Tampa Bay Rays reliever Kyle Farnsworth took his first step toward rejoining the big club on Monday.
The 36-year-old righty began a minor league rehab assignment with the Charlotte Stone Crabs by working a scoreless inning against the St. Lucie Mets. It marked his first action in 2012 after beginning the season on the 60-day DL with a strained right elbow.
A veteran of 13 Major League seasons, Farnsworth knows that overcoming injury is part of the game. He is also keenly aware that no player is ever 100 percent over the course of that 162 game grind. His efficient five-pitch scoreless inning against St. Lucie was certainly a good way to start things off on his road back.
"I don't think I'll ever be 100 percent," laughed Farnsworth after his outing. "I still think I have a ways to go, [but] just to getting back to facing live hitters in a game, that's the big thing and [I'll] just go from there."
After throwing just those five pitches - all strikes - to get through his scheduled inning of work, Farnsworth finished off his 25-pitch throwing session in the bullpen.
"Everything felt good today," said Farnsworth after completing his day's work. "I was just trying to get my mechanics in order and just be aggressive in the strike zone... I was a little bit nervous and that's good. I've still got the competitive fire."
That competitive fire was on display last season after Tampa Bay had signed Farnsworth to a one-year, $3.25 million free-agent contract. That deal included a $3.3 million club option for 2012, which was a exercised after the righty reliever recorded a career-high 25 saves while serving as the Rays primary closer.
A right elbow strain forced Farnsworth to begin this season on the disabled list, allowing Fernando Rodney to follow in Farnsworth's footsteps and become the second veteran reliever in as many years to enjoy a career renaissance at the back end of the Tampa Bay bullpen.
Both Farnsworth and the Rays were hoping for a pain-free outing, which is exactly what Monday proved to be. While it was just one quick inning, Farnsworth has something to build on both physically and mentally moving forward.
When asked directly, Farnsworth was quick to point out that pitching without pain was at the forefront of his thoughts going into the outing. It was no small thing to accomplish that goal.
"When you're talking about an elbow ligament and stuff like that, you've just got to be real careful about it," said Farnsworth.
"You take for granted the little things, a game you love to do, and it's taken away from you for a little bit. You go out there and enjoy it again," he added.
While the home of the Rays is the climate controlled Tropicana Field, Farnsworth got a fine welcome back to the blazing Florida sun at Charlotte Sports Park. Of course, that's all part of being one of the boys of summer.
The sweltering heat on Monday would qualify as was one of those days where a quick and easy outing may have been an added bonus.
"No, this is the first game back," when asked if he wanted to throw more pitches against the Mets. "Those [pitches] are going to come along down the road. It's a hot, humid day and just get your work in. That's the main thing."
Farnsworth will continue to get that work in with Charlotte over the next couple of series.
"I believe I have five more scheduled appearances as of now," he said of the current rehab track. "Then I think I'll be ready, if everything goes well, for the last home stand in June."
The Stone Crabs travel to Jupiter on Tuesday to open up their final three-game series prior to the Florida State League All-Star Break.
Farnsworth takes the mound in Thursday's finale against the Hammerheads with a very simple goal in mind, "Try to do the same thing, build off that and keep on going."
If all goes well and a healthy Farnsworth returns to the Rays in time for the second half, it would have the same effect as making a big acquisition to bolster the bullpen prior to July's trade deadline.
Even without major pieces of the puzzle throughout the first three months of the season, the Rays find themselves tied atop the ultra-competitive American League East along with the New York Yankees.
Having Farnsworth back in the bullpen and slugging third baseman Evan Longoria back in the lineup will go a long way toward helping the Rays in the quest for another trip to the postseason.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.