04/05/2004 8:19 PM ET
Notes: Nen has mound in sight
Giants reliever getting closer and closer to return
By Rich Draper / MLB.com
HOUSTON -- Robb Nen is close now, closer than ever. He knows it's days, not months, when he'll throw real fastballs in real games, not sham contests with trainer Stan Conte looking over that tendinitis-ridden right shoulder.
|Giants trainer Stan Conte (left) has worked long and hard trying to get Robb Nen back to the mound. (Eric Risberg/AP)
Yep, the Giants closer will perhaps -- stress that word -- be ready in about two weeks, coming off the 15-day disabled list with rotator cuff problems after enduring last season without one pitch and watching Spring Training pass him by.
"The Robb Nen story is as much about emotion than it is about the physical for a lot of different reasons," said Conte, who ordered Nen to take a few days off at his home in Southern California and not even think about baseball. "It's been a strain on everybody's emotions."
Nen seemed semi-content on Monday as he chatted with old buddy Jeff Bagwell, the Astros' first sacker, then told reporters how the disappointment of not returning to action by Opening Day made it a rough time, even if the end is in sight.
"I did take a few days off and kept my mind off baseball," said the 34-year-old Nen, the Giants' all-time save leader (206) who went on the DL initially one year ago before the team's first game at San Diego. "It's still hard, and I'm not happy about being on the DL, but maybe in a couple of weeks it'll be right. A good thing is it's getting closer and closer -- it's a matter of time."
Maybe Nen was not ready for the first day, but he is confident he'll take the ball again. For 10 years, the hard-throwing right-hander has been prowling mounds around the country striking out -- and striking fear into -- opposing batters. This is not just a profession, it's his life, and he missed the game, his teammates, the crowds. Everything. Conte praised Nen for carefully following the prepared rehabbing program since his final surgery last May.
"We had a little bit of a holdup," said Nen. "Trust me, it hasn't been easy, although I'm laughing right now. But I do understand the process, but I am still discouraged about not starting the season off. But I do feel a lot stronger than I did last year at this time. The goal is for me to be back in a couple of weeks. It's been a long 16 months, but there was nothing I could do but do the things to get things right."
Conte said Nen took the four days off to "reload, not restart, just like any other with tendinitis. Some of that was for him, some of it was for me. It's been a roller coaster for the past year. But when you see a smile on his face and he would ask, 'What will we do today,' it makes me happy."
Nen did throw off flat ground at Minute Maid Park on Monday, and there were no problems.
Bonds' quest: "I hope he does it quick," said manager Felipe Alou of Barry Bonds' pursuit of Willie Mays' career 660 homers. Bonds is only two blasts shy.
"I looked beyond the home runs. I just hope that whatever number of homers he hits people don't forget what kind of an all-around player he is. He has been a baserunner and hitter. It's hard to believe that Barry would hit so many, but he's the kind of guy who can do anything he wanted."
Tucker eager: Giants right fielder Michael Tucker had a brilliant spring, hitting .345 with four homers and 14 RBIs, and he has sparkled hitting third in the order. All told, it was a great start for the nine-year vet who joined the team over the winter after two seasons in Kansas City.
"It was a good spring for me, kind of normal, and it was the first time the Giants fans had seen me," said Tucker, who also made several spectacular catches in right field. "Now they know what to expect, but I won't try to do too much. I like this team. There are guys with a lot of experience and who know how to win."
Rich Draper is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.