Whitson Gets Through Workout Without Pain : Padres: Right-hander reports no discomfort in injured elbow.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Padre starter Ed Whitson rolled over in bed Friday morning, shut off his alarm clock and his eyes sprang open.

This was the day he would test his right elbow for the first time since Sunday when he sustained a strained flexor muscle in his elbow.

"I've been thinking about this for 24 hours a day," Whitson said. "I've even been dreaming about this stuff."

Whitson, admittedly nervous, boarded the team bus to Mesa Community College. He participated in stretching drills and had a brief talk with pitching coach Mike Roarke. Now it was time.

"Hey, any of you guys have a batting glove?" reliever Larry Andersen joked. "I'm getting ready to play catch with Whit."

Everyone laughed.

Whitson tossed the first ball submarine style. The second was nothing more than a lob. Slowly, he began throwing harder, gaining more confidence with each pitch. He wound up throwing 47 pitches from about 45 feet away.

Whitson walked off the field, smiling from ear to ear.

There was no pain. Whitson even threw 25 more pitches later in practice, these from about 90 feet, and again felt fine.

Although Whitson probably will start the season on the disabled list and won't begin pitching off the mound until at least March 20, he believes he's on his way back. Who knows what caused the pain? Maybe it was only scar tissue, he said. Maybe a little tendinitis. But he's convinced it's nothing serious.

"This is a big, big relief," he said. "I've just got to take my time now, get it right, so it doesn't get back in there. If we can just keep it (the pain) out of there, we'll be OK."

Whitson talked earlier in the day with orthopedist surgeon Dr. James Andrews, who advised him to stop immediately if there was pain and have extensive tests on his elbow.

"If it comes up, I'm probably going to have to see him," Whitson said. "But I really hate making that trip (to Birmingham, Ala.). It's a real pain in the butt."

Whitson will continue throwing lightly every day until March 17 when he travels back to Columbus, Ohio, to be with his pregnant wife. Labor will be induced March 18, and Whitson will return March 20.

"I definitely have to be patient," Whitson said. "That's the hardest part. You go through all the work, and not being able to throw, hell, throwing is the fun part.

"But I feel so much better. Before, it felt it was tearing away from the bone. Now, I'm fine."

Said Roarke: "'We won't really know anything until he gets clearance to start throwing harder, and more. With him, we just have to watch him throw one day, and find out the next."

While the Padres will continue to scrutinize Whitson's progress, they determined Friday that starter Andy Benes is ready. He'll pitch in a game for the first time Monday.

"I'm looking forward to actually pitching in a game," said Benes, who underwent minor surgery two weeks ago near his abdomen. "It's tough to know how well you're doing when the hitters know what pitch you're throwing."

Roarke said Benes probably will throw one or two innings and might be on a 24-pitch count. When told about the pitch constraints, Benes said: "Try three innings. Maybe four."

"I think we're going to be in good shape with both of them," Padre Manager Greg Riddoch said. "The big things is we just want to make sure Whit doesn't push it. I'd rather he be ready two weeks into the season rather than it and hurt himself.

"I think the worst might be behind us."

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