Former Cincinnati Reds reliever Chris Piersoll never doubted that he would make it back from the injury that forced him to the sidelines in the spring of 2002. He just figured he'd make it back a bit sooner.

"At first when I came out of surgery, they told me seven to nine months," Piersoll said. "Then seven to nine months came and I was like, 'I'm not even close.' "

After missing two full seasons because of surgery to repair a torn labrum and frayed rotator cuff in his right (pitching) shoulder, Piersoll is making a comeback as a starter for the Frederick Keys, the advanced Class A affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles.

On Sunday, Piersoll, 26, who in 2001 made 11 appearances with a 2.38 ERA out of the bullpen for Cincinnati, struggled through four innings, allowing six earned runs in a 7-2 loss to Wilmington.

Though he has lost about 5 mph off his fastball, which had been clocked in the low nineties before to the injury, Piersoll (2-2) said he is adapting.

"I'm not the same pitcher," he said, "but I'm working to get back to being that guy."

Drafted in the 19th round by the Chicago Cubs in 1997, the 6-foot-4 Piersoll quickly established himself as a prospect by winning 13 of his first 16 decisions as a pro, primarily as a reliever. In 2000, he pitched to a 2.08 ERA with Cubs Class AA team West Tennessee, and following the season was picked up by the Reds in the Class AAA portion of the Rule 5 draft.

After getting a shot in the big leagues, however, he injured his shoulder during spring training 2002.

"It was just frustrating," Piersoll said. "It was like, 'All right, I feel good, I feel good.' A week later, my arm's just killing me."

Since the surgery, he has gone through often grueling rehab, mainly involving light weights and countless hours of stretching to expand his range of motion. Now the hard work is beginning to pay off.

"Right now, I'm just working to get it back," Piersoll said. "I know I can get it back, but I just have to keep throwing."