Health remains primary focus for Bray

Health remains primary focus for Bray

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Reds lefty reliever Bill Bray can hardly believe his luck and is hesitant to jinx it.

"I almost knock on wood but I feel good," Bray said. "Things are coming along well and so far I haven't had a setback, which is better than expected. The bullpens are getting better each time I go out there."

Injuries have robbed Bray of about as many games as he's been able to pitch for Cincinati since he came over from Washington in a 2006 trade. No injury has been as damaging as the one to his left elbow that required Tommy John surgery to repair last May.

The 26-year-old Bray was limited to all of three games for Triple-A Louisville in 2009. He was expected to miss 10-12 months, but after rehab and an offseason throwing program, Bray has the club feeling optimistic about his chances to contribute this year.

"Bray was a pleasant surprise to see, the progress and where he was at this point," manager Dusty Baker said. "He's still a little behind."

It's unlikely that Bray will be ready to go as Cactus League games begin at the end of this week. But he's up to throwing 40 pitches from the mound in his bullpen sessions, and most importantly, he's been pain-free.

"I'm hoping to get a couple of innings in this spring as quickly as my arm lets me, [that's] what I will shoot for," Bray said. "It's a real balancing act to make sure you're doing the right thing and progressing. You don't want to push too hard and have a setback that will cost you another couple of months."

"Setbacks in spring" could make for a sad blues song, and Bray has enough experience to know how to write it.

In 2007 Spring Training, Bray fractured the tip of his left index finger on a ground ball and was shut down. When he resumed throwing, Bray developed shoulder tendinitis and couldn't pitch again until May. He wound up only pitching 19 big league games that season.

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The 2008 camp began with shoulder soreness and put Bray behind enough that he began the season in Triple-A. He wound up pitching a career-best 63 games, however, in '08 before shoulder soreness held him back at the start of camp last year.

"That's why I'm glad we're in Arizona, a different place," Bray said. "I'm hoping to break that string. The past two or three springs [in Florida], it was my shoulder really bothering me and it was hard getting started. Once I got started and going, my shoulder would feel better."

After last year's issue, the Reds' medical staff instructed Bray to keep throwing throughout the offseason to keep his arm stretched out. He did his rehab work at for much of the winter at the Reds' complex in Goodyear. And during the time in December when most pitchers weren't throwing, Bray threw a couple of times a week.

"It seemed to help. It kept everything greased up and moving," he said.

If a healthy Bray can keep moving forward, he might eventually be able to contribute to the Cincinnati bullpen. In his absence, it's become a lot more crowded with left-handers like Arthur Rhodes and Daniel Ray Herrera. With limited space, whether Bray starts the season in the Minors or the disabled list remains a question.

"It's not something I'm worried about," Bray said. "It's cliché, but the only thing I can worry about is taking it day by day. My only goal for this spring is to be healthy. If I'm not healthy, I can't do anything."

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.