Darryl Strawberry sat in the dugout again Thursday, holding hands with his bat, and the affection was evident. In his absence from the Mets' lineup, Strawberry has grown considerably fonder of his job. "I can't wait to play again," he said.
By actions and words, Strawberry expressed his impatience. For the first time since his May 11 injury, he took batting practice, for half an hour. And he suggested he could resume playing Tuesday when the team begins its six-game trip to Chicago and St. Louis.
At the same time, Dr. Richard Eaton, the hand surgeon who repaired the torn ligaments in Strawberry's right thumb 40 days ago, suggested Strawberry be more patient and not interrupt or endanger the healing process.
"I think he might be pushing it. I don't think he could be ready yet," Eaton said Thursday from his office at Roosevelt Hospital in Manhattan. "He's got to be careful. If he goes too fast, he could push himself back by a matter of weeks .... Why risk that to get back a couple of days early?"
Eaton was surprised Strawberry had taken batting practice and intended to caution him about accelerating his rehabilitation. "I didn't think he would be doing anything except playing pepper (a pregame exercise in which the batter takes choppy swings)," Eaton said. "His recovery has been as good as we could have hoped, but it's in the sixth inning. Taking batting practice isn't something he should do until just before he's ready to go back. He has to go step-by-step to make sure he avoids swelling. He might not feel pain, but he has to be careful not to overuse the tissue. Once it swells, it's very hard to get him playing again."
Yet Strawberry seems intent on returning in time to play the Cubs in Wrigley Field. "I'd like to hit a couple of deep fly balls and let the wind carry them out," he said. "I know I have to be cautious, but don't dismiss it. I'd like to get back against the Cubs and get a piece of them. I'd like to come back mad.
"Davey Johnson said he'd like to have me back. All I've got to do is put up with a little pain at first. I can do that."
If Strawberry returns Tuesday, he will have missed seven weeks. The original prognosis was for him to miss six to eight weeks or not return until after the All-Star Game break. "This is long enough," Strawberry said.
"I'd feel more comfortable with the eight weeks," Eaton said.