Podsednik makes triumphant return

Triumphant return for Podsednik

TUCSON, Ariz. -- A small ovation began behind the backstop at one of the Kino Sports Complex Minor League fields early Wednesday morning as Scott Podsednik stepped to the plate for his first at-bat this spring.

"It's about time," said White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, the ovation of one for Podsednik, having a little fun with his leadoff man who has gradually been working his way back from a late-January sports hernia surgery.

"All the season-ticket holders, all the ladies go crazy," added Guillen with a broad smile.

Continuing on with the teasing, Guillen then predicted a ground ball to second in Podsednik's first at-bat. But Podsednik quickly proved his manager wrong, dropping a single to center field off top Colorado prospect Ubaldo Jimenez.

Before Podsednik's morning work was complete in the "B" game against the Rockies, he had three hits in four at-bats and had scored two runs serving as the White Sox designated hitter. Podsednik also picked up a stolen base against Colorado catcher Yorvit Torrealba and reported no pain or problems after the effort.

Podsednik's thoroughly complete debut had Guillen taking a more serious tone after the game in regard to such an impressive performance.

"Awesome. He really impressed me. I never thought this kid would run that well," Guillen said. "Any time you come back from injuries, you're scared to move because you're scared you're going to get hurt again.

"To me, that's the key coming back from an injury. Just throw everything away and have confidence in yourself to do it, and I think he did. He might be set back one day because he might be sore from something else. But he's on the right track."

Guillen's optimism in regard to Podsednik was seconded by hitting coach Greg Walker and eventually was surpassed by Podsednik's self-assessment. But there was no frenzied celebration over Podsednik's start following one "B" game performance.

After pushing himself a little too hard to return from shoulder soreness and an adductor strain for Opening Day 2006 -- wanting to be part of the starting lineup as the defending World Series champions took the field together for the first time -- Podsednik isn't putting too much weight in each step he takes toward the 2007 season.

But there's no denying Wednesday's effort marked a major jump on the comeback trail. The impact of this particular jump will be known more Thursday morning, as Podsednik reacts to a full workload.

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"Probably tomorrow morning when I'm getting out of bed, and I can see how good I can come back and get loose," said Podsednik, when discussing when he will know whether Wednesday was a success. "I did quite a bit.

"I was on the basepaths quite a few times today, and I rounded the basepaths quite a few times. Like I mentioned earlier, I got some good breaks, and the test will be tomorrow, to see if I can bounce back fresh and repeat it and do it all over again."

All four of Podsednik's at-bats Wednesday were significant, but the best sign tied into his particular role for the 2007 season came late in the game. Podsednik tried to bunt the ball on two consecutive pitches and was successful on the second attempt, producing his third hit.

Straight-ahead running for Podsednik has been no problem dating back to a few weeks after his surgery, but the lateral running was just as successful Wednesday. Podsednik's timing at the plate also was no issue, even against a hard-thrower such as Jimenez. Podsednik will get a few more at-bats as a designated hitter in a Minor League game during Thursday's off-day and then is scheduled to start in left field and lead off Friday at home against the Cubs.

"That first guy had a real live arm, and he was getting it up there pretty good," said Podsednik with a laugh on facing live pitching. "The first couple of pitches looked like they were coming in at 98 to 100 miles per hour. But I kind of settled down and I put the bat on the ball. I felt a lot better than I thought I was going to feel."

"Getting up to game speed and to go out and do it on the first day is shocking for everybody," added Walker of Podsednik. "He's been working really hard, been really focused. What I saw from his swing and the way he was moving, he looked great."

Guillen believes Podsednik has enough time to get ready for Opening Day against the Indians, although Guillen pointed out Tuesday that the left-handed-hitting Podsednik probably would give way to Pablo Ozuna against Cleveland's left-handed ace C.C. Sabathia. But Podsednik reiterated Wednesday how his only goal is to be ready skill-wise, both offensively and defensively -- even if that preparedness comes two weeks into the 2007 season.

In the interim, the sometimes introspective Podsednik seemed to be having fun. He took the playful chiding in stride, even when bench coach Joey Cora told Podsednik before his second at-bat that the crowd had risen from the original 10 in attendance just to watch him play.

After Podsednik ripped a single to right in that second at-bat, Richie Hebner, the hitting coach for Double-A Birmingham, turned to Cora and said with a smile, "Easy game."

"They always say Spring Training is too long," added Cora with a laugh.

"Whose team are those guys on? I'm battling four guys out there," Podsednik said of the heckling from his coaches. "But it was good to get back in the action. I had some fun. I saw some pitches. I got a couple of breaks out of the box. My legs felt really good, so I'm pretty excited."

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