Francis sets deadline for surgery

Colorado Rockies starter Jeff Francis, bothered by persistent soreness in his left shoulder, has set a Feb. 19 deadline to determine whether he will need exploratory surgery that could sideline him for much of the 2009 season, his agent said.

Francis, a 17-game winner for Colorado's 2007 World Series team, dipped to 4-10 with a 5.01 ERA last season and missed 10 starts because of inflammation in the shoulder.

Francis recently underwent an MRI, which revealed no structural damage. He initially responded well to a cortisone shot, according to agent Jim Lindell, but has since hit a wall in his offseason workout regimen.

Francis has yet to take the mound this winter, and he's been throwing at about 85 percent from a distance of 120 feet off flat ground.

Lindell said that Francis targeted Feb. 19 as a deadline because it will give him a week in spring training in Arizona to throw off a mound and face live hitters. If it turns out that Francis does require surgery, he wants to have it as soon as possible so that it won't affect his 2010 season.

"Jeff has been absolutely opposed to surgery all along," Lindell said. "His attitude was, 'I want to compete and pitch this year.' But I think now he's reconciled it in his head that if his arm doesn't bounce back by the first week of spring training, they need to go in and explore.

"He's letting it go and throwing as hard as he can, but the ball isn't coming out the same way," Lindell said. "Because of the fluid buildup in the front of his shoulder, he has some resistance there and it's sore all the time. He's been working his rear end off strengthening and rehabbing it, and it doesn't seem to be getting better."

Francis, Colorado's first-round pick in the 2002 draft, is 51-44 with a 4.74 ERA in 130 career starts. He finished fourth in the National League Cy Young Award balloting two years ago.

Even without Francis in the mix, Colorado manager Clint Hurdle will go to spring training with a slew of candidates competing for starting jobs. General manager Dan O'Dowd recently acquired Jason Marquis from the Chicago Cubs in anticipation of a loss of innings from Francis. Marquis is expected to slot in behind Aaron Cook and Ubaldo Jimenez as the No. 3 starter in the Rockies' rotation.

Greg Smith, Jorge De La Rosa, Jason Hirsh, Greg Reynolds, Franklin Morales and highly regarded prospect Jhoulys Chacin will all get looks in Arizona, and the Rockies also signed veterans Josh Fogg, Glendon Rusch and Matt Belisle to minor league deals this winter.

"We know some of these pitchers have to bounce back from poor years, but the talent and desire is there to do so," O'Dowd said. "We will monitor the spring and make adjustments if we think it's necessary, but we believe some of these men will step up and seize the opportunity."

Jerry Crasnick covers baseball for ESPN.com.