Doumit out to shed injury-prone tag

Doumit out to shed injury-prone tag

BRADENTON, Fla. -- For Ryan Doumit, the success of the 2010 season, at least in a personal sense, will largely be defined by two numbers: 500 and 130.

Those numbers are essentially targets, but they also serve as a mirror into Doumit's 11-year career in professional baseball. They reflect all those seasons cut short and all the time spent as a spectator. In a sense, they signify unmet expectations.

It's really quite clear. As Doumit looks ahead to the upcoming year, he wants 500 at-bats and 130 starts behind the plate. That's not to say that the Pirates' starting catcher is dismissing the importance of his statistics. In fact, that couldn't be further from the truth. But the prevailing belief is that if 500 and 130 can be achieved, everything else will fall nicely into place.

To understand the simplicity of Doumit's goals, you would have to have spent all those days in the training room with him. You would have had to have put in all the necessary offseason work only to watch an errant foul tip or an unlucky swing erase that preparation.

For all that Doumit has done to establish himself as one of the National League's most potent offensive catchers, his career has so far not been defined by such. It's been defined by his injuries, a list that even Doumit hesitates to run down.

"It's the truth," Doumit said. "It's something that I don't want to hear about obviously, but it's out there. And you look at my resume and there are a lot of injuries there. When people say that, I can't be defensive. It's there.

"But is it something that I want to be labeled as? Absolutely not."

He's had head concussions and thigh contusions, sprains to his ankle and wrist. He's endured a fractured thumb, a torn hamstring and a broken scaphoid bone. He's dealt with back spasms, mononucleosis and right elbow soreness. The list goes on.

Doumit has had six different stints on the disabled list since making his Major League debut in 2005, and that doesn't account for all those day-to-day dings that have plagued him. And since playing his first full year in the Minors back in 2000, Doumit has managed to stay off the DL in only three of those 10 seasons.

"I feel like I've been snake bit a couple times with some freak injuries, and that's the toughest part about it," he said. "I don't feel like I've ever come in out of shape and that my injuries have ever been due to my lack of physical shape."

As a result of all these injuries, the closest Doumit has come to his goal of 500 and 130 was in '07, when he started 104 games and accumulated 431 at-bats.

There's no question that Doumit's presence in the lineup and behind the plate is imperative to the Pirates' success this year. He has the capability to send a ball over the fence at any given moment, a plus for an offense not inundated with power hitters. And his pride in working with the pitching staff has led to a noticeably improved comfort level on defense.

"You see what has happened to us the last two years when he misses time," manager John Russell said. "Hopefully he'll get through this year with just the minor aches and pains of a catcher as opposed to something major. He's a huge part of our team. We need him to stay healthy."

The good news right now is that Doumit is back at 100 percent health. All the lingering effects of right wrist surgery from last April are finally gone. And yes, there were some.

Doumit's surgically repaired wrist gave him particular trouble when trying to hit inside fastballs, a pitch that has always been his favorite to drive. To compensate for the loss of strength in his wrist, Doumit found himself inadvertently cheating ahead on his swing, trying to generate more bat speed. The change didn't help, and Doumit's results and confidence suffered.

He hit just .251 with an on-base percentage of .305 in the 63 games he played after returning last July. Those numbers represented a significant dip from Doumit's combined .302 average and .351 on-base percentage in 2007-08. He also had 12 doubles, eight homers and 29 RBIs following his return from the injury.

"I heard all those things from the doctors about how I wasn't going to be 100 percent, but I didn't want to believe it," Doumit said. "Maybe it was my own pride or my own ego. I kept saying I was going to come back and I was going to be ready. But I would be lying if I was to say it was 100 percent all year."

The Pirates' plans are to have Doumit, a switch-hitter, fill the cleanup spot in the order again this year when he's catching. And depending on how things pan out in right field and at first base for the Pirates, the club hasn't ruled out the possibility of using Doumit in right on days where he needs a break from behind the plate. He did so once last September, and this would keep his bat in the lineup.

But before any of this becomes an issue, Doumit has to first show he can stay on the field. And that explains why his seemingly simple magic numbers will carry so much weight.

"I know I've said it every year, but I hope everything is behind me," Doumit said. "I'm certainly not going to change the style of play that I do every day. I'm not going to change the type of player that I want to be because that's the way I know how to play the game. Whatever happens, happens."

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