James sound as he continues recovery
Lefty tosses two scoreless innings vs. Tigers on Thursday
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Based simply on the results, Chuck James had reason to be pleased with the two scoreless innings he completed against the Tigers' potent lineup at Joker Marchant Stadium on Thursday afternoon.
But at the same time, the Braves left-hander, who is looking to prove his left shoulder is healthy, understood this Grapefruit League season debut simply served as a reminder that he's still on his road to recovery and likely destined to begin the regular season at the Minor League level.
As long as Mike Hampton remains healthy, it appears he and Jair Jurrjens will fill the final two rotation spots. But even if there were a rotation spot open, James would have to rush his return to be ready for the start of the regular season.
"With [Jair] Jurrjens throwing as well as he's throwing, I don't know what [the Braves] will do," said James, who learned in October that he had a partial tear in his left rotator cuff. "If I go down to Triple-A, I'll go down there and look at it the best way that I can. It may help me to go down to Triple-A and get back into that groove, if I don't get into it before the end of Spring Training."
Fortunately for James, he didn't experience any left shoulder discomfort during his two-inning stint. While speaking nearly 30 minutes after he'd thrown his final pitch, he said there was some tightness in his shoulder that he believed was just "normal soreness".
Braves manager Bobby Cox was happy to see James throw a couple of 91-mph fastballs and was told by the team's trainers after the game that the shoulder appeared to be sound.
James is expecting to pitch again on Monday against the Cardinals in Jupiter, Fla. He's scheduled to complete three innings.
"The first time out, you'd think he'd be a little bit rusty, but he wasn't," Cox said.
Even James, who is often oblivious to the talents of opposing hitters, understood he was facing a special lineup on Thursday. Of course, he was provided a clue when he saw former teammate Edgar Renteria batting seventh.
But while facing Gary Sheffield, Magglio Ordonez, Miguel Cabrera and most of the other regular members of the Tigers' lineup, James fared pretty well. Gregor Blanco helped with a sliding catch in the first inning, which ended with shortstop Brent Lillibridge making a nice play on a grounder to the hole on the infield's right side.
James said facing this sort of lineup increased his adrenaline and allowed him to give his shoulder a better test than it was getting when he was throwing live batting practice.
"You can throw a bullpen [session] and all of that, and it's never going to be the same as in the game, especially when you're throwing against this lineup," James said.
James threw just one slider, which went in the dirt, and mixed his fastball with a changeup that he knows needs improvement. It was definitely his best pitch during his 11-win rookie season in 2006. But it gave him some problems last year, when his shoulder forced him to make some unwanted mechanical changes.
"My changeup is an average changeup right now," James said. "It's not the changeup that I'm looking for and that I've had in the past. I think my arm speed and everything is good on it. I'm just not getting any run on it."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.