
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March 22, 2004

Comeback Kids

Look for these players, injured last season, to have big years

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JEREMY AFFELDT, LHP, Royals
After battling a blister on the middle finger of his left hand all last season, the 24-year-old underwent a partial nail avulsion, in which half of the offending fingernail was removed and acid was laid in the nail bed to prevent it from growing back. Now pain-free, Affeldt, who possesses a mid-90s fastball and a 12-to-6 curve, is back in K.C.'s rotation, where the club believes he can be a staff ace.

A.J. BURNETT, RHP, Marlins
Scouts have long been saying that the 27-year-old, one of the game's hardest throwers, may have a bigger upside than World Series MVP Josh Beckett. Burnett underwent Tommy John surgery last April, and the Martins are hoping that he'll be in the rotation by June. "We're not going to rush anything with him," says manager Jack McKeon. "Whenever we get him back, it'll be like making a trade."

MILTON BRADLEY, CF, Indians
Bradley, Cleveland's switch-hitting cleanup man, was enjoying a career year (.421 OBP) when a lower-back bruise ended his season in August. When healthy, the 25-year-old is an elite centerfielder endowed with power and speed, but he's played just 199 games over the last two seasons and only three this spring at week's end, because of a strained oblique that isn't considered serious.

TROY GLAUS, 3B, Angels
Limited to 91 games last year by a partially torn right rotator cuff, Glaus hit just 16 home runs. The 27-year-old skipped surgery in hopes that the injury would heal on its own; he says it has. With an improved diet (more fruit, less fried food) and increased weight training, he's in great shape. His comeback could be helped by improved vision: He underwent laser surgery in the off-season.

KEN GRIFFEY JR., CF, Reds
Griffey, who dislocated his shoulder a week into the season and then ruptured a tendon in his right ankle in July, arrived at camp early, in good spirits and in good health. "If I can make it through April and May, I'll be all right," says the 34-year-old, who for the past three years has not done so without injury. Nineteen homers shy of 500, he has also been the subject of trade rumors.

TREVOR HOFFMAN, CLOSER, Padres
The 36-year-old righthander spent most of 2003 recovering from two shoulder surgeries. He's waiting to see how his arm reacts to the grind of daily use, but he says his pitching shoulder is as strong and limber as it was several seasons ago. "I'm excited to be part of it again," he says. "What I went through last year has allowed me to catch my breath. The arm really feels good."

RANDY JOHNSON, LHP, Diamondbacks
Following arthroscopic surgery on his right knee last May, the five-time Cy Young Award winner was merely mortal upon his return to the rotation in July (5-6, 3.57 ERA). But he's showing no ill effects this spring, throwing in the mid-90s and appearing rejuvenated at age 40. "I feel as good as I ever have," he says. "Last year I was pitching on one leg. I'm on two legs now."

COREY PATTERSON, CF, Cubs
Patterson was carrying the Cubs' offense and having a breakout year (.298, 13 homers, 55 RBIs) when he tore his left ACL and meniscus on July 6. After seven months of rehab the 24-year-old has looked terrific this spring—"I've been 100 percent since the end of February," he says—and if he weren't a number 2 hitter, he'd have more RBI opportunities and could be a bona fide MVP candidate.

RICARDO RODRIGUEZ, RHP, Rangers
Rodriguez, 25, acquired from Cleveland in a midseason trade for outfielder Ryan Ludwick, got off to a good start (2-0, 1.35 ERA) but was hindered by hip and groin problems that ultimately sidelined him for the last two months. Recovered from off-season hip surgery, he'll compete for a rotation spot. A ground ball pitcher, he should fare well in the homer-happy Ballpark in Arlington.

MICHAEL TUCKER, OF, Giants
The 32-year-old, who broke a bone when he fouled a ball off his right leg on Aug. 4, has finished with double-digit homer totals in each of his eight full major league seasons. The lefthanded hitter will play all three outfield spots and get a lot of at bats for San Francisco-his fourth team in four years—which will use him regularly against righthanders.

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