Positive outlook for Adams

Posted: March 21, 2014

CLEARWATER, Fla. - The time was just before 12:30 p.m. when Mike Adams strode onto the lush green grass that separates a firing line of pitching rubbers from their respective home plates. The Carpenter Complex is mostly known as an incubator for big-league dreams, but every now and then the sprawling complex that unfolds in the shadow of Bright House Field gets a chance to rehabilitate them.

"I was nervous," Adams said, "don't get me wrong."

Most of us would like to think that we would still feel that way at age 35, even with $13.5 million in career earnings and $7 million more on the way. That's what competition does, in almost any setting, from the first tee of a municipal golf course to the tipoff circle of 40-plus rec league. Still, it was refreshing to hear the electricity in Adams' voice, to see the focus in his eyes, as he laid out the course that he and the Phillies have mapped for his return to the major league side.

"From here on out, it's the start of spring training for myself," the veteran setup man said. "This was my first game situation. Right now, we're looking at Saturday, from there, 2 days after that - a normal progression from here on out. We're trying to put myself in a situation to be ready to come back in mid-April and help the team."

Six months ago, that sunny outlook was buried deep behind a wall of clouds that had Adams wondering whether he would ever pitch again. One of the top setup men in baseball from 2008 to 2012, the Phillies signed him to a 2-year, $12 million contract last offseason with the thought that he would stabilize a back end of the bullpen that had struggled in front of Jonathan Papelbon the previous season. But after appearing in 12 of the Phillies' first 26 games, Adams appeared in just 16 of their next 47, finally hitting the disabled list with a right shoulder injury that required surgery in late July.

When the 2013 season ended, neither Adams nor the Phillies were emitting many positive vibes about his potential to contribute in 2014. Nobody ruled it out, but nobody recommended that you wager on a return to form, either. But by January, both player and team were including the righthander in talk about the makeup of the back end of the bullpen.

From a vantage point on the ground and behind the catcher, Adams looked surprisingly sharp yesterday, his pitches appearing to possess the same dramatic movement that has long served as a key to his success.

"The action is there," he said.

Adams roared through the first three batters, getting two groundouts and then a strikeout looking. Keep going, the overseers said. He faced two more batters, left a couple of fastballs up, allowed a couple of line-drive base knocks.

"I gave up two three-out hits," he said dryly, "so I'll have to work on that."

The sincere part of that statement is its nod to endurance: Adams looked sharp in a semi-controlled setting (an intrasquad scrimmage) against minor league hitters (Double A caliber), coming off a steady progression of bullpen sessions. How much he will be able to help the Phillies will depend largely on how his body holds up when exposed to the day-to-day-to-day stretching and atrophying that typifies life as a major league reliever.

"I'm expecting tomorrow to be fine," Adams said. "I don't feel anything out of the ordinary right now. Just keep on moving."

The plan is to log nine or 10 appearances before attempting a return. Saturday will be another minor league outing. After that, the hope is to get him into Grapefruit League games for the last week of spring.

"I plan on helping," Adams said. "I don't plan on being a guy that's just taking up a spot. Like I've said the past few months, I have a contract to fulfill. I don't want to be one of those guys who stole money, I guess you could say."

On Twitter: @ByDavidMurphy

Blog: ph.ly/HighCheese

Email: dmurphy@phillynews.com

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