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Comeback Kids Look for these players, injured last season, to have big years

March 22, 2004
March 22, 2004

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March 22, 2004

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Comeback Kids Look for these players, injured last season, to have big years

JEREMY AFFELDT, LHP, Royals

This is an article from the March 22, 2004 issue Original Layout

After battling a blister on the middle finger of his left hand
all last season, the 24-year-old underwent a partial nail
avulsion, in which half of the offending fingernail was removed
and acid was laid in the nail bed to prevent it from growing
back. Now pain-free, Affeldt, who possesses a mid-90s fastball
and a 12-to-6 curve, is back in K.C.'s rotation, where the club
believes he can be a staff ace.

A.J. BURNETT, RHP, MARLINS

Scouts have long been saying that the 27-year-old, one of the
game's hardest throwers, may have a bigger upside than World
Series MVP Josh Beckett. Burnett underwent Tommy John surgery
last April, and the Marlins are hoping that he'll be in the
rotation by June. "We're not going to rush anything with him,"
says manager Jack McKeon. "Whenever we get him back, it'll be
like making a trade."

MILTON BRADLEY, CF, INDIANS

Bradley, Cleveland's switch-hitting cleanup man, was enjoying a
career year (.421 OBP) when a lower-back bruise ended his season
in August. When healthy, the 25-year-old is an elite
centerfielder endowed with power and speed, but he's played just
199 games over the last two seasons and only three this spring at
week's end, because of a strained oblique that isn't considered
serious.

TROY GLAUS, 3B, ANGELS

Limited to 91 games last year by a partially torn right rotator
cuff, Glaus hit just 16 home runs. The 27-year-old skipped
surgery in hopes that the injury would heal on its own; he says
it has. With an improved diet (more fruit, less fried food) and
increased weight training, he's in great shape. His comeback
could be helped by improved vision: He underwent laser surgery in
the off-season.

KEN GRIFFEY JR., CF, REDS

Griffey, who dislocated his shoulder a week into the season and
then ruptured a tendon in his right ankle in July, arrived at
camp early, in good spirits and in good health. "If I can make it
through April and May, I'll be all right," says the 34-year-old,
who for the past three years has not done so without injury.
Nineteen homers shy of 500, he has also been the subject of trade
rumors.

TREVOR HOFFMAN, CLOSER, PADRES

The 36-year-old righthander spent most of 2003 recovering from
two shoulder surgeries. He's waiting to see how his arm reacts to
the grind of daily use, but he says his pitching shoulder is as
strong and limber as it was several seasons ago. "I'm excited to
be part of it again," he says. "What I went through last year has
allowed me to catch my breath. The arm really feels good."

RANDY JOHNSON, LHP, DIAMONDBACKS

Following arthroscopic surgery on his right knee last May, the
five-time Cy Young Award winner was merely mortal upon his return
to the rotation in July (5-6, 3.57 ERA). But he's showing no ill
effects this spring, throwing in the mid-90s and appearing
rejuvenated at age 40. "I feel as good as I ever have," he says.
"Last year I was pitching on one leg. I'm on two legs now."

COREY PATTERSON, CF, CUBS

Patterson was carrying the Cubs' offense and having a breakout
year (.298, 13 homers, 55 RBIs) when he tore his left ACL and
meniscus on July 6. After seven months of rehab the 24-year-old
has looked terrific this spring--"I've been 100 percent since the
end of February," he says--and if he weren't a number 2 hitter,
he'd have more RBI opportunities and could be a bona fide MVP
candidate.

RICARDO RODRIGUEZ, RHP, RANGERS

Rodriguez, 25, acquired from Cleveland in a midseason trade for
outfielder Ryan Ludwick, got off to a good start (2-0, 1.35 ERA)
but was hindered by hip and groin problems that ultimately
sidelined him for the last two months. Recovered from off-season
hip surgery, he'll compete for a rotation spot. A ground ball
pitcher, he should fare well in the homer-happy Ballpark in
Arlington.

MICHAEL TUCKER, OF, GIANTS

The 32-year-old, who broke a bone when he fouled a ball off his
right leg on Aug. 4, has finished with double-digit homer totals
in each of his eight full major league seasons. The lefthanded
hitter will play all three outfield spots and get a lot of at
bats for San Francisco--his fourth team in four years--which will
use him regularly against righthanders. --Albert Chen

FOUR COLOR PHOTOS: MLB PHOTOS (4)TWO COLOR PHOTOS: BRIAN BAHR/GETTY IMAGES (PATTERSON, RODRIGUEZ)COLOR PHOTO: ELIOT J. SCHECHTER/GETTY IMAGES (BURNETT)COLOR PHOTO: HARRY HOW/GETTY IMAGES (GLAUS)COLOR PHOTO: STEPHEN DUNN/GETTY IMAGES (HOFFMAN)COLOR PHOTO: JEFF GROSS/GETTY IMAGES (JOHNSON)