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Wagner Ready To End Rehab Stint

August 5, 1998

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) _ Billy Wagner can’t wait to return to Houston’s bullpen, and insists he is not worried about the possibility of another line drive screaming toward his head.

Wagner, who hasn’t pitched in the majors since July 15 when he was hit in the head, threw three shutout innings in a four-day rehabilitation assignment at Double-A Jackson.

He pitched in the aggressive way that made him one of the top closers in the National League.

``You haven’t got time to be out there and be timid or scared, or you will get hurt. I never worried about it,″ Wagner said. ``Once I get onto the mound ... pitching, that’s what I’ve got to do.″

Wagner returned to Houston on Wednesday and will be back in an Astros uniform Friday night when the NL Central leaders open a series against Philadelphia. He is 2-3 with 22 saves and a 2.87 ERA in 38 games.

The Astros made a major pitching change in Wagner’s absence. Randy Johnson was acquired from the Seattle Mariners.

``I look forward to meeting him. I think it will be a neat feeling if I ever get a chance to close for him,″ Wagner said. ``That for me would probably be one of the best feelings I’ve had, closing behind a guy that’s got that big of a name and has done so many things in his career.″

During his rehab stint, Wagner threw 43 pitches _ just 11 of them balls _ and his fastball was consistently 94-97 mph. The left-hander struck out seven while allowing just one hit and two flyouts.

``I accomplished a lot of things, and kind of got myself in some kind of throwing condition,″ said Wagner. ``My control was a big question to myself, and I was able to come down here and throw strikes and get ahead of hitters.″

In his final rehab appearance Tuesday night, Wagner struck out the first two Shreveport hitters before getting the third out on a flyout. As in his previous two Jackson appearances, no balls were hit back at him.

``He shows no fear out there right now,″ said catcher Scott Makarewicz

Jackson pitching coach Charlie Taylor, who monitored Wagner’s rehab, said there is no doubt that Wagner was ready to return to the Astros.

``He was anxious to get back out there. He wanted to get over that (July 15 incident), and didn’t want to allow that to sink in,″ Taylor said. ``It’s all in how you handle it, and Billy’s handled it extremely well. I don’t think it’s going to affect him in the least.″

Wagner’s last appearance on a major-league mound was that scary scene at Phoenix when Kelly Stinnett’s liner sent Wagner sprawling to the ground. He never lost consciousness, but received a concussion and a cut in his inner left ear.

Wagner went on the disabled list July 20, and didn’t begin pitching again until July 27, throwing simulated games before joining the Jackson team last Saturday.

Wagner planned to spend some time with his first child, Will, who was born July 29. He even looks forward to changing diapers.

``When I get home, my wife is going to hand it off to me and say `go get ‘em.’ I look forward to that too. That’s a big part of my life. I’ve been blessed,″ Wagner said.

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