Breaking through the din of construction workers continuing the stadium seat replacement was the popping of Gagne fastballs into Martin's new mitt. Gagne made 40 pitches, using fastballs, changeups and a couple of cutters. He pitched out of the windup and the stretch, with Little standing on an adjacent mound in the bullpen.
"I think he'll be ready in four or five ... years," deadpanned Little.
"Four or five weeks, you mean," said Gagne.
From this one workout, Gagne appeared to be throwing more comfortably than at any time last year.
And who could forget last year?
He sprained a left knee ligament the second week of Spring Training when his spikes caught while playing pepper. He rushed back, hopping off the mound on each pitch while favoring the healing landing knee.
When he suffered an elbow sprain in the last Spring Training game in Florida, the presumption was that he injured the elbow trying to protect the knee.
"I didn't believe that then and I still don't," said Gagne. "Unrelated."
Gagne opened the season on the disabled list. He was dominating in three Minor League rehabilitation appearances and was activated May 14. He lasted one month, saving eight games with 22 strikeouts and three walks in 13 1/3 innings. But he also had lost about 4 mph on the fastball and had allowed two home runs, the same total he served up the entire 2003 Cy Young-winning season.
Although he struck out two of the three batters he faced June 12, it would be his last appearance of the season. He felt a burning in his elbow, which had already undergone Tommy John reconstruction in 1997. The familiar sensation left Gagne, and Dr. Frank Jobe was convinced the ligament had torn and would need to be reconstructed again. MRIs indicated the same, but proved to be misleading because the area already had been the site of considerable intrusion.
Once inside, however, Jobe discovered that the ligament was intact and that scar tissue had entrapped a nerve, causing the discomfort. The scar tissue was removed and Gagne had dodged a career-threatening bullet.
He began tossing around season's end and has continued through the winter with a rehabilitation program in Arizona, where he now makes his winter home.
"My arm, my body feels great," said Gagne, whose fastball had serious life Thursday. "I don't have the feel yet, though. "It'll come."
Little said he liked what he saw.
"He's throwing free and easy," said Little. "But just like anybody coming back from a situation like that, the touch-and-feel comes last.
"This was really reassuring, to see it for myself. Still, we're putting all our effort into not rushing him. We're not trying to get him ready for next week. Our objective is April 3rd."
Gagne said he was glad to put his manager's mind at ease.
"It's easy for me to tell them I feel good, but for them to see it, seeing it is believing it," said Gagne. "It should be really good for their confidence. I never throw like that this early. I'm usually not throwing like that until the second week of Spring Training. I feel great. I'm ahead of where I'd usually be, but I'm coming back from injury. I have to make sure I don't rush it. I need to see how it reacts as we get closer."