Webb suddenly optimistic about return

TUCSON, Ariz. – One minute he whispers sweet nothings to it, the next he curses it. As the spring has progressed, Brandon Webb’s(notes) rapport with his right arm has grown increasingly bipolar. The limb gave him his greatest professional successes and, for the last few weeks, plumbed his greatest depths.

So of course a grin creased his face Saturday when the hot-and-cold relationship went steamy again. Webb, the former Cy Young winner and erstwhile ace of the Arizona Diamondbacks who is recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, played catch and his arm was anything but “stagnant,” as he’d deemed it during a low point last week.

“It’s remarkable how good it feels,” Webb told Yahoo! Sports.

Brandon Webb noticed an improvement and said he could be ready by April.
(Ed Andrieski/AP)

The breakthrough is potentially huge for the Diamondbacks, who already have a rotation headed by the brilliant Dan Haren(notes) and the intriguing Edwin Jackson(notes), an All-Star acquired this offseason from Detroit. Adding a healthy Webb turns them from marginal contender into full-blown threat in the NL West.

While Webb admitted it’s “really likely” he will start the season on the disabled list, he said he plans to test his arm off a mound mid-week. And if he finds similar success in those bullpen sessions, he could be ready by April.

“I don’t even remember the last time I felt like this,” Webb said. “It’s fun. My whole body feels good. I’m anxious to go out there and throw instead of dreading it. I’m spinning breaking balls the last three or four days, changeups. When you’re nice, free, loose and easy, it makes so much difference.”

Less than a week ago, Webb was despondent following a throwing session during which he felt regression. Diamondbacks manager A.J. Hinch said the 30-year-old had “plateaued,” and Webb could not pinpoint why his fastball resembled a changeup.

The Diamondbacks prescribed rest, and for three days Webb did no throwing. Since January, when he arrived here to start intense rehab, trainers had used massage and stimulation on his arm, which Webb now thinks needed a break.

“We’ve been crushing it the whole time,” he said.

During his time off, Webb said, trainers used only light ultrasound to promote healing. The results, he said, were stunning: His sinker looks more like the bowling ball that confounded hitters during a 42-inning scoreless streak in 2007, his changeup is coming along and he threw curveballs without anyone asking – and without hesitation.

“The breaking ball is a big breakthrough,” Hinch said. “It doesn’t sound like a lot. But it tells me his arm speed, his hand speed, his trust – he’s not feeling any sort of reservation, and that’s a positive sign.”

So quick was Webb’s arm that a few times he lost the grip on his fastball and watched it cut to the left rather than sink to the right. He adjusted his fingers, found the proper rhythm and left thrilled.

“It’s easy when your arm doesn’t hurt,” he said. “You don’t have to think about mechanics or anything. When I was on the mound, my mechanics were everywhere. The timing of pitching is crucial, and I couldn’t find it.”

If this week’s breakthroughs continue to bring him closer to the pitcher who averaged 219 innings over his first six years than the one who threw only four innings last season, Webb will be satisfied, DL stint or not.

“As long as I feel as good as I do now, I don’t care,” he said. “I want to feel good and throw. When I was going off the mound (last week), I was like, ‘Dude, I can’t get anybody out with this stuff.’ Now, not having even seen a hitter yet, I think I’d be able to get somebody out.”

Jeff Passan is a national writer for Yahoo! Sports. He is the co-author of the book "Death to the BCS: The Definitive Case Against the Bowl Championship Series," which following five printings of the first edition was re-released in a second, updated edition in October. Follow him on Twitter. Send Jeff a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Saturday, Mar 13, 2010