The Road Back

Worrell eyes a healhty return to the mound





SAN DIEGO—Mark Worrell, a 12th-round pick in 2004, was the key player in the December 2008 trade that sent shortstop Khalil Greene to St. Louis.

A minor league workhorse, Worrell was supposed to eat up innings and add stability to the middle of the Padres bullpen last season. But it never happened.

After four spring training appearances in 2009, Worrell reported pain in his elbow. Tests showed damage to the ulnar collateral ligament. He had Tommy John surgery on March 25 and was lost for the season.

The Padres, however, got a huge bonus from the Greene trade when Luke Gregerson, the third player in the deal, made the club at the end of spring training and appeared in 72 games, working 75 innings with a 2-4, 3.24 record, 31 walks and 93 strikeouts.

Gregerson's success softened the pain of losing Worrell for the season. The Padres did not offer him a major league contract last fall, then signed Worrell to a minor league contract in January.

"We saw enough of him to know he has a chance to help us when he's healthy," Padres manager Bud Black said. "He has a funky, deceptive delivery, he has good stuff, a little bit of an attitude, and he has a good base of minor league work.

"Once he gets healthy, we'll take another look. Hey, this was the key guy in the Greene trade. Gregerson stepped up and was really a key guy for us. So if Worrell can regain his health and pitch the way he can, that could end up being a big-time trade for us."

The problem with elbow surgeries, however, is that they're unpredictable. Most people say it takes 12 months to get back to 100 percent. As an organization, the Padres believe it takes 14-16 months.

So patience is the key, and the Padres don't plan to overwork Worrell in the spring. Instead, the target date is more like the end of May.

FATHER FIGURES

• Jaron Madison, who spent the last two seasons as assistant scouting director with the Cardinals, will take over as Padres scouting director. He has an extensive background with Jason McLeod, the Padres' new assistant general manager.

• Former Padres infielder Edgar Gonzalez, a career minor leaguer before sticking with the Padres in 2007, signed with the Yomiuri Giants in Japan.