The past two springs, Mark DeRosa knew the trouble that lay ahead for him. He had felt numbness and pain in his surgically repaired left wrist during those offseasons, and he felt pessimism about his chances at a healthy, productive season. “You can hide it as much as you want,” DeRosa said. “But I kind of knew it was going to flare up.”
DeRosa arrived today at Nationals spring training with a new feeling about his problematic wrist: confidence. Despite playing only 73 games over the past two seasons, the Nationals signed DeRosa in December and will count on him in a number of roles, including insurance for Adam LaRoche at first base and a right-handed bat in the outfield.
“I feel like if I can stay healthy, I can have a good season and help out,” DeRosa said. “That’s the key for me. It feels great. It does. But it remains to be seen. The offseason is not the season. It’s not grinding every day. It’s not hitting seven times a week. I need these six weeks to get ready.”
DeRosa, 37, first injured his wrist in 2009 with the St. Louis Cardinals. His play immediately nosedived, and that winter he underwent his first surgery to repair a tendon in the wrist. But when he showed up with the Giants in 2010, he still felt pain, and after 26 games he needed another surgery, ending his season.
In May last year, during an at-bat with Clayton Kershaw, DeRosa took a pitch in the dirt and, oddly, dropped his bat in searing pain. He grabbed his wrist, told a trainer, “I’m done,” walked into the dugout and slammed down his helmet. He had ruptured the same tendon.
“And to be honest with you, since I ruptured it, that’s the best it’s felt,” DeRosa said. “I was able to come back last year after rehabbing and play in September and played pretty well. So I’m excited.
“I’m hoping after two years of going through all I went through, it seems to have settled down. The scar tissue or whatever that’s in there seems to have calmed down and allowed me to do my job without pain. That was the toughest thing. You can make up for lack of stability or lack of mobility or whatever you’ve got to deal with. But that knifing pain every time you go to swing, it just kind of shut me down.”
When DeRosa returned in August, he went 18 for 57 (.367) with six walks. But he managed only one extra-base hit, a double. DeRosa hit more than 20 homers in 2008 and 2009, and the question is whether his damaged wrist, even if healthy, will allow him to hit for any power.
“That is the name of the game, driving in runs and being a dangerous hitter and occasionally driving the ball out of the ballpark,” DeRosa said. “I hope to get back to that.”
DeRosa signed with the Nationals because of his familiarity with Davey Johnson, who managed him in the 2009 World Baseball Classic. He showed three days early, but only one other position player in the major leagues – Xavier Paul – had yet to arrive.
”Life’s different now,” DeRosa said. “I’m going to be 37 with two kids. It’s not easy to jump in the car a week before spring and get down here. I said that. I said, ‘You guys are killing me. I’m going to be, like, the last guy walking in.’ Like the passion is fizzling. But I’m excited. This is a team on the verge of some good stuff, especially with some of the acquisitions. It all sets up for a great summer.”
DeRosa feels comfortable with the wide-ranging role the Nationals envision. He packed three different gloves for using in the outfield, infield and first base. He could find his most playing time in right field, playing against left-handed starters with Jayson Werth moving to center.
“However I can get on the field,” DeRosa said. “That’s how I got my start, being a utility guy. It’s kind of coming full circle, coming back to it, which I’m not happy about but I also understand. I’m pretty comfortable playing wherever. I always go back to a coach I had with the Braves, Glen Hubbard. He also said, ‘Be an athlete.’ That’s what I’m going to do. I’m not going to glide like Carlos Beltran in the outfield, do things that certain guys do out there. But I can catch it and hit the cutoff man.”