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Which players might post comebacks?

Which players might post comebacks?

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This time last year, Dmitri Young was a 33-year-old one-time All-Star trying to win a roster spot with the Washington Nationals.

On the other side of the state, Carlos Pena, once upon a time the 10th overall selection in the First-Year Player Draft, was attempting to regain the form that helped him hit 27 homers and drive in 82 runs in 2004.

Both Young and Pena had had injury-shortened 2006 seasons, but both came back with career years in 2007 to garner Comeback Player of the Year honors.

Pena, limited to only 33 at bats in '06, set a franchise record with 46 homers and 121 RBIs last year. Young hit .320 with 13 homers and 74 RBIs and made his second All-Star team.

This season there are several candidates who might follow in their footsteps on the comeback trail.

The list of players coming back from having missed at least half of the 2007 season include such stars as Atlanta's Mike Hampton, Arizona's Randy Johnson, Minnesota's Francisco Liriano, San Diego's Mark Prior, Joe Crede of the Chicago White Sox, Jason Schmidt of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Hank Blalock of Texas, Pedro Martinez of the New York Mets and Chris Carpenter, Mark Mulder and Matt Clement of St. Louis.

Who has the best shot at bouncing back from a forgettable 2007 with an unforgettable 2008?

Here's five to keep an eye on in 2008:

1, Randy Johnson, Diamondbacks. The five-time Cy Young Award winner says the back soreness that sidelined him for all but 10 starts a year ago is gone. After two back surgeries in less than a year, Johnson has his health back. His fastball -- not yet back to where it typically is, but getting better as spring progresses -- is popping the catcher's mitt again in the low 90s.

The 44-year-old may not be ready to go when Opening Day arrives, but the Diamondbacks are optimistic the left-hander will be back soon enough to make 25 or more starts. He will likely be slotted in the rotation between right-handers Brandon Webb and Dan Haren on a team expected to contend for a playoff spot again this year.

Bottom line: Everything should be place for Johnson to perhaps get win No. 300 this year. He has 284.

2, Pedro Martinez, Mets. The shoulder problems that have dogged Martinez since 2004 and ultimately necessitated surgery means the Mets shouldn't count on Martinez to be the 200-inning pitcher he has been throughout most of his career.

That doesn't mean that Martinez won't win a lot of games in 2008. With Johan Santana shouldering some of the workload, one of the finest offenses in baseball behind him and Martinez healthier than he's been in three years, the stage is set for a comeback.

Don't forget Martinez was solid in five September starts (2.57) last year.

Opening Day
Countdown to Opening Day
•   March 23: Turnaround tales to be told
•   March 23: Rule 5 decisions loom
•   March 24: Free agents on the spot
•   March 25: Breakout players in 2008
•   March 25: Comeback candidates
•   March 26: Top storylines for '08
•   March 26: Top AL rookie candidates
•   March 26: Top NL rookie candidates
•   March 27: AL Cy Young candidates
•   March 27: NL Cy Young candidates
•   March 27: Breaking down '08 slate
•   March 27: Century since Cubs' title
•   March 28: Top AL MVP candidates
•   March 28: Top NL MVP candidates
•   March 29: Changing of guard at short
•   March 30: Predictions for '08
•   March 30: '08 milestones
•   March 30: Season preview

3, Joe Crede, White Sox. Crede was limited to 47 games last season due to back problems. He underwent back surgery and has reported no problems physically this spring, and is looking like the player who hit .283 with 30 homers and 94 RBIs in 2006.

There's the question of whether the White Sox, who have Josh Fields ready to be the everyday third baseman, will deal Crede. Wherever he winds up, the important thing is Crede's back appears to be fine. Which means Crede is back.

4, Mike Hampton, Braves. Injuries have kept Hampton off the mound since 2005. Now healthy and overdue for a return, Hampton is optimistic about the 2008 season and the Braves are very excited about the possibility of a healthy lefty like Hampton in the rotation with John Smoltz, Tim Hudson, Tom Glavine and Chuck James.

Hampton stopped a session short because of a slight groin pull early in the camp, but has come back nicely and looked sharp in his most recent outing.

5, Hank Blalock, Rangers. Most of the two-time All-Star's numbers have declined from his peak 2004 season, when he hit .276 with 32 homers and 110 RBIs.

Blalock hasn't started at third base since May 16, 2007, when he underwent right shoulder surgery for Thoracic Outlet Syndrome and missed over three months of the season.

He played in only 58 games last season, batting .293 with 10 homers and 33 RBIs. His comeback was dealt a slight setback this spring when Blalock's car was rear-ended while he was stopped at a traffic light in Arizona.

Prior to that setback, the reports on Blalock had been encouraging, and the Rangers expect him to be back to his old self at the hot corner soon.

Jim Molony 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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