VIERA, Fla. — The video is a strange one to watch. Mark DeRosa stands in against Clayton Kershaw at Dodger Stadium last year, cocking his bat ever so slightly above his right shoulder. Kershaw delivers a pitch in the dirt and before DeRosa can even begin his swing, he reacts, drops his bat and brings his already twice repaired left wrist in toward his chest.
“I’m done,” DeRosa mouths as the San Francisco Giants trainers come out to see what’s clearly causing him immense pain.
A tendon in his wrist, the same one that DeRosa had operated on after the 2009 season and again during the 2010 season, had ruptured. It was possibly the best thing that could have happened to DeRosa.
After more than two years where he never felt like himself and watched his role on a baseball field go from a 20-homer player to a disabled-list filler, he arrived in Nationals camp on Wednesday morning and said “to be honest with you, since I ruptured it, that’s the best it’s felt. I was able to come back last year after rehabbing and play in September and played pretty well. So I’m excited.”
DeRosa admitted that he’d come to spring training the past two years feeling like he could contribute but never feeling as pain-free as he does now.
“You can hide it as much as you want,” he said. “But I kind of knew it was going to flare up.”
Getting through the spring healthy will be key for DeRosa, a player the Nationals are counting on to be their super-utility man and provide power off the bench.
“I feel like if I can stay healthy, I can have a good season and help out,” he said.
But spring training will be pivotal if DeRosa wants to be even slightly the player he was before a mid-season trade to the Cardinals a few days before his first wrist injury.
“The offseason is not the season,” he said. “It’s not grinding every day. It’s not hitting seven times a week. I need these six weeks to get ready… I’m hoping after two years of going through all I went through, it seems to have settled down. The scar tissue or whatever that’s in there seems to have calmed down and allowed me to do my job without pain. That was the toughest thing. You can make up for lack of stability or lack of mobility or whatever you’ve got to deal with. But that knifing pain every time you go to swing, it just kind of shut me down.”
So why, after earning $12 million the past two years (albeit injury-riddled ones), sign an $800,000 contract to play for the Nationals?
“A chance to win, obviously,” Derosa, a New Jersey native, said. “This team is on the verge.”
Nationals manager Davey Johnson had an awful lot to do with it as well. Johnson, who managed DeRosa in the World Baseball Classic in 2009, recruited him heavily this offseason. He was the first player the Nationals signed this offseason, outside of their own free agent Chien-Ming Wang, and they expect him to contribute at the corner infield and outfield positions. The Nationals being close to his Atlanta home was also important for DeRosa, who has two kids.
“I didn’t know what opportunities were going to be available to me this offseason,” DeRosa said. “A couple teams stepped forward, and I felt like this was the best fit for me to come and help and to see if I can rekindle my career.”
DeRosa said he has no preference for his spot on the field, only saying he doesn’t plan to do any catching. Glen Hubbard, DeRosa’s coach when he was with the Braves, always reminded him to “Be an athlete,” and that’s what DeRosa said his goal will be this year with the Nationals.
“I’m not going to glide like Carlos Beltran in the outfield or do things that certain guys do out there,” he said. “But I can catch it and hit the cutoff man.”
DeRosa appeared to fit right in in the Nationals’ clubhouse on Wednesday, already knowing a lot of the veteran guys like Rick Ankiel and Adam LaRoche. He was, however, a little embarrassed to arrive early and be the second-to-last position player to arrive.
“I got in last night and I was looking on the web and saw that me and Xavier Paul were the last guys,” DeRosa said. “It’s like, jeeze. I said to my wife, ‘You guys are killing me. I’m going to be, like, the last guy walking in. Like the passion is fizzling.’ But 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.”