Article written by Thomas Harding for MLB.com
The best measure of the health of Rockies pitcher Jeff Francis' left shoulder isn't in how he is throwing. It's who is catching his throws.
"I can go out and play catch without a trainer," Francis said. "I can throw with the guys. My shoulder feels smooth, feels stronger than before."
Francis was a key figure in the Rockies' magical 2007, winning 17 games in the regular season and two in the postseason. But shoulder problems led to a subpar 2008 and forced him to undergo arthroscopic surgery in February 2009 to repair his labrum and clean out his rotator cuff. That meant no World Baseball Classic, where he would have represented Canada, and no participating in another postseason trip for the Rockies.
Francis watched the Rockies make the 2009 playoffs without him. When he wasn't a spectator, he was as much a presence as possible. When he wasn't rehabbing, Francis was doing numerous community projects. At the ballpark, he all but served as emcee for pregame activities. He even pitched in as the regular catcher for first-pitch ceremonies.
But all signs point to Francis returning to his perch as a key member of the Rockies' rotation in 2010. As the team celebrated its playoff berth, the organization celebrated Francis' appearance in the fall instructional program in Tucson, Ariz. Granted, it was just three innings against the Rockies' youngest prospects, but it finished the rehab period and started a legitimate countdown to Francis' return.
Francis is on a normal offseason program. He'll begin throwing bullpen sessions next month and should be ready for full participation in Spring Training. No longer worried about shoulder pain, Francis' biggest stress is the waiting.
"I'm doing pretty good for someone who hasn't thrown in a real game in 15 months," Francis said with a laugh.
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