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Tim Brown
Yahoo! Sports

Two years ago, he finished a season with 15 wins.

One year ago, he was coming off a four-season span in which he averaged more than 200 innings per season.

Four days ago, he stood on a junior-college mound north of San Diego, a baseball in his hand again, a belief in his shoulder again, a dozen major-league scouts scattered in foul territory.

Forget Brian Lawrence?

"I think most people have," he said.

Ten months removed from surgery that repaired the labrum and rotator cuff in his right shoulder, Lawrence wore shorts, a baseball undershirt and a Titleist cap. He threw long. He threw in the bullpen. Then he threw from the windup, then the stretch.

And he threw as an alternative to the big-money, long-commitment pitchers who have helped define the game's careless spending, an option for franchises that have run out of room in their budgets for pitching or been left behind altogether.

The scouts pointed their radar guns and then composed their reports on sheets of paper wedged into clipboards. Jim Fregosi Jr. from the Philadelphia Phillies. Tim Schmidt from the Arizona Diamondbacks. Chuck Fick from the St. Louis Cardinals. Dan Evans from the Seattle Mariners. Ken Compton from the Minnesota Twins. Golf shells with logos from the San Francisco Giants, Colorado Rockies, San Diego Padres. And more.

"Sometimes you spend $11 million, and you don't get an $11 million player," said a scout whose team has contacted Lawrence's agent, Page Odle. "You pay $11 million because of supply and demand."

And you get what you get.

So a guy such as Lawrence, a risk who by his own estimate is 80-percent clear of surgery, who on his good nights pitched confidently in the strike zone and comfortably with the ball in play, serves as a potential antidote.

The scouts on that junior-college diamond looked through Lawrence and into spring training and into April. What will he be then? Will the velocity come? What would he look like at the end of their rotation? In the middle?

"He threw easy," one said. "His arm angle was good. There were indications his health is no longer an issue. Now we're betting there's more in there. There's something left."

Beneath their gazes, Lawrence spent a half-hour endeavoring to revive his career, looking for work in a billion-dollar winter.

"I'm not going to be choosy," he said.

In five seasons pitching for the San Diego Padres, and a sixth not pitching for the Washington Nationals, Lawrence has a 49-61 record and a 4.10 ERA. Ted Lilly just turned a 59-58 record and a 4.60 ERA (granted, in the more hitter-friendly American League) into $40 million. Gil Meche spun a 55-44 record and a 4.65 ERA into $55 million.

Lawrence, though, arrived at free agency with fresh scars.

He had become aware of a dead sensation in his shoulder in 2004, the season he won 15 games. He'd lost some velocity on his fastball. His arm angle fell almost imperceptibly, the parts in his shoulder hinting at their erosion.

By 2005, he routinely pitched with an 84-mph fastball. His three-quarter mechanics had adjusted themselves further, so that some in the Padres organization took to calling him Wham-O, as much as it appeared he was delivering not a biting slider but a curling Frisbee.

In November 2005, the Washington Nationals, desperate for pitching, traded Vinny Castilla for him. Three months later, before Lawrence had thrown more than a spring-training pitch for his new team, real pain had replaced the dullness behind his pitching shoulder. His next assignment finally came Monday afternoon at Palomar Junior College.

"If nothing else, it's good to know I wasn't just a bad pitcher," he said. "There was something wrong. I can go back and say, 'I can be good again.' And it's good to know my career wasn't over."

He knows it's a bad time to be rehabilitating, what with even average pitchers – or worse – pulling multi-year contracts and lifetime security. He has made his money, too, $8 million in six years. He's only 30. Maybe he can stay close to home again, he thinks, in Southern California, in the National League West, put the shoulder trouble behind him, pitch a year on a make-good deal and start again.

"We're viewing it as a positive," Odle, the agent, said. "We're probably looking at a one-year deal. If someone wants to invest more, we'll talk about it. We think there are very few opportunities like this. But however it goes, it's a great opportunity for Brian to get back and move in the right direction. He's just excited to be throwing again."

From Lawrence's perspective, his cutter is looking more like a cutter and "less like a cement mixer" again. The ball feels right coming out of his hand again. His mechanics are familiar again.

"Yeah, it'd be nice to be healthy in this market," he said. "But when it's my turn, it's my turn. I just want to pitch again. And whoever does take the chance and throws me a bone, they're not going to regret it. They'll get off on the cheap side."


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