Podsednik in position to prove himself

Podsednik in position to prove himself

PHOENIX -- Sunday afternoon had that feel of not-so-old times for outfielder Scott Podsednik. He led off the game against the Athletics with a solid single, distracted pitcher Dana Eveland into making a wild pickoff throw and eventually scored.

It could have been 2005, when Podsednik was the leadoff spark plug for the World Series champion White Sox. But 2008 has been a totally different experience for the 32-year-old.

Podsednik hit .291 in 2005 but battled injuries over the last two years, and he managed just 62 games last season before the White Sox released him. After other teams showed little interest in him, he wound up signing a Minor League contract with the Rockies, who already have a speedy starting center fielder in Willy Taveras and two productive backups in Ryan Spilborghs and Cory Sullivan.

It's not an ideal situation for a player who has recorded 224 stolen bases since 2003. But at least he is fully healthy as he attempts to re-establish himself and his career.

Before the 2006 and 2007 seasons, Podsednik underwent surgeries to repair sports hernia injuries. After hitting .290 in 2005, he dropped to .261 in 2006 and .243 in 2007. After posting a .351 on-base percentage in the championship season, his rate dropped to .330 the next year and .299 last year.

"I was somewhat surprised by how the winter had gone," Podsednik said. "There just simply was not a lot of interest. I know I've had a rough couple of years, injury-wise. I'm assuming that's what turned a few of the clubs off -- my inability to stay healthy over the last couple of years.

"I've had a full offseason to train and get into shape. I'm feeling great. I think I have a pretty good idea of what I need to do to keep my legs underneath me."

He's going to need to be at his best to make the club this spring.

Podsednik had a stellar spring debut, with a double, three walks and a stolen base in four plate appearances on Thursday against the Diamondbacks. He went 1-for-4 on Sunday.

Podsednik is a natural center fielder, though in recent years he has become comfortable in left. But the injuries have put him in a position of having to demonstrate his proficiency at both spots. On Sunday he played center and left without any issues.

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The competition for backup outfield spots will be difficult.

The right-handed-hitting Spilborghs enters the season as the first choice as the leadoff alternative when Taveras doesn't play. The left-handed-swinging Sullivan played well defensively in spot starts and late-game situations last season. In addition, Sullivan offered a .286 average after facing questions about his offensive ability.

First-base coach Glenallen Hill, who works with the outfielders and on baserunning, said that Podsednik is working on running more fluidly. The key is his start. During the quick, choppy early steps, Hill said, he is watching Podsednik closely to make sure his body is relaxed. Not only does that make him more efficient, it could reduce injury risk.

Known for being a quiet worker during his previous stints -- he appeared briefly for the Mariners in 2001 and 2002 before becoming a regular with the Brewers (2003-04) and White Sox -- Podsednik has pleased Hill by continuing that approach.

"I think that he is a true professional," Hill said. "He knows what's in front of him, and he's definitely not looking over his shoulder. And the environment here allows him to work and be a professional."

Though Podsednik's contract calls for a $750,000 salary while in the Majors, there is no guarantee for anything other than an opportunity.

"There's a lot of talent here, a lot of young guys that will play a long time in the big leagues," Podsednik said. "You can't get yourself caught up in the off-field decisions that will be made. I think a player can spend a lot of time worrying about where he's going to go, how many at-bats he's going to get, where that's going to be.

"I still feel like I have the ability to be an impact player in this league. Whether I ever get that opportunity back, that remains to be seen. But still I feel like I've got plenty of ball left in me."

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