Gagne has 'huge day' in comeback bid

Gagne has 'huge day' in comeback bid

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Eric Gagne became a bit less of a mystery to himself Tuesday. As for the rest of the American League, they will just have to wait a bit longer to solve the puzzle he can represent.

Gagne, the former lights-out closer of the Los Angeles Dodgers trying to resurrect his injury-stalled career with the Rangers, had another of his every-third-day bullpen sessions prior to Texas' Cactus League date with Seattle.

However, not just any bullpen session. Gagne has had good days and bad days since being waylaid by elbow problems following his 45-save season of 2004. But he hadn't had a best day, until Tuesday.

"It was a huge day, the best I've had the last two years," Gagne said after unleashing nearly 40 pitches from his familiarly violent delivery. "Physically and mentally ... all last year it never felt as it does now."

"It," of course, is the right elbow which again gave out on him last season, a week after a comeback save that remains his only one in a 21-month span. What most heartened the 31-year-old right-hander was the intense workout, in which he emptied his repertoire, coming a day after he had played long-toss.

To Gagne, that qualified it as a bounce-back day.

"When I long-toss, I don't just play catch. I keep the same intensity. I'm throwing changeups and everything," he said. "I thought I'd be sore today, but there was nothing.

"I really let it go. Not 100 percent but, for the first time, I really trusted my elbow."

The other five AL clubs training in Arizona -- including the rest of the West division -- will just have to keep reading about Gagne's progress. Although he remains on schedule to make his debut exhibition appearance in a week, manager Ron Washington will make sure his new competition doesn't get a preview.

Yes, Washington intends to keep Gagne under wraps until the bell rings.

"It doesn't matter who we're playing. Everyone pretty much knows what everyone's got," Washington said prior to the game against the Mariners, the Rangers' first spring meeting with a division foe. "Except for Gagne ... he won't pitch against American League teams.

"We'll keep him on his throwing schedule, but if we're playing an AL team on his throw day, he'll just throw a simulated game."

No hidden agenda here. Just a wish to keep hidden stuff. The AL won't see "Game Over" until the real games begin.

"They know what he has. They've heard. But why show them? Let them be surprised," Washington said of a plan that he has waited 20 years to hatch.

This just confirms the proverbial compliment paid to studious part-time players, that they sit on the bench preparing to become managers. While a utilityman for the mid-'80s Twins -- he typically played each infield position every season, but seldom more than 200 at-bats' worth -- Washington made one enduring mental note.

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"Minnesota, 1987. Tom Kelly got Jeff Reardon, and he didn't let any American League team see him all spring," Washington recalled. "By the time they figured him out, it was too late."

Reardon, who had just switched leagues from the Montreal Expos, logged 31 saves. Coming off a sixth-place, 91-loss season, the Twins won the World Series.

Informed of his manager's tactic, Gagne smiled broadly.

"A hitter's a hitter. To a pitcher, if he's right, it doesn't matter who is up there," Gagne said. "I guess hitters can feel more confident the more they see certain guys -- and until they do, can be a little tentative."

Which Gagne isn't. Tuesday's workout left him beaming -- a look that befit a guy who for two years has had more conferences with doctors than with big-league catchers. Since mid-2005, Gagne has even had more herniated disks -- two, another injury that hospitalized him last July -- than saves.

"I threw all my pitches, with more intensity," Gagne said. "There was a big difference [compared to his earlier bullpens]. Today, I was really, really pleased.

"But there's no plan. We'll see how I feel like as we go along."

Gagne remains on his simplified timetable. Wednesday, he rests. Thursday is another long-toss day. Friday, he's back on the mound.

"We're taking it slow," Washington said with the relaxed attitude of someone who has a pretty decent Plan B, Akinori Otsuka, who converted 32 saves last season. "He'll get his innings, and he'll be ready to go when he has to.

"But he's still trying to find out what he's got. He's trying to build up arm strength. We told him to let us know if something doesn't feel right."

Tuesday, Gagne delivered a quite different message.

"Yeah, I think this was a breakthrough," he said. "By April, I'll be ready go three, four days in a row .... well, three for sure."

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