Yankees Taking It Slow With Hacker

Hacker still hasn't thrown live BP yet

Plagued with injuries, the last two seasons have tested the patience of right-handed hurler Eric Hacker. After missing all of the 2004 season, he went 5-2 with a 1.60 ERA in ten starts for the Charleston Riverdogs last year before a shoulder injury ended his season yet again. Rehabbing the injury in Extended Spring Training, the Yankees are just being cautious with Eric Hacker.

"It's going good," Eric Hacker said of his rehab at the minor league complex. "I'm down here in Tampa, doing my workouts, and getting stronger everyday."

Hacker had his pitching shoulder scoped at the end of the season last year and he has been rehabbing the injury ever since.

"They scoped it [the shoulder], cleaned it up, and made a few little repairs," Hacker simply explained. "It was kind of like an oil change for my shoulder."

"I could have said no to the surgery," Hacker continued. "But I wanted to make sure we fix it. I didn't want it to be an ongoing thing."

Several months after the surgery however, and absent from the mound since July 2nd of last season, Hacker's return has come along slower than expected. It isn't a case of a nagging injury either. The Yankees are taking his rehab slowly.

"I expected to be back earlier," Hacker revealed, "but they [the Yankees] don't want to rush it. I didn't know it was going to be as long as this. The expectation in Spring Training was to be back on the field."

"They've dealt with this with other pitchers," Hacker continued. "They know what it takes to get back on the field and they have me on a real slow throwing program."

In fact, Hacker has only been throwing bullpen sessions off of a mound for the last two weeks and he's only scheduled to throw 35-40 pitches in his next bullpen session this week.

"It's tough," Hacker said of his slow rehab. "We're taking it a slow and we're not in too big a hurry. I'm trying to be patient with it, but I want to be out there competing."

Patience - that's a virtue all pitchers need to demonstrate while rehabbing their way back from injury and the mental part of rehabbing, not the physical part, is what is often times most difficult for young players.

"You've got to be in good spirits," Hacker said of rehabbing at the minor league complex. "75 percent of your rehab is mental. You're going to have your days where you're not feeling as well, but you still have to do your weights for the shoulder. If you don't feel good, you have stay mentally strong and get your work done anyway."

A baseball and football player most of his life, pitching and playing quarterback, Hacker believes his recent shoulder problems are more a product of overuse growing up.

"It's nothing too serious," Hacker said of his shoulder injury. "Playing football and baseball, I never had a day off for my arm. A little bit of rest and I'll be ready for a new career."

Since being drafted in the 23rd round of the 2002 MLB Draft, the 23-year old Hacker had not pitched more than 40 innings in a season until hurling a career high 62 innings with the Riverdogs last year. Dealing with injuries and fighting his way back in his injury plagued career is nothing new to him.

"I'll get there," Hacker said of returning to game action. "My hard work and dedication will pay off. It's just a matter of time and my rehab right now will just give my arm a little bit of a boost."

With the checkered injury past, the prevailing speculation is that Hacker may eventually be shifted to the bullpen to help keep his arm fresh.

"It has crossed my mind," he said about the possibility of being converted to a reliever once he does return. "I don't want that to happen though. I want the ball every five days. I like to go deep into games. I've always been a starter, that's all I know."

"But if they did move me to the bullpen," Hacker continued, "I would do it if it was best for the team and for my career, if my arm can't take starting. But I'm not too worried about that right now."

Focused on his rehab and steadfast in his goal of returning to playing in actual games, the next step after his bullpen sessions is throwing live batting practice. With no set timetable for that next step, predicting Hacker's return is a little hazy.

"It's not set in stone, but I think I'll be back by mid-to-the-end of July," Hacker forecasted. "I just want to get back on the field. I want to get to the point where it doesn't matter [worrying about the shoulder] and show that I can compete and stay healthy."

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