Condition that lasted two seasons is corrected

SEATTLE -- Seattle Mariners right-hander Freddy Garcia is recovering after operations to repair two ruptured eardrums and is expected to be ready when pitchers report for spring training Feb. 20.

Trainer Rick Griffin said Thursday the two-time All-Star has had the condition over the last two seasons.

Garcia initially ruptured an eardrum in one ear when he sneezed while the team's jetliner was landing on a trip from Kansas City to Texas in 2002. At the time, Garcia was battling a cold. On the return trip to Seattle after the series, Garcia ruptured the other eardrum, Griffin said.

Corrective operations were postponed because patients aren't allowed to travel during recovery.

"You can't do any physical activity or fly for three weeks, so there's no way you can get it done during the season," Griffin said.

Garcia agreed to a one-year contract worth $6,875,000 for next season, the same amount he earned in 2003. He has been Seattle's opening-day starter for the past three seasons.

He has averaged 220 innings over the past three seasons. In his five-year major league career, Garcia has a 72-43 record and 3.97 ERA. At his best, he's one of the top pitchers in baseball.

Garcia slumped at midseason last year, going 0-6 with a 10.03 ERA in seven games from July 4 to Aug. 7, the longest losing streak of his career. The front office believes he'll have a better season
in 2004.

"From what I've seen in the past, it's reasonable to believe that he can bounce back. He's done that in the past," general manager Bill Bavasi said.

Team officials don't believe there was any link between Garcia's struggles and his ear problems.

"As far as I know, there never was an equilibrium problem, no vertigo, no balance problem or anything that prevented him from doing his work," Griffin said.

Garcia wears cotton in his ears when he pitches, but Griffin said that's not because of his eardrums. He does it to prevent his perspiration from getting inside his ears.

"He sweats a lot," Griffin said. "When the wind blows, he doesn't like the cold."