Schmidt on ‘bumpy road’ to recovery

Despite showing signs of life in two rehabilitation starts for the 51s, Los Angeles Dodgers right-hander Jason Schmidt still appears far from regaining his top form.

More than a year after undergoing career-threatening shoulder surgery, the 35-year-old three-time All-Star has regained much of his velocity but is still struggling with his command.

“Part of the reason I can’t locate is I’ve still got the fear factor in the back of my mind, ‘Is (my shoulder) going to pinch on this pitch? What’s it going to feel like?’ ” said Schmidt, who allowed three earned runs on six hits and a walk in 2 1/3 innings of the 51s’ 9-6 loss to Salt Lake on Thursday at Cashman Field in front of a crowd of 11,599. “I’m not pain-free, and I may never be pain-free again, but the biggest thing is if I can pitch pain-free enough to be able to get guys out and be able to locate.”

Schmidt, who signed a three-year, $47 million deal with the Dodgers before last season, had right shoulder surgery in June 2007 to remove scar tissue from the bursa sac, repair a frayed biceps tendon and a torn labrum. He said the recovery process has “been a bumpy road.”

Schmidt started throwing again at the start of this year and said he felt great early in spring training before suffering a setback.

“My arm got tired and started getting sore, and I couldn’t bounce back,” he said. “It took me a long, long time to get to the point where I could throw again with anything on the ball … now I feel like I’m starting to get back to that.”

In May, Schmidt gave up four earned runs on eight hits and four walks in 10 1/3 innings of four rehab starts for Class-A Inland Empire. He began his rehab assignment with Las Vegas on Saturday, allowing a run on three hits and two walks in 2 2/3 innings at Fresno.

He has hit 90 mph in both of his starts for the 51s.

“I had a little life on the ball again (Saturday), and I feel it might be the breakthrough I’ve been looking for,” he said. “The thing that will really tell everything is not so much this year. The next offseason is when a guy can really make a breakthrough.”

While the 51s head to Colorado Springs for a three-day road trip starting today, Schmidt is slated to go back to Los Angeles to get re-evaluated.

He probably will start for the 51s again next week and increase his pitch count from 58 to about 70, which has been a significant obstacle for him.

“That’s been the big issue,” Schmidt said. “When I get my workload up there, that’s when I have a harder time coming back … but (my shoulder) does feel better than it did in the past.”

If Schmidt is able to gradually increase his pitch count to 100 or more during his stint on the 60-day disabled list, he probably would be ready to rejoin the Dodgers.

“The big thing is he’s healthy right now. It looks like he’s headed in the right direction,” 51s manager Lorenzo Bundy said. “Hopefully, after 30 days, we’ll see him back in the Dodgers’ rotation.”

• NOTES — Los Angeles center fielder Andruw Jones and infielder Nomar Garciaparra left Las Vegas on Thursday to rejoin the Dodgers and will be activated before today’s game at San Francisco. … Las Vegas infielder Terry Tiffee and starting pitcher Jason Johnson were named to the Pacific Coast League All-Star team. The Triple-A All-Star Game is scheduled for July 16 in Louisville, Ky.

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