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Brewers Hawkins feels good about rehab, godson

LaTroy Hawkins is proceeding very carefully in his return from last summer's right shoulder surgery, but he finally has settled into something of a Spring Training routine.

Stretch, pitch, ice.

Rock Chalk, Jayhawk.Hawkins is pleased with his own recent outings, but he's much more excited for his godson Elijah Johnson, a guard for the University of Kansas men's basketball team making a run in the NCAA Tournament.

Hawkins' next outing is scheduled for Thursday, the day before Kansas' Sweet 16 matchup against Richmond. Hawkins will be watching.

"He always wanted to be a Jayhawk," said Hawkins, who attended a pair of Kansas games over the winter, including a Jan. 5 win in Lawrence, Kan. "How many kids do you see at 5, 6 years old and you think they're going to be good, and they actually end up going to a big-time college?"Johnson is the oldest of Hawkins' godchildren, and Johnson's father is an old friend of Hawkins' from Gary, Ind.
"I really stay out of the way, but I text him to keep him positive," Hawkins said. "You're going to have ups and downs at a big-time program like Kansas, where basketball is just the king.

"I text him things like, 'Play hard, play smart, stay focused. Stay focused. Stay focused.'"

That focus has served Hawkins well after a 2010 season -- the first of a two-year contract with the Brewers -- that was ruined by a shoulder injury. It started with stiffness in Spring Training, persisted even through a mostly outstanding April and officially ended in August, when Hawkins underwent surgery to repair fraying of his rotator cuff and labrum.

What followed was the first significant rehabilitation of Hawkins' 16-year Major League career. It wasn't much fun.

"Rehab is harder than playing. Much harder," he said.

In more ways than one.

"The first month, it's mentally and physically hard," Hawkins said. "After that, once you get your strength back, it becomes a mental challenge. I've never experienced it. Guys go through this all the time, and I was blessed that I never went through it in 18, 19 years. Now, here I am coming back from surgery at 37 and 38 [his 38th birthday was in December]. You look at yourself in the mirror and go, 'Really?'

"But I feel like I can pitch a few more years. My shoulder feels strong. Pitching out there, I have no pain."

Hawkins has learned from teammates and foes who have undergone similar procedures that shoulder surgeries are usually more unpredictable than elbows. Hawkins had to stick to a strict schedule after noted surgeon Dr. Lewis Yocum patched up his shoulder and promised a full recovery. Hawkins returned home to Texas the same day and eventually rehabbed with physical therapist Alan Thompson, alongside Olympic athletes, football players and at least one baseball player in former Brewers ace Ben Sheets.

Hawkins didn't pitch against another team in Spring Training until Friday, when he faced the Reds' Triple-A club. On Monday, he faced the Double-A Reds, and the Brewers may continue pitching Hawkins in Minor League games to preserve the right to backdate a potential assignment to the 15-day disabled list.

It's still unclear whether Hawkins will need that extra time or if he'll be ready for Opening Day on March 31 vs. the Reds.

"I'm OK with him just getting his arm back, him feeling confident letting go of the ball," manager Ron Roenicke said. "Once he gets to that point, I'd like to see him. I just don't know if we're going to have the opportunity to do that against Major League hitting."

Hawkins said he does not mind the back-field atmosphere. And while he conceded his velocity has not returned, he insisted that his arm feels strong, that he has no fear letting the ball go and that he's right where he needs to be in his rehabilitation. Opening Day is "a possibility," he said, but there are no guarantees.

"I'm letting the ball go, but everyone says that velocity is the last thing to come," he said. "I can pitch with what I have now. But having what I used to have definitely helps -- a lot."

He'd like to get back that mid- to high-90s fastball in a hurry, because Hawkins wants to fulfill the two-year, $7.5 million contract he signed at the 2009 Winter Meetings. Hawkins and agent Larry Reynolds signed after meeting in person with the general manager Doug Melvin-led Brewers contingent.

Nobody ever wants to get injured, but Hawkins admitted it hurts even more when you are trying to live up to a big contract.

"Heck yeah, it's a big difference," he said. "I've never been able to not fulfill my -- to not do my job. That's what made me, me. I was always reliable.

"It's not a good feeling when you're hurt and you can't be relied on. Some people don't mind it. I do. If I sign a contract, I want to fulfill it to the best of my ability. So, last year was definitely a humbling experience -- very humbling."

Now, there's hope for a better 2011, and perhaps Hawkins' godson can provide a good omen. Hawkins does not want to jinx anything, but it's easy to look at the tournament bracket and see a reasonable path to the Final Four for Kansas -- a No. 1 seed facing No. 12 Richmond. With a win Friday, it would be on to either No. 10 Florida State or No. 11 VCU.

Thinking way ahead now, the national championship game is in Houston the night of April 4. And considering the Brewers play their home opener at Miller Park that afternoon, there would be time for Hawkins to charter a flight to see the game in person.

"It would be expensive," he said with a big smile, "but worth it."
Source- LaTroy Hawkins feels good about rehab, godson Elijah Johnson of Kansas | MLB.com: News

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