Kent not rushing his recovery
Long-term health takes precedence over Opening Day start
PHOENIX -- Jeff Kent said on Saturday that it's still too soon to know whether his lingering hamstring strain will be healed by Opening Day.
"That's what I'm shooting for," Kent said. "I'm not one to make predictions. I'll have a better answer in a couple of days if things don't progress."
Though manager Joe Torre conceded that the chances of Nomar Garciaparra being active for the opener are "remote" because a broken bone in his hand prevents him from swinging a bat, Kent's situation is more fluid.
For example, Kent took batting and infield practice with the club before Saturday's game with the Angels and hit in a simulated game, but when he tried light running, he shut it down because of lingering tightness.
"He was disappointed. He thought he'd have more freedom," said Torre. "He thought it would be better. He couldn't really stretch out."
Torre said that the situation should be clearer on Tuesday, when the club leaves Arizona for California.
Kent said that to this point he hasn't pushed his recovery "by design," because there was no urgency without games that counted, but he acknowledged that he expected to be healed by now after receiving a cortisone injection five days ago.
"During the season the approach would have been different," he said. "It got halfway better fast, then it just stopped."
Kent has had hamstring injuries that did not require Minor League rehab assignments, but he's never been 40 years old before. He said that he won't rush to be ready for Opening Day if it means jeopardizing his health for the rest of the season, as hamstring injuries tend to linger.
He said that he doesn't know how many at-bats at game speed he will need, saying it was probably more than two and fewer than 50, but that "timing is a big issue."
If he appears in an official exhibition game, the club will be unable to back-date his placement on the disabled list beyond that appearance. So he will initially hit in simulated games, and Torre left open the possibility of Minor League games in Florida.
With Garciaparra down, injuries leave the possibility of an Opening Day infield that includes Tony Abreu, Chin-lung Hu or Blake DeWitt starting two of the positions, with veteran Ramon Martinez backing up the backups.
The dual injuries increase the chances of DeWitt sneaking onto the roster out of Minor League camp. He's impressed coaches and Torre is intrigued, although he's still unconvinced, because he's seen so little of DeWitt because of the China trip.
Abreu made several flashy plays at second base on Saturday while going 0-for-2 and being hit by a pitch. DeWitt started at third base, doubled in a run, then was picked off second base. Hu took over for DeWitt, went 1-for-2 and impressed Torre with a bare-handed pickup and throw of Reggie Willits' bunt.
Kent said that the overall inexperience of that projected patchwork infield would not pressure him into accelerating his return.
"We've got capable players to pick up the slack," he said. "If we didn't, we wouldn't be a good team."
Torre met with both of his injured infielders on Saturday. He said that Garciaparra could fight his way through the pain, but nobody wants the season to start that way for him.
"We'll wait until he's pain-free to start hitting," said Torre.
As for Kent, Torre said that the second baseman needs to be able to run from first to third, and he's not ready for that test. Torre said that he wasn't as concerned with being short-handed early in the season as he was with the chance that rushing either of his infielders could leave them with injuries that linger all season.
That's what happened last year, when shortstop Rafael Furcal rushed back from a turned ankle and had a subpar season trying to play through the pain.
"Being available for 150-plus games should take precedence," said Torre.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.