D-backs righty Ziegler has Opening Day roster in sights

D-backs righty Ziegler has Opening Day roster in sights

PHOENIX -- Lost amid the rash of Tommy John surgeries that plagued the D-backs' pitching staff last year was the left knee injury that cost veteran reliever Brad Ziegler the final four weeks of the season.

After pitching through the pain for more than two months, Ziegler underwent microfracture surgery in September.

"It's going well," Ziegler said of his rehab. "Dr. [Michael] Lee told me that as far as the microfracture surgeries he's done, I'm further along at the point that I'm at than anyone else that he's been checking up on. So I guess that means ahead of schedule. Hopefully I'll be ready for Opening Day, but if not, barring a setback, it should be shortly after that. "

Ziegler has been the most consistent reliever the D-backs have had since he came over in a midseason trade in 2011. He posted an ERA of 1.74 that season in Arizona, and followed it up with a 2.49 mark in 2012 and 2.22 in 2013.

Ziegler will not be ready to throw off a mound when Spring Training begins, but he does hope to be able to participate in some of the early drills.

"I'll do as many drills as I can early on, because with a new manager this year, our bunt plays are going to be different, our pickoff plays are going to be different, so I want to be out there so I'm not behind on that stuff," he said.

As far as his usual throwing program, Ziegler is not that far off. He has been able to play catch overhand, but the challenge will come when he starts to throw from his usual submarine delivery.

While the submarine delivery can put less stress on an arm, it puts more stress on the pitcher's plant leg, which in Ziegler's case is his surgically repaired left one.

So far, Ziegler's cardio work has been limited to jogging on an underwater treadmill and some riding of a stationary bike. Since he's unable to do his usual offseason workout routine, he has worked hard to cut down his usual calorie consumption so as not to gain weight and put even more stress on his legs.

Last year, Ziegler noticed himself falling out of shape after injuring his knee, because the injury prevented him from doing his normal running.

"One of the things that the training staff is really big on is that any time you intake sugar, you're essentially just putting inflammation in your body, and then you have to work extra hard to get it out of there," Ziegler said. "More than anything, I'm just trying to be a lot more conscious about what I'm putting in my body and trying not to gain weight. The whole second half of the season, I just gradually felt like my strength was deteriorating, my conditioning was deteriorating, because I just couldn't physically do the stuff I would normally do in July, August and September."

Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Inside the D-backs, and follow him on Twitter @SteveGilbertMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.