Gorzelanny's shoulder feeling fine

Gorzelanny's shoulder feeling fine

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Tom Gorzelanny told everyone so on Thursday, and he showed everyone so on Sunday. If only everyone would have just listened the first time.

His shoulder is just fine.

It came three days later than originally expected, but Gorzelanny took the mound at McKechnie Field on Sunday in his first start of the spring. The interest wasn't so much in what his line score would read afterward. Remember, it is just March 2. The priority here was his health.

Scratched from his scheduled start last week because of what was said to be minor irritation in his left shoulder, Gorzelanny pitched the first inning of the Pirates' game against the Rays and reported no soreness in his shoulder afterward.

"It's good," Gorzelanny said. "It felt fine today. It was a productive outing. I am just trying to keep getting in shape. But that's why we're here, right?"

Other than a fly ball that Jason Bay lost in the sun, which resulted in a two-out double for B.J. Upton, Gorzelanny was perfect. He needed 19 pitches in his inning of work and mixed up his breaking ball, changeup and fastball with notable efficiency.

"After he threw his first three or four pitches, I felt like he really settled in," manager John Russell said. "I thought he threw the ball great. Any time there is a little irritation in the shoulder, you like to go out and make sure it feels good. It felt great today."

Not to mention, it's a much better start to the spring session for the lefty, who had a rough month of March a year ago. The fact that Gorzelanny has shown to be a slow starter out of the winter could also be the reason that his shoulder needed a little extra time to start feeling strong.

Gorzelanny has admitted that he's not big on the Spring Training schedule of early mornings and seemingly monotonous rotations of throwing, fielding practice and conditioning. It was during those drills, particularly the long toss sessions last week, that Gorzelanny first felt the shoulder discomfort.

However, he wasn't quite sure that soreness in long toss would translate to soreness on the mound, which is why he wanted to get his first look at opposing hitters sooner, rather than later.

"It kind of takes a toll, especially at the beginning," Gorzelanny said of the schedule. "It was one of those things, too, that I don't want to take too much time [off] because I could get on the mound and feel alright."

And his assessment afterward?

"I'm not as strong as I want," he said, "but strong enough."

A serious injury to their top starter would have been a devastating blow to the Pirates this early in the spring. It's no secret that fate of the Pirates this season will be determined by the level of effectiveness of the starting five. And Gorzelanny is expected to lead that group.

He arrived at Spring Training poised for his second full season in the Majors and prepared to take the reins of the "staff ace" title. Though he has not been named so, Gorzelanny would appear to be in line to make the Opening Day start for the club, after the left-hander led the Bucs in wins last season with 14.

It was no secret last year that Gorzelanny and then-manager Jim Tracy wanted the left-hander to reach the 15-win plateau, a level that no Pirates pitcher has reached since 1999. Doing so this season would seem to be a reasonable goal. So, too, would be improving his 3.88 ERA, even though that mark placed him among the top 15 pitchers in the National League by season's end.

But ask Gorzelanny about his season goals, however, and they are never numbers-based.

He'll tell you that his primary goal every season is to stay healthy. Being healthy, he's concluded, will allow him to take the steps necessary to reach the next level.

"It's one of those things that I'm not going to accept the fact that, oh, I can do that every year," said Gorzelanny, who finished 2007 tied for eighth in wins among all NL left-handers. "I need to keep working harder. I need to keep getting better. I need to keep getting smarter. Getting better is the main key for me to stick here."

"Sticking" in the big leagues doesn't appear to be a concern. Not for a pitcher who gained national attention last season. Not for a pitcher who continues to be listed as one of the top young talents in the game. Not for a pitcher with the "never quite content" attitude of Gorzelanny.

In the meantime, however, the good news coming of out Bradenton on Sunday was that health problems aren't going to hinder him out of the gate. Now, Gorzelanny can return to focusing on the preparation -- even if he finds it cumbersome, with the expectations that the results will follow.

"Yeah, I had a good year last year," he said. "But the big thing is that I want to keep developing. I want to build up off of what I did last year and keep getting better. Obviously I have one year of big league time and I learned a lot. I had ups and downs. Now, this year, I need to get better."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.