Sun, Mar 05, 2006 - Page 23 News List

Jaret Wright gets back from injury to spur NY Yankees

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , CLEARWATER, FLORIDA

Both pitchers who started here Friday signed three-year, US$21 million contracts before last season. Jon Lieber went to the Philadelphia Phillies from the Yankees and won 17 games. Jaret Wright went to the Yankees from the Atlanta Braves and won five.

Despite his contract, Wright has nothing guaranteed for him this season. The Yankees love his fearless attitude, and he impressed them by returning from a serious shoulder injury last season. But the specter of another breakdown lingers.

"Last spring is a perfect indication," manager Joe Torre said before the Yankees' 11-10 loss to the Phillies. "No matter how well he does, there's always going to be that cloud that you're always aware of."

Wright was the Yankees' best pitcher last spring, allowing two runs in 21 innings. But four starts into the regular season, while pitching against the Texas Rangers on April 23, he crumpled in pain on the mound at Yankee Stadium.

For Wright, who had been healthy for two years, it was a cruel reminder that his injury history would always stalk him.

"You think everything is in the past," Wright said. "It felt good for a long time, and the day of that Texas game, it was shocking to feel what I felt."

Wang and Chacon

In the four months Wright missed, the Yankees added Wang Chien-ming (王建民) and Shawn Chacon to their rotation. Both made starts in the playoffs, and both are still with the Yankees. So are Randy Johnson and Mike Mussina. Carl Pavano has been slowed by a back injury, but Torre says he expects him to join the rotation in mid-April.

Where does that leave Wright? It is a question he said he would rather not consider.

"Anything that takes me away from what I have to do, I try to stay away from that stuff," Wright said. "I think I relate it to coming up in the minor leagues. I never was a guy who thought about who was in front of me, because then you get caught up in thinking maybe I should be there and that guy shouldn't."

It worked out well for Wright as a rookie, when he earned his way into the Cleveland Indians' rotation and started Game 7 of the 1997 World Series.

But injuries soon derailed him, and freak accidents shadowed him late last season.

Wright left one September start when a line drive struck his neck. Three starts later, a broken bat crashed into his elbow.

He started the last day of the season and lost at Boston, 10-1, when a victory would have given the Yankees an extra home game in the American League division series.

just about Wright

Wright was left off the roster for that round, but because he was rested, he would probably have started the opener of the league championship series in Chicago. As Wright was flying to Chicago, hoping his teammates would follow him from California, the Yankees were eliminated by the Los Angeles Angels.

Five months later, Wright is back in limbo. When asked if Wright could be a reliever, Torre did not discount the idea.

"I think he could help us pretty much anywhere," Torre said.

Wright said he would concentrate on making the rotation. But he may have to be flexible, especially early, when the Yankees have five days off over the first 22 days of the season.

Torre has not committed to a rotation.

"We're going to give these guys the innings they need as starters and see what we see and try to figure it out," he said.

Wright provided few clues with an uneven performance Friday. He gave up four hits and one run in two innings, missing with location, Torre said, but looking smooth in his mechanics.

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