VIERA, Fla. - The tendon he ruptured in his left wrist swinging at a pitch from Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw in L.A. last May 18 may have been a blessing in disguise for Mark DeRosa. Of course, at the time, all the veteran could do was wince and wonder whether his career was over.
“To be honest with you, since I’ve ruptured it, it’s the best that it felt,” said DeRosa, who reported to Nationals camp on Wednesday, leaving only non-roster outfielder Xavier Paul unaccounted for among position players. “I was able to come back last year after rehabbing, playing September and play pretty well.”
DeRosa, who had lost most of two seasons to left wrist problems, started slow upon his return to the Giants lineup in August. In September, he managed to pull his average from .232 to .279 by season’s end, proving to himself that his wrist woes were behind him. He didn’t hit for power, but he had enough flexibility and motion in the wrist to think he could help a team in 2012.
That team was the Nationals, who signed him to a major league deal Dec. 22, reuniting the right-handed hitter with manager Davey Johnson, who had skippered the U.S. entry in the World Baseball Classic for which DeRosa played in 2009. Johnson needed a versatile infielder who could hit from the right side of the plate, and DeRosa’s ability to play the outfield could come in handy now that Mike Cameron is out of the picture after abruptly retiring over the weekend.
So DeRosa reported with a purpose, even if he appeared to be an unintentional straggler.
“I’m going to look like the last guy walking in, like the passion’s fizzling,” he joked. “But no, I’m excited. This is a team on the verge of some good stuff, especially with some of the acquisitions. ... It all sets up for a great summer.”
And if DeRosa’s wrist is fully healed, allowing him to become a weapon at the plate again, he could enjoy himself, too.
“I’m hoping after two years of going through all I went through, it seems to have settled down. I guess the scar tissue or whatever’s in there seems to have calmed down and allow me to do my job without pain,” he said. “That was the toughest thing. You can make up with lack of stability or lack of mobility or whatever you got to deal with. But that knifing pain, every time you went to swing, that kind of shut me down.”
The problem is something the 36-year-old DeRosa had to learn to deal with. He hurt the wrist initially two days after being traded from the Indians to the Cardinals in June 2009. He gutted his way through the season and into the playoffs, but had offseason corrective surgery before signing a two-year deal with the Giants. The wrist problems quickly returned, and DeRosa spent most of 2010 on the disabled list, then made two more trips there last year.
“You can hide it as much as you want, but I knew it was going to flare up,” he said.
The ruptured tendon set him straight. He was finally able to swing unencumbered. This offseason, he made it a priority to find a team closer to his home in Atlanta. The Mariners and Indians were reportedly interested, but DeRosa settled on Washington. Only now, he’s going to be a utility man, playing all around the infield and on the outfield corners.
“That’s how I got my start, being a utility guy and it’s coming full circle, going back to it - which I’m not happy about but I also understand,” DeRosa said. “I’m pretty comfortable playing wherever. I always go back to the coach I had with the Braves, Glenn Hubbard, and he always said, ‘When in doubt, be an athlete.’ So that’s what I’ve always tried to do.”
And an athlete with nothing hurting can help a lot more than DeRosa’s been able to do in the past two seasons.
“Just coming in here, I want to stay healthy,” he said. “That’s the key for me. I feel like if I can stay healthy, I can have a good season. (The wrist) feels great, but it remains to be seen. The offseason, ... it’s not grinding every day, it’s not hitting seven times a week. I need these six weeks to get ready.”