Injured Gwynn isn’t hitting panic button, yet

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McClatchy Tribune
Thursday, March 5, 2009
— Tony Gwynn Jr. made the kind of admission you rarely hear a professional athlete cop to.

“I’m starting to panic,” the Milwaukee Brewers centerfielder said Tuesday, looking up from his chair with honesty slathered on his face.

Seconds later, realizing how brutally candid he had just been, Gwynn reeled that statement back and said he was more like “extremely concerned.”

The reason for the strong feelings is Gwynn is fighting for a spot on the big-league roster, primarily with Chris Duffy and Trot Nixon, but he hasn’t been able to state his case because a right shoulder impingement has sidelined him almost totally since the start of spring training. And when Gwynn finally had made enough progress to throw a baseball Monday, the session had to be cut short because of more pain.

Now Gwynn awaits results of an MRI to be examined today by team physician William Raasch. Gwynn likens himself to a college basketball team on the bubble waiting to see whether he gets to dance or has to continue to sit and watch.

“It’s one of those things now where it’s a wait-and-see game,” Gwynn, 26, said. “This is like my March Madness to see if I get in the tournament.

“It’s my Selection Thursday.”

As a competitor, Gwynn wants to be healthy so he can be on the field and play. But there is a more stressful reason Gwynn feels like he “has” to get the spikes on to show and prove.

With leftfielder Ryan Braun at the World Baseball Classic and only five other listed outfielders in camp, this was supposed to be Gwynn’s chance to prove he deserved a spot on the 25-man roster.

But his shoulder has limited him since personal workouts in San Diego before he reported. He hasn’t seen the field beyond being a designated hitter since arriving in Arizona.

Meanwhile, Gwynn watches Duffy impress with his ball hawking and hitting skills, Trot Nixon be a capable defender and Brad Nelson put together good at-bats as his chances of making the opening day roster lessen.

And as a player out of options, it’s either make the team, be put on waivers or get traded.

The team also added minor-league outfielder Lorenzo Cain to big-league camp Wednesday as a result of Gwynn’s injury.

Even first-year manager Ken Macha, not speaking directly about Gwynn last week—at least not totally—sounded the alarm on the importance of being healthy enough to compete for a job.

“An extra player, a bench guy, is never injured,” Macha said. “If you’re a backup, you’ve got to be ready to play 162 games. . . . (Injuries) can’t happen. You have to be on call for 162 games.”

That hasn’t been the case for Gwynn, a second-round pick in 2003, since the start of last season. Coming out of spring training, Gwynn was expected to get the majority of the 25 starts missed by Mike Cameron’s suspension and went 2 for 3 with a stolen base and the game-winning sacrifice fly on opening day. But in the third game, Gwynn strained his hamstring and Gabe Kapler emerged as the Brewers’ primary backup outfielder.

It was a missed opportunity for Gwynn to prove he could produce in the big leagues on a daily basis. He made three more starts for the Brewers in 2008 and has yet to live up to his early draft selection.

This season it was thought he had another strong chance to make the 25-man roster with Duffy and Nixon his only competition when camp opened. But the impingement set him back and Gwynn has watched Duffy lead the team in spring at-bats and catch Macha’s eye.

“The crazy part is from 2003 to 2006, I never even sniffed an injury,” said Gwynn, who had a .328 on-base percentage with 20 steals in 93 games with Class AAA Nashville last year. “These last two years have been frustrating. Every time I get the opportunity to go out there and prove I should be up here, something manages to go wrong.

“It’s cause for concern. You know you’re fighting for a spot and you can’t be out there to prove your point. You start to feel like you’re moving in the right direction, then you get to the actual test and you fail. It’s disappointing.”

Gwynn comes off as an optimist but also as a realist who is aware of his situation and what the repercussions could be. Without any options remaining and enough ability to make him attractive to other teams, there is a possibility Gwynn could be traded since he will have to clear waivers if the Brewers don’t keep him on the 25-man roster.

Gwynn is experiencing the harsh reality of his profession. When asked to describe the feeling of being in his current situation—injuries and the possibility of leaving the only organization he’s known—Gwynn can only say so much.

“It’s probably words that you can’t write in a newspaper,” he said. “It’s extremely frustrating. I got a family, a wife, a kid and another one on the way. It’s scary being that I’m out of options and the whole plate of different things that can happen. I believe at the end of the day, when I’m healthy, I’m a very good player and can help the team.

“It’s a very real situation. I don’t know anything but Brewers. I came up in this organization with all the guys in here. They’re like family to me. But at some point, I know (leaving) is a possibility.”

Last updated: 9:56 am Thursday, December 13, 2012

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