Elbow healthy, Hawpe hopes to stick with Bucs
Slugger, who had Tommy John surgery in '11, trying to re-start career
BRADENTON, Fla. -- He is still remembered for having one of the most beautiful swings ever seen on the campus of baseball hotbed Louisiana State University. Brad Hawpe's swing has never had any blemishes. The left arm is what needed a makeover 17 months ago.
Now all that time removed from Tommy John surgery, clearly not the monopoly of pitchers, the 33-year-old outfielder tries to re-start his career with the Pirates. Pirates manager Clint Hurdle's everyday right fielder when the two were with the Colorado Rockies agreed on Jan. 17 to a Minor League contract that came with an invitation to Spring Training and a shot at dropping anchor.
A member of the Rockies from the 2000 First-Year Player Draft through his release by them in late August 2010, Hawpe since has been making the rounds.
"The first 11 years I didn't go anywhere," said Hawpe, who played out that 2010 season with the Rays. "Next spring, I'm with the Padres, last year with the Rangers. So this is my third new clubhouse in three years."
He may be moving on again, soon. The Pirates are deep at both of the positions with which he is familiar -- outfield and first base. According to his contract, Hawpe can request his release on March 26 if he's not yet added to the Pirates' big league roster.
"We're playing baseball. It's Spring Training. We'll let things unfold how they will," Hawpe said when asked how he felt about his chances amid the competition. "I don't feel anything."
A good thing when that includes his repaired elbow.
"When I came into Spring Training last year and tried [to play], it was 5 1/2 months after the surgery. So coming in this year, it's 17 1/2 months," Hawpe said. "I'm feeling good."
After DHing in his first two exhibition appearances, Hawpe had a chance to provide evidence he was feeling good when he started in right field in Wednesday's game against the Rays. As if on cue, his arm got two tests, and Hawpe aced both.
In the second inning, after having Jose Molina's single short-hop past his glove for a fielding error, Hawpe quickly recovered and unleashed a strike to second base. Three innings later, he came impressively close to getting speedy Desmond Jennings at the plate on a sacrifice fly.
"There's some big arm strength there," Hurdle said. "And he's one of the few left-handers you see who throws a nice four-seam ball without any tail. We just need to get him back in the continuity, give him game-speed time. It's been a long time since he's been out there, so it was just good to get him back out there."
Appropriately, that first thrown laser went to shortstop Clint Barmes, a once-again longtime teammate who was "very pumped" when the Pirates signed Hawpe.
Naturally, Barmes immediately stood up for "best friend" Hawpe, whose throw had been adjudged too tardy to get Molina.
"He was out," Barmes said. "The umpire started his safe call even before I had the ball."
Barmes was taken by the Rockies in the same 2000 Draft as Hawpe, one round ahead of him, and they ripened together in the Colorado farm system. It is not accidental that the two had adjoining lockers at Pirate City, and have remained neighbors in McKechnie Field.
"My first 10 years in pro ball, we played together. He's probably one of my closest, best friends in the game," said Barmes. "Great guy, great teammate. When you talk about a character guy, a guy in the clubhouse who is just good to have in the room, he fits that description pretty well."
From 2006-09, through Colorado's World Series journey in '07, Hawpe poked 99 homers -- at least 22 each season -- drove in 371 runs, had a .288 average and an on-base percentage (.384) almost a hundred points higher.
It is evident he still has the stroke.
"The bat feels back," Hawpe said, nodding, "and that's a good feeling to have, to be back doing some damage."
In between the sore elbow, eventual diagnosis and the operation, Hawpe has had only 493 Major League at-bats the last three seasons -- none in 2012, when he played 35 games with Texas' Double-A club before his mid-June release by the Rangers.
"I'd love for him to break [camp] with us and again get to play with him," Barmes said. "He hit a bump in the road with the surgery, but he knows he can hit. He's done it in the past. And he's a big-situation hitter."
The two Clints provide a comfort zone for Hawpe's latest comeback mission.
"I had some fun times with Clint [Barmes]. We're good friends," Hawpe said. "And [Hurdle] is a very smart man, honest, a good motivator. It's great to be back around him. It's fun to be with people like that."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.