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2 San Francisco Giants
Phil Taylor
April 03, 2006
Barry Bonds isn't the only player the club needs to return to form
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April 03, 2006

2 San Francisco Giants

Barry Bonds isn't the only player the club needs to return to form

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PITCHER PVR W L K WHIP ERA
RH Jason Schmidt 29 12 7 165 1.42 4.40
RH Matt Morris
[New acquisition]
63 14 10 117 1.28 4.11
LH Noah Lowry 124 13 13 172 1.31 3.78
RH Matt Cain (R) 115 2 1 30 0.93 2.33
RH Jamey Wright
[New acquisition]
198 8 16 101 1.65 5.46

There was very little difference between Jason Schmidt's spring training and Barry Bonds's, with the exception of the reality show cameras that followed Bonds around, the release of a best-selling book that painted Bonds as a steroid-abusing boor and the debate over whether or not Bonds is a blight on the sport who should be denied a place in the Hall of Fame.

O.K., maybe their spring experiences weren't that similar. But Schmidt did come into camp with the same objective as his notorious teammate: to prove that he's sufficiently recovered from an injury last season to reclaim his status as an elite player. Schmidt and Bonds are in the same boat--it's just that Barry's end of the boat also contains a La-Z-Boy recliner, a TV camera crew and hordes of media.

Though Bonds's comeback is key to the Giants' run production, Schmidt's return to form is only slightly less important to their chances of winning the division after finishing 75-87, a 16-game slide from the year before. The signing of free-agent righthander Matt Morris will help the rotation, but while Morris is a solid No. 2, Schmidt, 33, is Cy Young Award material when he's at his best. The righty was second in that voting in 2003, when he was 17-5 with a league-leading 2.34 ERA, and fourth the following season (18-7, 3.20). But Schmidt dipped to 12-7 last year, partly because a groin injury hampered him nearly the entire season. "I think the first game of the year was the only time I really felt normal," he says. "Because of the injury I was never really able to get my entire body into my pitches. I only felt like I was at about 80 percent effectiveness."

That injury helped motivate Schmidt to modify his off-season conditioning program. He spent part of the winter at the Athletes' Performance Institute in Tempe, Ariz., where his workouts often included throwing with Red Sox ace Curt Schilling--and picking his brain afterward. "It was helpful just to learn about his throwing regimen, how he takes care of his arm, how he approaches the game mentally," Schmidt says. "I just wanted to consider possible new ways of doing things."

It was logical for Schmidt to seek the advice of another power pitcher, because he suffered a troubling loss of velocity last season. Even before the groin injury, his fastball, typically in the low- to mid-90-mph range, was reaching only the high 80s. The power outage was a mystery even to Schmidt, who insists that he didn't have shoulder or elbow problems, as some observers guessed. He says that a few teammates whispered that the steam on his old fastball might have been the result of performance-enhancing drugs, and that they were now seeing Schmidt off the juice--speculation that still rankles him. Whatever the reason, at the All-Star break, Schmidt was 6-5 with a 5.01 ERA, and there were rumors that San Francisco was considering trading him rather than picking up his $10.5 million option for 2006.

Schmidt didn't exactly calm the club's fears when he implied in a June interview that he might never regain his velocity and would have to change his approach on the mound. He did that with some success in the second half of last year, when he was 6-2, 3.66. But the uncertainty still lingers as to whether Schmidt, who threw 172 innings last season after averaging 2161/3 the previous two years, can again be the hard-throwing, innings-eating ace that the team needs. The answer is crucial to the organization and to Schmidt, because he will be a free agent at the end of the year.

Schmidt and pitching coach Dave Righetti use the word encouraging when they describe how Schmidt threw in the spring, but neither will make a final assessment until they see how he performs in games that matter. "The main thing is that he worked out hard over the off-season, and he has no physical problems," Righetti says.

In fact, Schmidt's conditioning program left him leaner and more muscular. "I'm impressed by how hard he must have worked," says manager Felipe Alou. "He looks like a new man." The Giants would gladly settle for the old one.

IN FACT
The Giants had the fewest plate appearances per game (37.5) and saw the fewest pitches per game (133.5) of any team in the majors last season. They also struck out the fewest times (901) in the NL.

CONSIDER THIS
a modest proposal

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