Bagwell back at first base but still untested

Updated: March 11, 2006, 8:11 PM ET
Associated Press

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Until he tries to start a double play or snap off a relay throw, Jeff Bagwell and the Houston Astros won't really know if he's healthy enough to play first base every day.

Jeff Bagwell

Probably the greatest player in franchise history, Bagwell was back on the bag for the first time in 10 months Saturday during Houston's 4-3 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies.

He played four innings in the field, but the chronically injured right shoulder he had surgery on last June was never tested because he didn't have to make a throw.

Still, the four-time All-Star and 1994 NL MVP was simply pleased to get through the day without a setback.

"Actually, it went better than I expected. I was a little apprehensive," said Bagwell, who will turn 38 in May. "I wasn't real excited when I saw it was a TV game. But it went OK. Tomorrow's going to be a big test for me to see how it feels.

"I'm just glad it's over with."

For what it's worth, Bagwell did look comfortable and athletic around the bag. He moved well, deftly backhanding Shane Victorino's short-hop grounder for an unassisted putout and shifting easily from one side of the base to the other to grab a slightly wayward toss.

His hands and feet are not in question, however. The issue is Bagwell's throwing shoulder.

"There was really nothing you can take from today other than he got out there," Houston general manager Tim Purpura said. "He fielded his position fine. You're not going to know anything until he makes some throws."

Playing first base for the first time since May 3, 2005, Bagwell tossed the ball around the infield during warmups before each inning and said his shoulder felt a little stiff by the fourth.

It's obvious he has a lot of trouble raising his elbow and rotating his shoulder in an over-the-top throwing motion. He short-arms his tosses, and they don't have much steam.

"Can I get through not only a game, can I get through the season? We'll have to see," he said.

The Astros filed an insurance claim in January to recoup about $15.6 million of the $17 million Bagwell is guaranteed this season in the final year of his contract, arguing he is too hurt to play.

He went 0-for-3 at the plate Saturday, dropping to 3-for-16 (.188) with a double, an RBI and five strikeouts this spring. Previously, he was in the lineup only as a designated hitter.

"My at-bats were fine. I'm not so concerned with results with my hitting. I'm just concerned with ... does it affect my hitting when I go out there and throw, and so far it does not," Bagwell said.

He is scheduled to sit out the next two road games and play again Tuesday night against the Atlanta Braves.

Batting in the No. 2 spot behind longtime teammate Craig Biggio, Bagwell struck out with the bases loaded to end the fourth. He whiffed on a big swing at a 1-1 pitch from left-hander Matt White, then was beaten by an inside fastball for strike three.

"I think my swing is there," Bagwell said. "I hold on with two hands. I'm not having to let go because I'm restricted from getting out there. My hitting will come.

"The major focus of this black cloud that's sitting over this locker is that throwing arm. If it starts hurting bad enough where it's affecting my swing, we're going to have another talk."

Doctors hired by the Astros to examine Bagwell in January told the team his shoulder was still damaged and the club could no longer expect him to be productive.

Houston's starting first baseman for 15 seasons, Bagwell has said the team wants him to retire and the situation has created a rift that might never be resolved. The awkward circumstances have created bitterness between Bagwell and Astros owner Drayton McLane.

Bagwell, the club's career leader in home runs (449), RBIs (1,529) and runs (1,517), missed 115 games last year following surgery. He returned late in the season but was limited to duty as a pinch-hitter and DH. He went 1-for-8 with an RBI in the World Series against the White Sox.

"There are times when I'm driving into work here and I'm like, all right, this is what I can do," Bagwell said. "I've always had things like that on my mind now. But that's OK. That's normal when you've been through as much as I've been through with this shoulder.

"This is a new spot for me right now, where I've got to make a decision on my future and also with the feeling of what goes on with the Astros," he said. "But as I've said before, when this whole thing comes to a head and we decide which way we're going to go, that everybody will be happy with the decision."

Game notes
Ryan Howard, the NL Rookie of the Year last season, homered twice to the opposite field against Houston starter Brandon Backe and leads the majors with six homers this spring. Howard is 13-for-28 (.464) with 10 RBI. ... Phillies starter Ryan Franklin looked good in 3 2-3 shutout innings. ... Astros OF Preston Wilson returned one day after being scratched due to right knee irritation. He was 0-for-2 with a walk and two strikeouts. ... SS Adam Everett was back in camp after being treated in Houston for back pain. He is expected to make Sunday's trip to Vero Beach to face the Dodgers. ... LHP Mike Gallo and special assistant Matt Galante returned to Astros camp after participating in the World Baseball Classic. Galante was manager for Italy, which went 1-2.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press