MESA, Ariz. - Whether or not Donovan Osborne figures into the Chicago Cubs starting rotation this season or if he just relieves the starters, it doesn't really matter. All that matters is that he's playing baseball again.
"I'm glad to be here," said Osborne, a former Carson High star. "Either on the starting rotation or in the bullpen, it doesn't matter."
Forgive Osborne, who was picked 13th overall in the 1990 draft by the St. Louis Cardinals, for not being so pushy. Just under three years ago, in May of 1999, something happened to Osborne that doesn't normally happen to baseball players-at any level. He damaged and tweaked his left shoulder, his throwing shoulder, so akwardly that doctors had to perform surgery on it to trim his collarbone. Osborne missed the rest of that season and two more before the Cubs signed him to a minor league contract last month and invited him to spring training as a non roster player.
"In 1993, it was totally reconstructing my shoulder," said Osborne, who had surgery that year following a successful start to his career with St. Louis. "But after '99, they (the doctors) needed to shave down the collarbone. The doctors said it was a freak accident (for baseball). In football, it happens. I pitched 1/2 of '98 with it and in '99, but it got to the point where I couldn't throw anymore. There's nothing more I could do."
Well, except leave baseball, which he did. During his time away, Osborne, 32, admitted his spirit for the game diminished and, at times, he even thought about giving up. These days, though, Osborne's happier and healthier than ever. When he's not bumping shoulders with what he hopes are his future teammates, he's proving he belongs where it counts most -- on the mound.
In seven innings this spring, Osborne has given up 11 hits and only three earned runs with an ERA of 3.86. His longest outing was on Monday against the San Francisco Giants. Osborne is in the running for the Chicago's No. 5 spot in the rotation, along with Kerry Wood, Jason Bere, Juan Cruz, and Jon Lieber, the team's scheduled opening day starter. Even after Monday's game, Cubs' manager Don Baylor admitted how amazed he was that Osborne could be this good after not throwing a single pitch in two years.
"I feel good, I'm healthy. They (the coaches) are surprised that I'm throwing so well, like I haven't missed a couple of years," Osborne said. "I'm getting stronger every time out. The last time out, I threw three innings and I was throwing 87-89 mph, so the arm's stronger. I think I'm pretty much ahead of where I expected to be. But I've been working my butt off, in the weight room and working on getting my arm stronger."
Osborne said about 10 teams were interested in him when he decided to make a comeback. He never even thought about returning to the Cardinals, where, up until now, he had spent his entire seven-year MLB career. Osborne, though, said he doesn't have any hard feelings toward St. Louis, where he became one of the National League's top left handed pitchers between 1992-96, compiling a 38-31 record with an ERA of 3.70.
"It's not their fault, I was the one who got hurt," said Osborne, who made only 34 starts after 1997 before leaving the team six games into the '99 season. "I told them 'I have to get healthy, I gotta' go get surgery.' So I knew that I was pretty much done with St. Louis."
Osborne would never wish to get injured again, especiallyEif it meant injuring his left shoulder for a third time. But, in some ways, he thinks it's helped him.
"Yeah, it hurt (being out for two years). Baseball's what I love, it's my life," Osborne said. "But I needed some time off, both mentally and physically. When you're healthy, it's easy up here because then your god-given talent takes control. But when you pitch through pain, it doesn't work. You can't be hurt and pitch in this league."
It looks like Osborne doesn't have to worry about that anymore. Well, except for maybe where he pitches.
"Obviously, I'm going to try and win a spot (in the starting rotation), but I'm sure they (the coaches) are concerned about my shoulder. But I feel great."
It's about time.