Dodgers not rushing Schmidt back

VERO BEACH, Fla. -- Jason Schmidt is learning patience. He just hopes it doesn't take too long.

The Los Angeles Dodgers signed Schmidt to a three-year, $47 million contract last winter hoping he'd would join Brad Penny and Derek Lowe atop their rotation.

Instead, the 35-year-old right-hander was limited to six starts before undergoing surgery June 20 to repair an inflamed bursa, a torn labrum and a frayed biceps tendon in his right shoulder.

Schmidt has been rehabilitating ever since, and he's not finished.

"They've said take it day-by-day. We're not putting a timetable on it," Schmidt said Thursday -- reporting day for pitchers and catchers at the Dodgers' spring training facility. "It's not about being ready for one day, it's about being ready for the whole season.

"If it was up to me, I'd be out there throwing as hard as I can. It is a process. I just show up, work every day, keep pressing toward that goal. Being a competitive athlete, you want to be out there.

"I'm still in rehab mode. It may not happen [by] Opening Day. I'll have to deal with that."

Schmidt has been throwing for quite some time, but only began throwing off a mound a few weeks ago.

"I'm ready for spring training, technically," he said. "I throw every day. I'm confident I can come back, I really am. I've been confident the whole time. I've never doubted it."

Schmidt, a three-time NL All-Star, went 58-28 with a 3.33 ERA over 122 starts with the San Francisco Giants from 2003-06, making him one of the most attractive free-agent pitchers before he signed with the Dodgers.

But there were indications in spring training last year that things weren't quite right.

"Playing catch last year, playing long toss, the ball would just die at the end," he recalled. "It's different this year, the ball is carrying better. I didn't really think there was [something wrong last year]. Spring training's always been an up-and-down thing for me."

Dodgers catcher Russell Martin saw it differently.

"Early in the spring, I remember he wasn't throwing as hard as I remembered when I faced him," Martin said. "The ball didn't have the same jump. After a couple weeks, with the velocity not picking up, I was concerned. He said he felt fine.

"After a while, he gained a little bit of velocity, but not as much as I expected. He reached 88 [mph], but that wasn't Schmidt-like."

Schmidt made three regular-season starts before going on the disabled list with inflammation in his pitching shoulder. He returned to make three more starts before having surgery, finishing the season 1-4 with a 6.31 ERA.

Schmidt, who lives in Scottsdale, Ariz., spent the offseason rehabbing at the Athletes' Performance Institute in nearby Tempe. It was tedious, but he said he noticed a difference in the last few weeks.

"All the work's starting to pay off," he said. "I don't want to read into it too much. I was happy leaving there on the terms I left there. It was just nice leaving there knowing a lot of stuff was resolved, physically and mentally.

"We're sticking with what we're doing. I definitely will not be doing what every other pitcher is doing. There were some times in therapy where I was ready to do this and this and this. I'm willing to stick to the game plan. I don't have a choice."

The Dodgers would love to see Schmidt back in the rotation, and they're hopeful that will happen at some point, but first-year manager Joe Torre isn't going to rush it.

"Everything looks pretty good for him at this time," Torre said on the eve of the Dodgers' first workout. "We're just looking to make sure he comes along. Right now, you keep your fingers crossed. In a lot of ways, he's ahead of a lot of guys."

Penny, Lowe, young Chad Billingsley and newcomer Hiroki Kuroda enter spring training as leading candidates for the starting rotation. Schmidt and veteran Esteban Loaiza, a two-time All-Star who joined the Dodgers late last season, are other possibilities.

"If he's not ready when the season starts, he'll be real close," Torre said of Schmidt. "Right now, the most important thing is to make sure he's pitching on a regular basis. Jason might be right there. We're just going to put him on the back burner."