Cubs’ Scott Baker says he knows what Derrick Rose is going through
BY GORDON WITTENMYER firstname.lastname@example.org March 16, 2013 1:08AM
Scott Baker's ERA is 15.88 after two rehab starts for Class A Kane County. | AP
Updated: April 18, 2013 6:59AM
MESA, Ariz. — Scott Baker has never met Derrick Rose. But even 2,000 miles away, the Cubs pitcher can see that he and the Bulls superstar are sort of Chicago sports brothers in arms these days — well, rehab brothers in elbows and knees, anyway.
‘‘It can be really hard,’’ Baker said. ‘‘To perform at a certain level at 100 percent and then to not feel 100 percent, it’s sometimes difficult to realize you can still be effective — I guess, from a pitching standpoint — that you can still be a good, competitive pitcher [at less than] 100 percent.’’
That appears to be the crux of the issue surrounding Rose, who has been medically cleared to play, has scrimmaged for weeks, has dunked repeatedly and yet continues to waver over when, if at all, he’ll return this season, nearly a year after he suffered that serious knee injury in the playoffs.
‘‘I’m just coming back when I feel normal,’’ he told writers in Chicago a few weeks ago.
Baker says he can relate.
Certainly, if any two body parts between the two sports are comparable, they would be a basketball player’s knee and a pitcher’s elbow.
Baker, a former 15-game winner and playoff starter, missed all of last season after Tommy John surgery to reconstruct his pitching elbow. He makes his Cactus League debut for the Cubs on Sunday in a continuing slow-and-steady preparation for a mid-April season debut.
Baker says he’s optimistic about beating the two-year benchmark for full, ‘‘normal’’ performance after Tommy John surgery, and he’s quick to acknowledge how important the mental side of that is.
‘‘To say it’s always going to be easy, that’s not the case,’’ he said. ‘‘I guess in Derrick’s case, it would be kind of the same thing, where he’s used to playing at a certain level, and I’m sure he wants to be the best he possibly can. And not knowing enough about the situation to go any further, I’m sure he just wants to make sure he’s right.’’
Cubs manager Dale Sveum appreciates Baker’s perspective and his heady approach to his rehab work.
He also can identify with what Baker and Rose face, having suffered career-altering fractures in his left leg in a horrific collision with Milwaukee Brewers teammate Daryl Hamilton chasing a pop fly during his second season in the majors.
Considered a rising-star shortstop, Sveum missed a year recovering from his injuries, wasn’t at full strength for three years and never was the same player.
‘‘You obviously deal with a lot of uncertainty when you’re coming back,’’ said Sveum, who actually tried to come back too soon, the following season, with a brace on the partially healed leg as he played in minor-league games.
‘‘That lasted about five games,’’ he said.
‘‘But once I could run and everything, I didn’t really ever think about it. Mine wasn’t a ligament or a knee or anything. . . . To do everything at the [NBA] level, how big and strong and fast those guys are, to play at that level you were — I think no matter what, you’re going to be dealing with the mental part of it.’’
In Sveum’s case, he was a young player still trying to prove himself, and driven by hunger as much as anything.
‘‘I think you’re scared to death of, one, losing your job,’’ said Sveum, who spent more than two seasons still trying to regain his strength and ability once he returned because he had to rebuild his atrophied leg. ‘‘You could play, but you talk about not being able to play at a major-league level, even though you’re on the team — that’s what’s frustrating. You play at such a high level, and then you have no chance of doing that.’’
That’s where Sveum takes confidence in his pitcher’s long and deliberate process, which will include thousands of pitches and rigors to assure Baker is ready in April.
It’s also where Sveum identifies with what Rose might be going through, even if Rose has nothing close to the job-loss fear to drive him.
‘‘I think with those kind of injuries, you’ll always fear [not being the same player],’’ he said, ‘‘until, or whether, the mental side of it goes away and you throw up 40 points and 15 rebounds, and you dominate Kobe Bryant or something like that, and you’re like, ‘OK. I’m OK.’
‘‘But you start out struggling and maybe you feel slower, you can’t frickin’ cut or get to the bucket like he did, jump as quick as he did. Then the mental part of it comes in.’’
That mental side, that confidence and comfort level, often straddles a fine line even for healthy athletes at the highest levels.
‘‘But at the same time you have to trust it, you have to trust the fact that even without your best stuff, you’re capable of being a productive pitcher,’’ Baker said.