LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- It had been 557 days since Pedro Borbon had faced a hitter and it might be awhile before he faces another.
Returning to the mound Monday afternoon against the Astros for the first time since elbow surgery in 1996, the Braves' left-hander's comeback ended abruptly when he felt pain in his elbow.
Borbon walked off the mound in the ninth inning after facing five hitters and his immediate future is in doubt. He will be examined by a team doctor this morning.
"I felt fine and then I threw one pitch and I felt something pull," he said. "I wasn't able to throw the next pitch because it was so tender and so loose. No warning or anything. I'm very disappointed and sick over it."
Admitting to feeling nervous in his debut, Borbon walked the first hitter he faced, then struck out Ray Montgomery and coaxed a fielder's choice grounder for a second out. Then, first baseman Randall Simon and second baseman Marty Malloy committed a double-error on Luis Rivera's grounder and Borbon walked J.R. Phillips.
After delivering ball four, Borbon called time and walked toward the dugout and was met by assistant trainer Jeff Porter.
"I felt something on the next-to-last pitch," he said. "I went from 80 miles per hour to 70 and that's what told me to get out of there before I hurt it worse."
Although Borbon had been throwing breaking pitches in the bullpen, manager Bobby Cox told him to throw nothing but fastballs against the Astros. He followed orders and Cox was pleased with his velocity.
"He was throwing hard, but not straining to throw, that's what's so weird about it," Cox said. "It's disappointing. It appears to be bad. Right now it looks like he's set back a little."
Borbon felt so frustrated he walked away from trainers attempting to examine his elbow in the clubhouse. His elbow appeared swollen, though he said there wasn't much pain.
"Hopefully it's nothing major and I can continue throwing in the next couple of days," Borbon said. "I don't know what the solution is. Hopefully it's scar tissue (tearing)."
The date is burned into Borbon's mind. It was Aug. 22, 1996 when he felt the medial collateral ligament tear in his left elbow during a game against the Reds. He underwent reconstructive surgery eight days later in which a tendon was taken from his left wrist and used to replace the elbow ligament.
Borbon tried to make a comeback last season and couldn't. Eighteen months, the doctors told him, and 18 months it has been. His elbow has felt fine all spring, though Cox indicated before the game he planned to bring him along slowly.
"If Minnesota Fats had to go 557 days without shooting pool, he might scratch," Cox said. "I think Pedro needs to be careful and take his time about it. Nobody is going to judge him today. If he's poor or not, it's not going to matter."
Cox knows the importance of Borbon to the bullpen. With Borbon and Alan Embree, he would have two left-handed relievers available for the first time in several years. That would change his game strategy and alter the opposing manager's game plan.
"Borbon was a good one for us before," Cox said. "He only makes us better if he can get back."
Borbon was having his best season when he hurt his elbow. He had not yielded a run in 18 of his last 19 appearances and limited opposing hitters to a .203 average. He finished with a 3-0 record, picked up a save in his only opportunity and posted a 2.75 ERA in 43 games.
With a pair of left-handers in the bullpen, Cox can neutralize the opposing team's left-handed pinch hitters, a significant factor in late-inning situations.
"You can make more maneuvers," he said. "It's always better with two left-handers."
Now the future of one of those left-handers is in jeopardy.