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Bootcheck progressing well from strain

Bootcheck progressing well

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TEMPE, Ariz. -- From high school in LaPorte, Ind., through college at Auburn and seven professional seasons with the Angels, Chris Bootcheck never had voluntarily left a baseball game.

That changed on March 2 at the Brewers' spring home park in Maryvale. Sharp pain in his left side surfaced when Bootcheck threw a fastball to Prince Fielder, and -- after "four or five more" deliveries -- he realized he'd had enough.

"I walked off the mound," Bootcheck said. "Instantly I knew there was something there. On the ride from Maryvale to Tempe, it got really stiff and tight, to the point I couldn't even get on the training table. Getting in and out of bed was uncomfortable. For three days, it was really painful."

The dreaded strained oblique has been known to sideline athletes for weeks rolling into months. The initial prognosis for Bootcheck was understandably guarded, a presumed opening in middle relief generating hope for a group of candidates.

Manager Mike Scioscia, who prizes the organization's exceptional depth, said Bootcheck won't be back until he's ready. Just as no timetable is in place for starter Kelvim Escobar in his recovery from shoulder inflammation, Bootcheck would be given no target date.

Trying to do too much too soon can compound an injury, something Bootcheck readily acknowledges. But he isn't ready to concede his familiar place in the bullpen alongside middle relief buddies Dustin Moseley and Darren Oliver when the Angels launch their American League West title defense in Minnesota on March 31.

"I haven't ruled it out," he said, grinning, when asked if he thought he might be ready to come out of the chute firing after contributing 77 1/3 innings of relief (3-3, 4.77 ERA) as an invaluable bullpen component in 2007.

What Bootcheck came to learn in the past week is that he's a fast healer. He was back throwing long toss a week after the injury, a session at 90 feet on Monday, his third workout since the strain, proving especially encouraging.

"I kind of ramped it up, to see if I'd feel anything there," Bootcheck said. "It went very well. It's a little tight, but no discomfort. I'm trying to do what I can each day to get myself ready to pitch again. I don't know when I'll be back on a mound, but I want to be ready when they decide it's time."

To that purpose, Bootcheck has asked Angels certified athletic trainers Ned Bergert and Rick Smith "a million questions," the pitcher said, grinning. "I'm sure they're getting tired of answering them, but I want to know as much as I possibly can about this in order to deal with it the best way."

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Bootcheck pored over the Internet, discovering the various degrees of oblique strains. He was surprised to discover how common they are. His, he feels, was relatively mild.

"Every person is different," Bootcheck said. "Some guys I've talked to said they couldn't do anything for a long time. I'm happy with the way it's bouncing back -- real happy.

"It could be genetics. It could be a lot of things. I've had two treatments a day, exercises, and I've iced it down at home. There's been progress each day.

"I didn't even know I was going to throw until right before I went out and did it the first day over the weekend. They're emphasizing that I not push it. The last thing I want to do is risk further injury."

In the meantime, he's counting his blessings.

"It could have been much worse -- an elbow or shoulder," Bootcheck said.

Lyle Spencer 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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