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Lewis maintains slow approach in his recovery

Texas hopes to have right-hander ready in June after season-ending surgery in '12

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The Rangers played the Mariners in Peoria, Ariz., on Friday, but the best news concerning their pitching staff came from a bullpen at their training complex in Surprise.

That's where right-hander Colby Lewis threw about 30 pitches in his first bullpen session since he underwent season-ending surgery to repair a torn flexor tendon in his throwing elbow last July.

"It went better than I thought it was going to go," Lewis said. "My mechanics felt really good. I felt like I kept the ball down a lot, and that's all I was really working on -- making sure I was down in the zone, getting the ball out front and making sure the elbow felt good. Everything was great."

Lewis felt so good, in fact, that at the end of the session, he twisted off a couple breaking balls -- not with any force behind them, but a good sign that the elbow felt fine, nonetheless.

The next step for Lewis will be a re-evaluation on Saturday, and if the elbow holds up, he'll continue throwing bullpen sessions every three to four days for a while.

Sure, he could try and shorten that gap, but no one -- not Lewis and certainly not the Rangers -- wants to take that risk.

"That ain't happening," manager Ron Washington said emphatically.

The target date for Lewis' return is June 1, which is already ahead of schedule after a very good offseason. But the Rangers aren't publicly making any proclamations about when they'll want or need Lewis in the rotation.

"We'll have a plan in place," Washington said. "But as far as Colby coming back early -- won't happen."

That's just fine with Lewis, who said his biggest concern right now is making sure his progress is smooth and without any unexpected turns.

Still, it hasn't been the easiest of springs for Lewis, who is accustomed to entering camp with the goal of preparing for an opening-week start.

"Of course I want to be out there and I want to be throwing in games," Lewis said. "You never want to be hurt and trying to get yourself back. But I know there's a spot there for me when I come back healthy."

The vacant spot in Texas' rotation has been one of the most talked about issues around Rangers camp this spring. Veterans Randy Wells and Kyle McClellan, youngsters Martin Perez and Justin Grimm, and reliever-turned-starter Robbie Ross are all options.

And Washington thinks he has more than enough there to allow Lewis to take his time with his return. The thinking is that if Lewis misses two months, it's better they be April and May than September and October.

Many have attributed the start of the Rangers' demise last season to Lewis' injury. He pitched his last game on July 18, when the Rangers' American League West lead on the A's sat at nine games.

Lewis was 6-6 with a 3.43 ERA at the time of the injury. In late June, he headed for his first stint on the disabled list, and after returning to make a start on July 18, he was shut down for good.

"The way I feel right now, I don't want to take any steps backward, by any means," Lewis said. "I don't want to [start throwing bullpen sessions] every other day or whatever and wind up getting sore. Then you have to take 10 days to regather yourself."

The recovery has been a smooth process thus far for Lewis, but he says he's knocking on wood.

A slow and steady approach may be the key to his healthy return, and his healthy return could be pivotal to the Rangers' success in 2013.

AJ Cassavell is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.
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