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Gordon enters '07 feeling great

Program has Gordon's shoulder feeling great

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CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Tom Gordon isn't sure if it was one pitch or a series of offerings he threw over a troubling stretch last season, when he was at his worst. The Phillies closer only remembers the pain that heightened over the next few weeks and eventually landed him on the disabled list.

A series of shoulder strengthening techniques got Gordon back on the mound for what was an effective September, though his shoulder still wasn't perfect. Then came November, after the veteran had a month to let the inflammation calm down.

He restarted the program using the techniques he first learned in August, and claims to feel better than he can remember. His goal is to remain off the disabled list in 2007.

"Night and day," he said. "In about two weeks, I felt a little better, and in three weeks to a month, I noticed a big change. I felt a lot stronger. My stretching was better. It's made a huge difference. [Taking] that month off [after the season], where I allowed my arm to rest, really helped."

When not spending some time fishing -- he claims to have caught a lot of bass and crappie during the offseason -- Gordon ventured to the team's Spring Training complex in Clearwater three times a week in November and December from his home in Avon Park, Fla., and resumed his workout regimen.

Gordon combined what he had been doing his whole career: Jobe's exercises (named for Dodgers team physician Frank Jobe), for the rotator cuff area, with additional range-of-motion stretching exercises, a program he said "increases your strength as well as your range of motion." He meshed in some yoga stretching and had a complete program.

"It was a matter of doing arm stretching and strengthening stuff together," Gordon said. "It's a lot of different exercises. I remember five or six different exercises with the Jobe stuff, but this is about 15, maybe 20 different exercises. I know I felt better after it."

He didn't at first. Gordon joked last season that he was fine after doing his original exercises, but he was very sore after the new ones.

"It's the new day and age, so I have to get used to it," he said then.

Gordon's roughest stretch of 2006 came from June 19 through Aug. 12, when he posted a 6.26 ERA, allowing runs in seven of 18 appearances, compared to just four in his first 31 outings. After learning the techniques showed to him by former Phillies trainer Jeff Cooper, Gordon returned in September and posted a solid final month.

At 39, Gordon has already reached the point where constant adjustments are mandatory. This includes the mental realization that he might not be used in every save situation this season, as manager Charlie Manuel tries to keep his closer fresh.

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Ideally, Manuel won't pitch Gordon more than two straight days and definitely not three. The right-hander won't see any four-out saves or pitch with four-run leads, as he did at times last season. It will be a delicate balancing act, though, as Gordon tends to throw better with regular use and struggles when he has too much rest.

"I want to keep him strong so he can go all year," Manuel said. "I think he can go three days [in a row]. Sometimes, even with two days out, depending on the number of pitches he threw in those two outings, maybe [I might] let someone else throw that third day. With a four-run lead, we might let someone else start the inning."

That someone else would likely be Antonio Alfonseca, assuming he regains the form he had while closing for the Marlins. As a competitor, Gordon hates such talk, but understands. And he insists that he'll never tell a manager he can't go, unless his arm is literally lying on the bullpen mound.

"You can ask a player that all day long," Gordon said. "Unless they've gone five days in a row, it's hard for a player to say [no]. Granted, you have to be smart, but with my body, I feel good one day, I feel better the next day and I keep going. That's where I get into that, because once I get to that third or fourth day, I feel a lot better than I did the first two days.

"The manager's trying to make a very good judgment and keep all of us healthy, but when I feel good, I'd like to keep going."

Though Gordon doesn't volunteer this desire, he politely smiles when the idea of him playing with his son is broached. Davaris, the oldest of his five children, is 18 and playing shortstop. Understanding that it's a long shot, a man can still dream.

"Wouldn't that be something?" he said with a laugh. "I think that if I continue to stay with these [exercises] and continue to feel the way I felt the last two months, I think I can probably not have shoulder issues for a while. I believe it works."

Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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