BRADENTON, Fla. — Wandy Rodriguez threw his first bullpen session Friday without feeling any pain in his left forearm, where an injury to the flexor tendon forced him to miss the final four months of the 2013 season.
“I have good news for you guys,” Rodriguez told reporters after the session. “I threw my bullpen and I feel nothing.”
Rodriguez, 35, left his June 5 start in the first inning and did not pitch again in the major leagues last season. He began a rehabilitation assignment in late June, but tightness in the forearm forced him to stop. He received a platelet-rich plasma injection July 1 and rested.
He resumed throwing off a mound in August, but went to see orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews for a second opinion. Andrews confirmed that there was inflammation, and Rodriguez started throwing again, but the Pirates shut him down for good in mid-September.
Doctors told Rodriguez to rest the forearm over the winter. When he started his weightlifting regimen, his forearm felt strong, so he continued. He threw over the winter in the Dominican Republic, but this was his first bullpen session of the year.
“I was a little bit nervous because I wanted to know exactly how I feel,” he said. “Every time I throw, I feel more comfortable.”
Rodriguez threw 28 pitches, including fastballs, changeups and curveballs, and also threw curveballs while playing catch.
“He looked good,” pitching coach Ray Searage said. “There was no hesitation whatsoever in his throwing, his delivery. Ball came out good.”
Rodriguez will take two days off between bullpen sessions, meaning his next scheduled session is Monday. Most pitchers are throwing bullpen sessions followed by one day off, with lighter ‘touch-and-feel’ sessions mixed in.
“We’ll go from ’pen to ’pen to see how he feels, so this way we can add or subtract or just hold our own after that ’pen,” Searage said.
The bullpen session came as part the second official workout of spring training, rendering it useless in terms of foreshadowing Rodriguez’s readiness for opening day. If Rodriguez continues to progress, he will rejoin the rotation along with Francisco Liriano, Gerrit Cole and Charlie Morton.
Edinson Volquez and Jeff Locke likely will fight for the final spot, with Phil Irwin and Brandon Cumpton providing depth in case of an injury. If for some reason Rodriguez is not ready by the time the season starts, there will be two starting spots up for grabs.
“He’ll feel more confidence the next time he gets out,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “Every step forward, obviously confidence is going to come with that. I don’t think it will take him a long time for him to get to a comfort zone knowing that, ‘OK, I’ve taken care of that. Now I can just get back to pitching.’ ”
Hurdle makes a point of creating open communication between his players and the coaching staff and said Rodriguez keeps the coaches and trainers informed of his status.
“How he feels and what he’s thinking are important,” Hurdle said. “We continually ask questions to try to get those answers out of them so it gives us some direction. To a player, they’ve all gotten better with the trust factor. Some guys would have difficulty in saying they had some butterflies. They just don’t want to throw that out there. He’s gotten to a point where he had some, so he’s worked through them.”
When healthy, Rodriguez has produced, including as a Pirate. He has a 3.66 ERA in 1372⁄3 innings since joining the Pirates before the 2012 trade deadline. He had a 3.59 ERA in 12 starts last season before getting hurt.
A solid season from Rodriguez, who pitched at least 191 innings in each of the four seasons before 2013, would improve a starting staff that already ranked fifth in ERA last year but ranked 24th in innings pitched.
Rodriguez exercised his $13 million player option after last season ended. The Houston Astros are still paying $5.5 million of that.
Bill Brink: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @BrinkPG.