A diving catch in April injured his shoulder and led to a career-low year.
WINTER HAVEN, Fla. (AP) -- Baseball is fun again for Matt Lawton at the Cleveland Indians' training camp.
"I'm pain free and doing what I love, playing baseball," Lawton said Monday after a brisk morning workout.
Just five months ago, the 31-year-old outfielder's 2003 season was in jeopardy after he had surgery on his right shoulder
He had a cyst removed and a torn labrum and frayed rotator cuff repaired.
"I was really a mess in there," he said. "Baseball is not much fun when you are in a lot of pain."
Last season, Lawton refused to throw in the towel, which led to his not being able to throw much of anything. He got hurt while trying to make a diving catch in April but told nobody.
"Every time the pain got so bad I was going to say something, I'd have a good game, get a few hits and thought maybe I could play through it," he said.
Lawton's batting average tumbled to a career-low .236 before he finally agreed to have surgery Sept. 13.
"I should have listened to my wife and stopped playing," he said. "She can tell you the stories. One time we were driving to the ballpark and my son [2-year-old Chaseton] was in the back seat. I couldn't turn around to hand him his bottle. The pain was so severe."
Nevertheless, Lawton played that night.
He admits that part of his insistence on playing came from signing a four-year, $27 million contract before last season.
"I wanted to prove to everyone I was worth it and I was an even better player than that," Lawton said. "It wasn't very smart, but I think I learned."
He's trying to take a more cautious approach.
"Yeah, I still want to go out and do everything right away, but they put a safety catch on me," Lawton said. "I work out with Jim Mehalik and he tells me when to stop."
Lawton admitted, however, that he has already flown under the protective radar of Mehalik, the Indians' director of rehabilitation.
"I went out when nobody was around and really cut loose a couple throws from the outfield," he said. "Believe it or not, I threw better than at any time in my life."
That is with six screws and a metal plate keeping things intact in his shoulder.
"I don't feel any of that and I don't feel pain," Lawton said. "Being pain free is a wonderful thing."
Still, manager Eric Wedge said he will monitor Lawton's progress.
"I expect Matt to play in the early exhibition games, but he isn't ready just yet. It's better to take our time and have the real Matt Lawton," he said.
"People in Cleveland have seen the real Matt Lawton," he said. "But just for a game here or a game there. "I want to play the way I know I can for an entire season."
Whether that is in the leadoff spot, where he played most of the time in 2002, or lower in the order, makes no difference to Lawton.
"Just put me in there somewhere," Lawton said. "We've got some good young players here, and I know a healthy Matt Lawton can give them a hand."
Class A third baseman Matt Whitney sustained a broken left leg Sunday and could miss the entire 2003 season.
Whitney was injured when he stepped on a sprinkler head while trying to pick up a basketball, said John Farrell, the Indians' director of player development.
The Indians had an abbreviated morning workout only as many players went to play in an annual area golf tournament that included members of the Detroit Tigers, who train in nearby Lakeland.
Light-hitting infielder John McDonald hit two balls over the left-field fence during batting practice and teammates began flexing their muscles.
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