PEORIA, Ariz. — Well, of course, Willie Bloomquist says he’s “good,” and “ready to go.” That he’s “confident I could play right now” in his recovery from micro-fracture surgery last August on his right knee.
This is Willie Ballgame speaking here, the gamer’s gamer. The can-do kid who still chafes at any suggestion of can’t — even after a career about to enter its 14th big-league season.
So it’s no surprise the Mariners are grading those comments on a curve as their spring camp accelerates Wednesday when full-squad workouts commence at the Peoria Sports Complex.
“I think we all know Willie,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “He dives right back in. I’ve got to make sure that he’s healthy for the entire season. So, we’re going to pace him and back him off a little bit.
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“I’m sure he’s not going to like it, but that’s just the way it is.”
While this is what Bloomquist expected — a go-slow approach — McClendon is right about him not liking it.
“I’m ready,” Bloomquist insisted. “They will ease me into things slowly, but I am ready to go. I’m running 100 percent. As far being able to do what I’m capable of doing…let’s go.”
Club officials say Bloomquist is too important to risk circumventing his recovery through a taxing workload in spring workouts and Cactus League games. They know what he can do when healthy.
“He may not be a superstar-type of player,” McClendon said, “but you know what you’re getting every day. There’s a lot to be said for that.”
Bloomquist felt a jolt in his right knee July 23 while trying to beat out a grounder to short in the eighth inning of a 3-2 loss to the New York Mets at Safeco Field.
What initially seemed little more than a bruise, which Bloomquist insisted wouldn’t require time on the disabled list, failed to heal as expected. Further examination revealed the need for surgery, which took place Aug. 9.
Then rehab, which Bloomquist attacked to assuage any doubts that he’d be ready by the start of spring training.
“It hasn’t come easy,” he admitted. “It’s been a heck of an off-season just getting this thing back to par. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but the trainers and everyone have done a great job of getting me back.”
Bloomquist cleared another hurdle earlier this week when he began base-running drills, which puts start-and-stop stress and lateral torque on his repaired knee.
It went well.
“I think that’s the first test,” McClendon said. “Obviously, it’s going to be day to day — how he feels from one day to the next. It still bites every now and then, but that’s normal. He’s got to get used to it, but that’s OK.
“He’s doing fabulous if you really think about it. He’s certainly well ahead of schedule. He’s feeling great.”
Now, the Mariners want to guard against any setbacks.
“He has the ability to play all over the field,” McClendon said. “You know he’s going to catch the ball. That’s a comforting thing for a manager — to have a veteran guy who knows what he’s doing.”
That versatility permits Bloomquist to serve as club’s backup shortstop, which is key because McClendon acknowledges he prefers “to stay away from” using recently-acquired Rickie Weeks in that role.
Bloomquist started more games logged more innings at shortstop last season and throughout his career than at any other position.
And while many roles for Bloomquist and Weeks might overlap, McClendon contends the Mariners need both players.
“Oh, I think so,” he said. “I think we needed it last year. I think there’s a need for it.”
And if so, they need both healthy.
So while Weeks spends much of his time this spring learning the outfield after 12 pro seasons spent solely as a second baseman, Bloomquist will be eased into duty.
“Bah…I know I’m ready to go,” he said. “And skip knows it. I’ve told him I’m ready to go.”