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franklin county times

Powell among Houston's scarred relievers

By Staff
From staff, wire reports
March 25, 2001
KISSIMMEE, Fla. Houston's bullpen looks like a recovery room.
In addition to 1,733 major league appearances and 255 saves among Billy Wagner, Doug Brocail, Jay Powell and Mike Jackson, there also have been 14 stints on the disabled list and four season-ending operations last year.
We're depending a lot on surgery,'' Astros manager Larry Dierker said.
If all four relievers are healthy, the Astros could have one of the league's best bullpens. If not, it could be another long season for Houston, which after three straight division titles went 72-90 last year.
We could be pretty good down there if we get all of those guys healthy and pitching the way they're capable,'' pitching coach Burt Hooten said. Last year, we didn't have anybody coming out of the bullpen that could stop the opposition.''
Houston pitchers converted just 30 of 55 save opportunities a year ago. And the Astros were 6-20 in one-run games.
Wagner, the Astros' proven left-handed closer, missed the final 3 1/2 months last season because of a torn flexor tendon in his left elbow. After 101 saves during the team's three NL Central championship seasons, had six last year before surgery in June.
A mild groin strain provided a minor setback this spring, but the elbow has posed no problem. Wagner is considered closer to 100 percent than the others.
Powell, the former West Lauderdale standout, was the winner of Game 7 of the 1997 World Series for the Florida Marlins. But the right-handed setup man pitched just 27 innings for the Astros last season because of tendinitis in his right throwing shoulder that led to surgery in August.
Brocail and Jackson are veterans acquired to solidify the bullpen.
Jackson, 36, signed with the Astros as a free agent after not playing at all last season. After saving 79 games for Cleveland over two seasons, he was with Philadelphia last year and felt discomfort in his right shoulder, eventually needing arthroscopic surgery.
Brocail, 33, made it to September last season before undergoing surgery to remove loose bodies from his right elbow.
He returns to Houston after an offseason trade with Detroit.
All four pitchers are making progress, but Jackson is discovering the hardest part is not rushing.
I'm starting to understand it's a slow process. I just need to go out there and not try to do more than what I'm capable of doing right now and just let my arm gradually come back,'' Jackson said.
You want to basically try to get yourself back to where you were before you got hurt. That's what your mind is telling you, but your body is telling you that you can't do that right now.''
The resident surgical expert is Brocail, whose September operation was his fifth. He has some advice for his lesser-scarred bullpen mates.
You always have to get over that hump of feeling achy and thinking, 'Should I let it go or should I hold back a little bit?''' Brocail said. Hopefully, they get over that and get to where they just cut loose and break the adhesion and get over it.''
Brocail was with the Astros in 1995-96, then was traded to Detroit, where he developed into a solid setup man.
In four AL seasons, Brocail had a 3.06 ERA over 240 games with a 17-14 record and four saves. Nagging injuries limited him to just 49 games last season, his low there.
We've got a lot of guys to choose from,'' Dierker said. I'm hoping that we can come up with the right combination right at the start and get off to a decent start, rather than having to learn the hard way and feel our way into a good bullpen as the season goes on.''
Still, Dierker acknowledges that he must make some judgment calls. Radar guns only show how hard a pitcher is throwing, not location or movement. And relievers face mostly minor leaguers in many spring games.
You have to kind of take everything combined and make your best guess,'' Dierker said.
At least several options exist, and the load won't fall to just one pitcher.
Sure, we're all battling injuries,'' Jackson said. But if one guy can pitch one day and give another guy a chance to rest until we all get 100 percent, it will be a plus for us.''