- The Washington Times - Monday, March 6, 2006

VIERA, Fla. — His left wrist held in place by a splint wrapped in a bandage, Jose Guillen sat at his locker and smiled for maybe the first time in three days.

“So far, so good,” the Washington Nationals right fielder said.

Guillen certainly had to be feeling better than he did Friday morning, when a Viera hand specialist told him he had a damaged tendon in his wrist that would require surgery and at least a three-month stint on the disabled list.

Imagine that doctor’s surprise had he seen Guillen yesterday morning in the training room at Space Coast Stadium, working for an hour on strengthening both the wrist and his surgically repaired left shoulder.

There will be no surgery on the wrist, no trip to the DL. After getting second opinions from two other specialists Saturday, Guillen was back at work yesterday, convinced he can be in the Nationals’ lineup by Opening Day.

“If I play the last 10 days of spring training, that’s enough for me,” he said. “I’m in great shape. I don’t think I need more than that.”

That said, Guillen acknowledged his 24 hours of uncertainty has given him a new outlook on playing through injuries. After this scare, he insists he won’t push himself too hard to get back on the field before he’s absolutely ready.

“I’m going to make sure I’m 110 percent,” he said. “I don’t want to leave [spring training] with the team, and then something comes up and then here we go again with my shoulder or my wrist. I don’t want that to happen. … I’m going to make my own decisions. I’m smart enough, I’m a grown-up man and I know what I have to do. This is my future, this is my career and I’ve got to be smart.”

Call this the older, wiser Guillen than the one from a year ago. That version tried in vain to play the entire second half with what was later discovered to be a partially torn labrum in his non-throwing shoulder.

He was applauded for his tenacity and unwillingness to leave the Nationals’ lineup in the thick of a pennant race. But make no mistake, he should not have been playing.

After leading Washington’s offensive attack with 18 homers, 51 RBI and a .310 batting average at the All-Star break, Guillen saw his production plummet down the stretch. Over the season’s final three months, he hit a paltry .246 with six homers and 25 RBI.

Through it all, Guillen never let on just how hurt he was. He would take an occasional day off but otherwise insisted on playing.

Was he pushing it too hard at the time? How about this spring when he apparently hurt his wrist doing weight training?

“He always pushes too hard,” manager Frank Robinson said. “Telling Jose Guillen to take it easy is like throwing fresh meat at a shark and telling him not to eat it. That guy only knows one way, and that’s all out. I know he’s been working very hard to try to be ready for the season, and maybe he overdid it a little bit. But you can’t tell the guy to back off.”

Determined as Guillen was to play through the pain last year and as much as he wants to make it back by April 3, perhaps he’s starting to think more about his long-term well-being than short-term success.

Guillen, who turns 30 in May, is entering his 10th season in the majors. And he’s in the final year of his contract with the Nationals. He stated earlier this spring that he was hoping to sign a long-term deal to remain in Washington before Opening Day, but given his current health, it’s doubtful the club is ready to make a commitment.

Either Guillen will have to be willing to negotiate during the season, or he likely will hit the free agent market next fall hoping to cash in.

The only way he can do that is by playing and producing. And the only way he can produce is by being healthy.

So that’s why Guillen was taking a positive but cautious approach to his rehabilitation yesterday. He may be determined to be the Nationals’ right fielder come Opening Day. But if a delayed 2006 debut means better things down the road, he’s willing to ease off just a tad.

“We’re looking good so far,” he said. “It’s only one day, and the swelling’s already down. I’m just going to do whatever I can to get myself ready and to get myself in great shape to be with the team for Opening Day. If it doesn’t happen, then I’ve got to stay here for a few days.”

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide