Sirotka finally soft-tosses

It was raining and everyone was grumbling about the weather and the prospect of the Jays-Phillies exhibition game being delayed or cancelled, but Mike Sirotka was happy ... rain or not.

Friday evening, on a patch of grass between the players' parking lot and the clubhouse, while his teammates huddled under a canopy and wolfed down a pre-game meal, Sirotka got to do what he loves to do.

He got to throw a baseball.

It was only for five minutes, but it was a big moment for the Blue Jays' brain trust.

Under the scrutiny of manager Buck Martinez, assistant GM Dave Stewart and pitching coach Mark Connor, Sirotka tossed lightly at first, then started threw slightly harder and with some snap.

Finally, the 29-year old left-hander, acquired by the Jays in the David Wells trade, got his first opportunity of the spring to play a little catch.

This, after weeks of hearing his name associated with the terms; "damaged goods" and "bad trade," after hearing his name and his medical history bandied about by management, fans, media and Major League Baseball's front office, Mike Sirotka must have considered this a big day.

He tried to downplay the significance of that five minutes, but couldn't hide his enthusiasm.

"It's just good to be able to throw. No doubt about it. Today's just step one, but hopefully it gets better from here," said Sirotka.

He knows that although things looked and felt pretty normal and encouraging while throwing for a few minutes, it's a far cry from being on a mound, and farther still from throwing the ball by a hitter.

"At this point, it's really too early to say what's next or how far away I am. It's only short distances, and the real telling will be in how I can recover from throwing longer distances and higher intensities."

Sirotka, a 15-game winner for the WhiteSox last season, was acquired along with outfielder Brian Simmons and minor league pitchers Kevin Bierne and Mike Williams in exchange for Wells and pitcher Matt DeWitt.

Sirotka passed intial physical evaluations by the Jays, but was later found to have a partially torn rotator cuff and a torn labrum.

It's thought he might be able to pitch for Toronto after the All-Star break at best.

Sirotka ended last season with some elbow and shoulder soreness, then was still sore after pitching a couple of games during an All-Star tour in Japan in November.

In early January, he was given a cortisone shot in the shoulder by White Sox doctors and was told to check back in two weeks, but before he could check back, he was traded to Toronto.

It wasn't until an M-R-I in February that Sirotka's rotator and labrum tears were uncovered.

The Jays cried "foul" and asked the White Sox for further compensation, claiming the injuries were old ones that they must have known about.

The matter went to the commissioner's office and, this week, the Jays were told the deal stands as is, and that the "caveat emptor" or "buyer beware" rule applies in the Sirotka case.

Sirotka is clearly regretting the whole affair and the turn it has taken.

He wants to be involved with his new team's preparations here in Dunedin, and wants to contribute, and to show teammates, management and the Toronto fans that he is a good acquisition.

"I sure do, but I've got to wait. You do the best with the information you have. Dr. Andrews, Dr. Miniaci and the other doctors are very good at what they do, and I have to respect their opinion and know that they are just looking out for me," he said.

For now, he'll toil away in the carefully-engineered rehabilitation program the Jays doctors and training staff have laid out for him.

For now, he'll hope he doesn't have to face surgery, although he knows it's still a strong possibility, and he 'll deal with that if he has to.

For now though, that five minutes of tossing a ball in the rain will continue to feel like a "breath of spring" for Mike Sirotka.