Sore elbow forces Madson to shut down rehab
Setback may leave reliever on DL to open season; Frieri in line to close
TEMPE, Ariz. -- You would've expected Ryan Madson to be in a good mood Monday, the first day of Spring Training with a new team and coming off a 2012 season that was lost to Tommy John surgery.
But his elbow's barking again.
Madson hasn't thrown for 10 days. He threw his fourth bullpen session of the offseason on Friday, Feb. 1, then experienced soreness throughout the weekend and followed up on Monday with Angels doctors, who advised him to temporarily shut it down. Madson, signed to an incentive-laden contract with the hope that he'd be the Angels' closer early in the season, is hoping it's only a temporary setback and is still targeting Opening Day on April 1.
He may have to temper that desire a bit, though.
"That's the hardest thing," Madson said. "I didn't think I was pushing it very hard. I was trying to go with the schedule. But that schedule led me to the beginning of the season, so I wanted to stay on that, and I don't know if I pushed it too hard, too early. I mean, everybody's body is different.
"I've been feeling pretty good until the last little bit. I don't know if I amped it up too much getting excited and it wasn't ready. I don't know."
Even before the soreness, a conservative timeline for Madson's 12-month recovery from April 11, 2012, ligament-replacement surgery had him pitching in Spring Training games by mid-March, then opening the season on the disabled list and getting activated by the second or third week.
Madson believes -- or, at least, is hopeful that -- the soreness is simply a nonthreatening reaction to throwing again, particularly because he long-tossed this offseason for the first time in a while. The 32-year-old right-hander, who hasn't received an MRI, reported that his arm has gradually progressed since his last throwing session, but was advised by doctors to continue to play it safe.
"I'm discouraged," Madson said, "because I just wanted to go and not have any hang-ups."
Though Mike Scioscia can't pinpoint a day when Madson will throw again, the Angels skipper is confident that the soreness is simply "normal rehab process."
"We definitely expect him to be ready at some point in April," Scioscia said.
When in April will be left entirely to Madson's arm.
"He's a guy who's obviously important to us," Scioscia said, "and we're going to err on the side of caution, make sure this thing continues to move in the direction it needs to."
If Madson opens the season on the DL, which is starting to look likely, Ernesto Frieri would probably start the year off as the Angels' closer.
Madson's track record -- 2.89 ERA and 1.19 WHIP from 2007-11, 46 saves as the Phillies' closer that last season -- hands him the ninth if he's healthy and right. But Frieri had a standout season last year, posting a 2.32 ERA while going 23-for-26 in saves after being acquired from the Padres.
On Monday, Frieri said he's working on a secret pitch to offset his heavily-used two-seam fastball -- which Scioscia later revealed to be a changeup -- and also stressed that he's comfortable in any role.
"The only thing that I want, and the only thing that I can control, is to pitch. To go out there and do my job -- get people out and that's it," Frieri said. "This is not about my personal [stats]. It's not about me being the closer. It's about the team, it's about winning. It doesn't matter what inning Mike Scioscia puts me in. I'm going to do the same thing."
But it's Madson, added this offseason alongside lefty reliever Sean Burnett, who holds the key to turning around a bullpen that led the American League with 47 blown saves the last two seasons.
Mindful of that importance, the Angels won't rush him.
"We're going to push him along at his own pace and see where he's at, and at the end of the spring, we'll evaluate," pitching coach Mike Butcher said. "He's going to let us know how he feels and we'll go from there. But hopefully he's ready. If he's not and we have to take some time, then it's worth taking some time to have that kind of guy in the back end of your bullpen."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.