SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- San Francisco ace Jason Schmidt is expected to miss his second straight spring start Thursday, raising doubt whether he will be ready for the season opener at Houston.
The Giants are beginning to form an alternate plan for their rotation if Schmidt's sore throwing shoulder doesn't improve in a hurry -- and that would likely mean starting left-hander Kirk Rueter against the Astros on April 5. Schmidt is well behind where he should be at this stage.
"He's borderline right now only because there's not enough time," pitching coach Dave Righetti said.
And so is closer Robb Nen, whose workload was cut back Tuesday because of discomfort in his shoulder.
A three-time All-Star who had 43 saves and a 2.20 ERA in 2002, Nen didn't pitch after right shoulder surgery last May 7 to repair a torn tendon.
Nen's shoulder did not respond well to operations in November 2002 and last April 18. Nen, the Giants' career leader in saves with 206, was on the disabled list all last season. He has 314 saves in his 11-year career.
"We want to reassess everything and make sure we're not going too fast," trainer Stan Conte said. "He's had some mild discomfort as a result of his simulated game and his pen. In light of everything that's happened to him, we decided to pull back. He's made up so much ground this spring."
Conte added, "It's not a setback."
For Schmidt, throwing a bullpen session would be the next step forward.
"It's not a matter of if he's coming back, but when," Conte said. "The next three or four days timing wise would determine that. There's certainly an amount of work we need to get in and the window's closing. ... Opening Day is important but it's more emotional than anything."
Schmidt threw on flat ground for the third straight day Tuesday.
"I'm not concerned," Schmidt said before heading out to the field.
The star right-hander said earlier this spring he expects to pitch just as well in 2004 as he did in his breakout season last year. Schmidt went 17-5 with the National League's lowest ERA (2.34) and made his first All-Star team, pitching two scoreless innings.
His shoulder problem is not related to his offseason elbow surgery to remove scar tissue and repair a tear in the tendon.
Righetti said Schmidt's health could be a concern the entire season.
"With every guy who walks out there on the mound, it's yearlong," Righetti said. "I'd love to have a healthy Schmidt all year long. We're talking about one of the best pitchers in the game. We're not talking about a fifth starter."