Francis still unsure about Opening Day

Francis still unsure about Opening Day

DENVER -- Rockies southpaw Jeff Francis looked game-ready in his crisp, pinstriped uniform on Friday afternoon. But, for now, he's an actor playing a baseball player -- in one of the team's clever promotional commercials. Actually, pitching for the Rockies seemed far off.

Shoulder soreness forced Francis to the disabled list from July 2-Aug. 6 and was partly responsible for the sub-par season he had -- 4-10, 5.01 ERA in 24 starts -- before the Rockies shut him down after his Sept. 12 start.

Even now, after an offseason of rest, his shoulder is still an issue. Within the last month, Francis said, surgery was a consideration late last month or early this month. Just this week, his throwing program reached the stage where he can play long-toss at 90 feet, although he couldn't quite reach that distance on a cold Friday morning. That means he's about a month behind in his offseason throwing program.

Canada listed Francis, 28, on its provisional roster for the World Baseball Classic, but he won't participate. It's unclear if he'll begin the season in the Rockies' rotation.

"It's not as good as it should be this time of year," Francis said. "I've done a lot of shoulder strengthening of the decelerator muscles [small muscles that contract at the end of the pitching motion]. I had some instability and some weaknesses there. That's what we've been working on the last three or four months.

"I need to get healthy. If it takes longer than Opening Day, so be it. I need to be patient with this."

Rockies trainer Keith Dugger said through a team spokesman that Francis continues to have left shoulder inflammation and is on a "rehab throwing program -- the progress is very slow."

If the gradual program produces the desired results, Francis could be a part of a solid rotation when he's ready. Francis, who went 17-9 in 2007 and was the No. 1 pitcher on a team that went to the World Series, and right-handers Aaron Cook, Ubaldo Jimenez and Jason Marquis form the leadership of the staff.

"I think our team is really strong this year," Francis said. "The guys we've added are going to be a huge help. We've put our team in a position to win some pretty important games."

Last season went south quickly for Francis. He went 0-1 with a 5.01 ERA in five April starts. Then, he said, the arm began hurting in May. By the time he went to the DL, he was 3-7 with a 5.67 ERA. He pitched better after returning, going 1-3 with a 3.50 ERA in seven starts, but was never healthy.

To return to his 2007 form, Francis said he needs more than health.

"Fastball command is what I live on," he said. "If I can do that, I can pitch.

"Winning 17 games was something that I did because I had a good team around me, and I was able to put a string of good starts together. I look around and we've still got a good team. If I can get healthy and put some quality starts together, I don't think hat's too far away."

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