Wakefield optimistic after back surgery
Knuckleballer sets sights on 2010 season, franchise record
He is 43 years old, and one day removed from back surgery, but that didn't take away any enthusiasm from Red Sox knuckleballer Tim Wakefield as he held court with the media in a conference call on Thursday.
Though a herniated disc reduced Wakefield from a walk to a limp throughout the entire second half, and limited him to just four starts after July, he never once considered retirement.
"It never crossed my mind," said Wakefield. "I was fully confident in what our doctors were telling me as far as having surgery in the offseason, and once we got to the offseason, I was very ecstatic to get this thing done and get on the other side of the rehab. Talking with the surgeons today, everything looks awesome. I'm up moving around. I'm not very sore at all. I'm looking forward to getting to my rehab and getting ready for next year."
Next year will be Wakefield's 16th with the Red Sox, making him the longest-tenured member of the team by far. The club has until five days after the World Series ends to pick up Wakefield's $4 million option for 2010, but that is seen as a mere formality.
Wakefield has 189 career wins, 175 of which have come for the Red Sox. Cy Young and Roger Clemens are tied for the club's all-time win record with 192, but that is a mark Wakefield has in his sights.
"Well, I do have some goals in mind," Wakefield said. "I obviously want to get to 200 wins and I want to try to become the all-time leader in wins in Red Sox history. I'm 18 away from that. Past that, I really can't tell you. I'm not planning on getting to that point and retiring if that's the question that you're asking.
"I still feel like I can contribute. I still feel like I can compete at the highest level. I want to continue to play as long as my body allows me and as long as the Red Sox want me around. I do have those goals in mind. That's not the only reason I'm playing. I'm playing because I think I can still contribute to us winning a championship."
It was a roller-coaster season for Wakefield. Things couldn't have gone any better in the first half, when he won 11 games and was named to the All-Star team for the first time in his career. But as soon as Wakefield boarded the plane from Boston to Toronto after the All-Star festivities, he felt discomfort in his back. It never went away, with the exception of some brief relief from cortisone shots.
Wakefield wasn't healthy enough to be placed on the American League Division Series roster. There was a slight chance he could have resurfaced for the American League Championship Series, but the Red Sox never got that far.
"It was hard, because I was trying my best to go out there and, obviously, you guys saw on a daily basis how difficult it was," Wakefield said. "I wanted to be out there to compete. We tried the easy route a couple of times with the cortisone injection, just to try to keep me on the field. It worked once, but it didn't work the other three times.
"It was very frustrating that I was doing everything possible to try to stay on the field and to try to get healthy and to try to prove that I could maybe pitch in the postseason. It just didn't work out. I have no regrets on the way we handled things and the way it all went down. I'm just thankful that I was able to make an All-Star team for the first time in my 16-year career and I'm looking forward to trying to win some more games next year for the Boston Red Sox."
For the past three seasons, Wakefield has pitched with a SLAP (superior labral tear from anterior to posterior) tear in his labrum, but he's confident about where his shoulder is at.
"My shoulder is actually phenomenal," Wakefield said. "They've really stayed on top of it a lot more. I did stretch it a little bit more this year, and there's been a little more due diligence in the offseason as far as maintaining some strength. I don't know if the back injury, maybe because I wasn't throwing as much, maybe helped me out with the shoulder.
"If I can go back to 2007, 2008, I was starting to feel fatigued a little earlier in the year, before the All-Star break, and was able to fight through it. This year, I didn't feel any fatigue all year long and that's probably a good sign that I'm on the right program and on the right track to keep my shoulder healthy."
And the surgery will require minimal recovery time for Wakefield.
"Everything was awesome," Wakefield said. "The whole procedure went as planned and even post-op, meeting with the surgeon, Dr. [Lawrence] Borges, everything went perfect. He didn't see any further damage in there. He made sure everything was cleaned up and ready to go. It went perfect and I should be ready to go by Spring Training."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.