SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Pitching to sleepy-eyed minor-league hitters in front of a manager and pitching coach early on a March morning is vastly different than throwing in front of 45,000 in late October.
But late October is where both the Texas Rangers and Brandon Webb hope to be working later this year, so Wednesday's slow-out-of-the-gates session for the right-hander counted as the first step toward, well, who-knows-what.
The 2006 NL Cy Young winner hasn't pitched since opening day 2009, and he looked every bit of that while throwing for the first time this spring to live hitters.
The Rangers hope he can become healthy and strong enough to help them later in the summer. Based on his 62-pitch test-drive session Wednesday, it's not going to be sooner.
"I'm not dreaming," manager Ron Washington said. "I'm more focused on the ones who are healthy and around right now.
"When he becomes available, then I can dream."
It's still awfully fuzzy as to when that might be. Webb threw several sinkers -- his chief weapon -- as well as changeups and fastballs.
"His sink was there, it just wasn't heavy," said Washington, who noted that he threw some good breaking balls and changeups and some not-so-good breaking balls and changeups.
"I don't know if he can be the same guy" that he was before, Washington said. "But what he does have is pedigree. He knows how to get outs. A good pitcher knows how to get outs. That's important to me."
The Rangers signed Webb to a one-year deal that guarantees him $3 million and could earn him as much as $8 million with incentives in early January after ace Cliff Lee spurned them for the Philadelphia Phillies.
"Of course we need him," Washington said. "But as far as counting on him, he'll let us know."
The next step, the manager said, would be for Webb to pitch another round of live batting practice. But Webb remains so far behind that the Rangers will wait to schedule that until they see how his shoulder responds over the next couple of days to Wednesday's effort.