110 pitches and Palmer still upbeat Hall of Famer at batting practice

March 03, 1991|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Sun Staff Correspondent

SARASOTA, Fla. -- The Jim Palmer comeback entered a new stage yesterday, when he threw batting practice for the first time since 1985.

Palmer pitched for 15 minutes to Bill Ripken, Bob Melvin, Cal Ripken and Dwight Evans, who did not spend a lot of time swinging and missing, but didn't pepper the parking lot, either. The results were mixed, about as mixed as the signals coming from Palmer after he left the mound.

"I felt good, and the guys said I threw good batting practice," Palmer said, "but whether that translates into getting hitters out, find that out in 10 days or so."

His right thumb was bleeding when he completed his workout, though not as a result of the blister that has hindered him for the past few weeks. The right thumbnail apparently separated from the skin, which trainer Jamie Reed said was not a matter of serious concern.

Palmer threw 110 pitches. The blister did not open. The show did not close. He still is scheduled to pitch two innings in an intrasquad game Wednesday and make his first Grapefruit League appearance March 11 against the Boston Red Sox.

"I have nine days, and I'm going to need every one of them," Palmer said.

It is hard to say what this all means. One minute, Palmer says everything is going great and he feels better than ever. The next, he is explaining how the rigors of spring training are taking their toll. He and comeback companion Mike Flanagan have been commiserating about their various aches and pains all week.

"That's only natural," Baltimore Orioles manager Frank Robinson said. "This time of year brings out the aches and pains. There are a lot of guys a lot younger than Jim Palmer who are feeling the same thing right now. It'll take a week to 10 days to get past the soreness."

Robinson watched Palmer's workout with a critical eye for the first time this spring. He also gave a mixed review.

"I thought his velocity was consistent, and I liked the rotation on his curveball," Robinson said, "but he's still trying to find a consistent release."

Today could be significant. Palmer is not scheduled to throw, but it will be interesting to see how his arm responds the day after his first extended workout of the spring. It was an arm problem that helped send him into retirement in 1984. He says his arm is the least of his worries now.

"My arm is going to be fine," he said. "Every day I get up, and I'm surprised that I feel as good as I do. I think the legs and the blisters are more of a concern than my arm."

He has been pitching with the blister on his thumb for several weeks. He even changed the way he grips the ball to keep from aggravating it. But until it disappears, it has the potential to scuttle his comeback bid.

"They [blisters] are always a worry," Palmer said. "I threw 23 minutes [including an eight-minute warm-up period] and maybe 200 pitches. When you have a blister, there's always the chance you might aggravate it a little bit."

No one has gotten a better all-around view of the Palmer comeback than catcher Bob Melvin, who caught Palmer the first time he threw here and was in the group that hit against him yesterday.

"I thought he threw well," Melvin said. "He had a lot of movement on his fastball. But it's just great having him around. He's a good guy. He knows the game, and he has everything in perspective."

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