WINTER HAVEN, FLA. — The Boston Red Sox broke spring camp late Friday and headed north for the start of the regular season, but right-handed pitcher John Dopson, a Finskburg native, remained behind.
Dopson and pitcher Mike Miller stayed in Florida to continue rehabilitation from injuries, while the Red Sox traveled to Washington, where they close the exhibition season with a two-game weekend series today with the Baltimore Orioles.
Dopson, 30, is recovering from Aug. 27 surgery to replace ligaments in the elbow of his pitching arm.
"I'm coming along good," Dopson said before a Friday workout. "I've been throwing batting practice, and I'm coming around nicely."
The pitcher said he's had stiffness in his elbow every day after he threw batting practice.
"It's just something that will have to get better with each time I throw," Dopson said. "I've got to progress to where the elbow pressure won't be there the day after I throw batting practice."
He said he started out by throwing on the side three days a week, with two days' rest in between. Now he's pitching more often and experiencing less pain and hopes to be back with the team a few weeks after the season begins.
"I'm going to stay here in Winter Haven for an extended spring training, and I'm going to keep throwing until I feel like I'm ready to throw in a game," he said. "It's been seven months since my surgery, and I feel like I'll be ready by the end of April or early May." Last year Dopson did not give up an earned run in his first three appearances before hurting his elbow in a game against the Chicago White Sox.
"Last year was rough," he said. "I was sent down to Pawtucket (Boston's minor league affiliate in Rhode Island), and I was on the injured list for most of the season. I didn't feel like I was part of the team.
"But this year it's been different. I arrived here at the start of spring training, and I've been working out with weights, I've thrown batting practice, and I feel like I'm part of this team. In fact, it's kind of tough because some days I feel so good throwingthat I don't want to hold back. But I know I've got to take it easy and be patient. I don't want to rush things."
Red Sox General Manager Lou Gorman said he's noticed Dopson's progress, too.
"He's coming around nicely, and he's a hard worker," Gorman said. "He has a real strong arm, and if he can be back by the end of April that would be ahead of his schedule. That would be great."
Manager Joe Morgan doesn't want the pitcher to rush his rehabilitation.
"We have to play it by ear," said Morgan. "I expect it will be maybe six weeks if everything goes right. And, there's no reason for him to rush it. We want him to be ready when he moves up."
Dopson, meanwhile, is excited about the upcoming season.
"We won our division last year, andwe had a team that could score runs for us," he said. "And, now, with the addition of Jack Clark and Mike Marshall, we've got a great offensive team. We don't have to worry about the team scoring runs for us.
"We've got the kind of team that has a great offensive punch, and we know that if we go out there and do our job on the mound that our teammates will score enough runs for us to win."
Dopson doesn'twant to make a prediction about his performance in the coming season.
"All I want to do is get back in top shape, join the team and dothe best job I know to do," he said. "And, if I do that, things willcare of themselves."
After the Red Sox play the Orioles today at RFK Stadium, they travel to Toronto, where they open the season against the Blue Jays. Dopson will be in Florida, pitching with the WinterHaven Class A team in the Florida State League.