VIERA, Fla. — The last time Mark DeRosa can remember playing with his left wrist feeling as pain-free as it has during his first few weeks in Nationals camp was 2 1/2 years ago. When the question of how much soreness he’s dealt with this spring comes up DeRosa drops his voice low, as if he’s afraid talking about it will jinx him, and says “I’ve had none.”
“I don’t even want to talk about it,” he said. “It’s weird. I haven’t done anything different as far as treatment or stuff in the weight room, so I’m hoping that after 2 1/2 years it’s scarred down or found it’s slot in life. I don’t know. I don’t know what to say.”
Still, DeRosa, who admits he didn’t realize just how much of an impact his wrist could have over every aspect of his game — and especially his power — when he first went down with the injury in St. Louis in 2009, made it clear he was thrilled when he connected with Jonny Venters’ offering Tuesday afternoon in Orlando. As he saw the ball go sailing over the left field wall, DeRosa couldn’t help but celebrate the occasion.
“It was pretty important,” DeRosa said, agreeing with Nationals manager Davey Johnson’s assessment that he was pretty amped up when he returned to the dugout. “I mean, you don’t know if it’s still in there until you do it… At least I know I’m still capable.”
DeRosa, who’s quickly ingrained himself in the Nationals’ clubhouse, joked he’s been talking with hitting coach Rick Eckstein to move him out of his batting practice group which also happens to include Michael Morse, Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth, telling Eckstein, “These guys are hitting homers and they’re giving me a complex.”
But even when he’s watching his teammates launch home run after home run, DeRosa has taken comfort in the fact that his swing, while it hasn’t produced those same BP results, hasn’t caused him any pain. Getting the home run off Venters, who DeRosa works out with in the offseason and knows well, was just another step for him in regaining the confidence he once had that his body wouldn’t fail him. Even his thought process as a power hitter had returned.
“It’ll mean nothing if two weeks from now I start getting sore but, for right now, every day seems to be getting better, I seem to be getting more confident,” DeRosa said. “The biggest thing was I had a different mindset. He threw the first pitch down, it was a pretty dissimilar pitch and I kind of stepped out of the box and I told myself it that pitch was a little more up, go get it. Normally it’d be ‘Guard against it, maybe push it to right, get a base hit.’ I’m getting more confident in the ability to trust that I’m going to get there.”
A few lockers down from DeRosa sits Jayson Werth, another player who grappled with a difficult wrist injury for multiple years before finally finding a solution and working his way into the valuable hitter he was for the Philadelphia Phillies. A couple hundred miles south and across the state of Florida, Red Sox outfielder Carl Crawford is working through his own. His first home run since February 2011 and a long, arduous recovery road behind him, DeRosa can empathize.
“I didn’t realize how big a deal it was and how wristy a hitter I was,” DeRosa said. “I know Carl Crawford’s going through a similar thing with his wrist, not the same thing that I did, but it shuts you down. You don’t realize how important it is in what we do in life: catching, throwing, hitting, everything.
“It’s been a long, frustrating 2 1/2 years but that one swing yesterday kind of woke me up a little bit, so we’ll see.”