Gonzalez sheds crutches, works out

Gonzalez sheds crutches, works out

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Injured shortstop Alex Gonzalez got some good news on Saturday.

Gonzalez, who has missed almost all of Spring Training with a compression fracture in his left knee, was allowed early in the day to shed his crutches. He was cleared to begin light workouts, including throwing and hitting in the cage, after being re-examined in the morning by Reds medical director Dr. Tim Kremchek.

It didn't take long for Gonzalez to get started. Moments after he was cleared, he was hitting the batting cage and later played catch on a practice field. The 31-year-old was still wearing a brace on his left knee. Later he admitted he did not know how long it would take for him to return.

"I can't tell you. I don't feel 100 percent," Gonzalez said. "I have to make sure everything is OK. I want to play hard and at 100 percent. I don't want to play at 90 percent. I want to make sure it's pain free to help the team."

With one week remaining until camp breaks, it is unlikely Gonzalez will be able to get ready in time to open the regular season on March 31. However, the plan is for him to go north to Cincinnati when camp breaks, and not stick around for extended Spring Training.

"I feel much better every day," Gonzalez said. "[But] I feel a little pain. As soon as the thing is pain free, maybe I'll go down to Triple-A, I don't know. I'll get ready as soon as possible and get back to the team."

Utility infielder Jeff Keppinger has gotten the bulk of the playing time at shortstop and will likely step in for Gonzalez until he returns.

Gonzalez had not been able to do any baseball activity since reporting knee soreness on Feb. 25. The fracture was diagnosed by Kremchek four days later.

Last season, Gonzalez didn't start any games after Sept. 12 because of a bone bruise in the same knee, but his current injury was considered unrelated.

Another regular Reds player, catcher David Ross, is also making progress. On Friday, Ross caught four innings in a Class A Minor League game. He also led off every inning he played to get five plate appearances and went 2-for-3 with a home run and two walks.

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"I caught good and felt good. It was a nice day," Ross said Saturday morning. "My back didn't bother me at all and I ran the bases afterwards. I'm really happy."

Ross was given a light day on Saturday and caught in the bullpen and took batting practice. He will play in another game on Sunday.

"I don't know if it's a big league or Minor League game," he said. "It's a game somewhere and some more innings. The main thing is catching up on at-bats."

Having yet to appear in an exhibition game, it's still unclear if Ross can get healthy in time to open the regular season with the club. If not, the Reds would likely go with Paul Bako and Javier Valentin in his stead.

Rotation candidate Matt Belisle threw 30 pitches in a side bullpen session Saturday and reported no problems with his right forearm. Belisle missed a turn in the rotation after feeling muscle soreness. His last outing was on March 14.

The injury put a dent in Belisle's chances of making the Reds' rotation. It hasn't been a great spring on the mound: the right-hander is 0-2 with a 9.00 ERA in 10 innings over four starts. He's allowed 10 earned runs and 16 hits, and has been outperformed by candidates Johnny Cueto, Edinson Volquez and Josh Fogg.

"It's frustrating not to be out there with the guys," Belisle said. "I'm just trying to get it right. It's better for it to come up now than in the middle of the season. I'm working on getting ready to help the club when it's time."

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