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.
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
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."
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.
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.
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,"
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
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.
a modest proposal