Hall opts for rehab instead of surgery
White Sox catcher to go under knife if shoulder doesn't improve
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Toby Hall will undergo a month-long rehabilitation program for his right shoulder before making a firm decision on surgery to repair a torn labrum. That plan was announced Monday by White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen and a team spokesman, who talked with athletic trainer Herm Schneider, prior to a Cactus League contest at Diablo Stadium against the Angels.
If Hall were to have surgery immediately, then he definitely would be lost for the season. The rehab program gives the White Sox backup catcher a 50-50 chance at returning some time in May, with the ability to extend the rehab program a week or two if Hall appears to be making progress, but is not quite to the point he needs to be to play.
"They're going to go the whole month of April in rehab," said Guillen of Hall. "In May, we'll make the decision. If he's not getting any better, then he'll have the surgery."
Although Hall has not seen Dr. Lewis Yocum, a renowned shoulder specialist who works with the Angels, he has been thoroughly evaluated by four doctors since injuring his shoulder Sunday while diving for a Ramon Vazquez ground ball while playing first base during the ninth inning of a game with Texas. Hall will be traveling this week to Tampa to be examined by Devil Rays team doctor Koco Eaton, who Hall formed a bond of trust with during his playing days there from 2000-2006.
Eaton was apprised of Hall's condition and situation and agreed with the consensus opinion in regard to the rehabilitation program. Hall's shoulder also was said to be much more stable two days after the injury, and the veteran already felt better as of Tuesday morning.
The rehab program will take place with the team while the White Sox are at home in April. But Hall probably will stay behind when the team goes on the road.
Hall's free-agent addition via a two-year, $3.65 million deal, with a $2.25 million club option for 2009, was not considered a major move in the overall offseason landscape. But it certainly was an important step taken by the White Sox, who planned to liberally use Hall's right-handed bat against the litany of tough southpaw starters in the American League Central, while keeping starting catcher A.J. Pierzynski fresh for the season's homestretch.
A prevailing sentiment amongst the White Sox Tuesday was that Hall's loss certainly stood as a direct shot to the organization's plans as it entered the 2007 regular season. But there also seemed to be a sense of agreement in that good teams have to move on from tough personnel losses, which in this instance, means relatively untested rookie Gustavo Molina stepping in for at least one month as Pierzynski's backup.
Molina arrived late to Spring Training because of a visa problem in Venezuela and was originally reassigned to Minor League camp on March 21. But Molina was added back to Major League camp after Tuesday's 12-2 loss to the Angels and was told by Guillen that he had made the team.
"Yeah, it was a big surprise," said Molina, who spent five or six minutes signing autographs near the White Sox dugout before getting the career-changing news. "I never think about making a team. I got an opportunity now, and I'll work hard to do my job."
Guillen surveyed starting pitchers such as Mark Buehrle and Javier Vazquez as to their recommendation for working with a backup catcher, helping him to decide between Molina and veteran Wiki Gonzalez. The White Sox manager now wants to see his young backstop and fellow countryman take charge even in a reserve role.
"I don't like the way he is. He's too quiet, too soft," said Guillen of Molina, who has carved a niche in past Spring Trainings with his solid handling of the pitching staff. "I like people who are more aggressive.
"He doesn't look like Venezuela. He looks like he just sits there. I told him 'You're not Harold Baines.' When you're acting like that in the big leagues, you have to get close to 3,000 hits.
"We went to every pitcher, all the coaches, and they say they feel more comfortable with Molina and that's why we kept him," Guillen added. "I think this kid will be fine. I just need him to catch a good game, call a good game."
Molina obviously won't provide the offense that the White Sox counted on from Hall. But Guillen listed off past backups such as Sandy Alomar, Jr., Ben Davis and Jamie Burke to point out that none of them were exactly big producers during their most recent time in Chicago.
"If this is the White Sox problem I have to worry about for this team, we don't have any problems," Guillen said. "The guys we've had in the past, and we had success with those guys, that means it's not that much.
"Are we going to miss him?" Guillen added of Hall. "Of course, because he gave me a better opportunity to win and have better offense and defense. In the meanwhile, I think we have people here who can catch and throw."
Pitching coach Don Cooper hoped for Hall's quick return, but explained that the White Sox won a World Series title in 2005 with Chris Widger's .241 average, four home runs and 11 RBIs -- supporting Pierzynski in reserve. Cooper added that it was hard to miss a piece of the puzzle the White Sox never completely had.
"Everybody is upset about it and I wish we had him, but we have not played a regular season game with Toby," Cooper said. "So, as much as we are upset about him being down, we have to move on.
"Toby was a great addition to our club. We were looking forward to having him. He's a great catcher, receiver, thrower and also a good right-handed bat. But my opinion is good teams move on. Nothing is going to stop us. We have to pick up and move along because it's hard to miss something you never had."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.