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Mended Bronson Arroyo targeting return to D-backs’ rotation by start of regular season

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The best news from the Arizona Diamondbacks’ week-long trip down to Australia might have come 7,800 miles away at a backfield inside the Salt River Fields Complex.

While the D-backs and their families were taking in the sights Down Under — whether it be a show at the Sydney Opera House, a climb up Harbor Bridge or a visit to the local zoo — veteran right-hander Bronson Arroyo was working his way back into regular season shape.

“If this would have been how my back was three weeks ago and it’s the regular season, I wouldn’t have been able to go out there,” said Arroyo, who has never spent time on the disabled list during his career. “Usually, you know your body enough to know that even when things are wrong you have enough to get out there. But right now, I’m totally good.”

Arroyo, who signed a two-year, $23.5 million contract with Arizona, made one Cactus League appearance against the Chicago Cubs back on Feb. 27 and hasn’t been heard from since. In fact, the 37-year-old has spent more time in the training room of late than on the mound.

Back in early March, it was revealed that Arroyo had inflammation in his L5-S1 disc — which required an epidural shot followed by seven to 10 days of rest.

It’s not the first time Arroyo has had the injection. The problem originated over a decade ago, and the 14-year veteran received shots to treat it in 2008 and 2011 as a member of the Cincinnati Reds.

“It’s worked every time,” Arroyo said. “It’s been a little different every time, because I think the body kind of adjusts to them. If need be, these guys are really open-minded here. If I feel something and it feels like it’s getting a little irritated throughout the year they can hit me with another one, which a lot of times with other teams it’s pulling teeth to get somebody to do something like that.

“In the past, depending on the organization, a lot of guys are so fearful of going in the training room. They think they’re going to get shut down immediately. The way I’ve always seen is there’s no other place to play on the planet. There’s no level above us. At the end of the day, we should be trying to do the best we can to try and stay healthy and stay on the field. Some organizations, they put two Advil in your pocket and say that’s all you can have. To me, that’s not reality. We are playing 162 games and guys are going to get beat up. We have to find ways to make guys feel comfortable in the field. It’s nice to have a staff here that’s open to whatever.”

His most recent epidural must have done wonders, because Arroyo admitted that he pitched relatively pain-free during his simulated game — a sign he believes means he’ll be able to throw during his first turn in the rotation come April.

“I’ve been feeling good,” said Arroyo. “I threw thing innings of a simulated game on [March 19]. I threw a bullpen and when I threw that I was still not perfect. But the last three or four days I’ve been feeling perfect. I threw [Monday] and I felt as good as I’ve ever felt. I just want to get one more outing and get built up a little bit, maybe 85 to 90 pitches against the Cubs on the 29th and then I’ll be ready to go. If I can get to 85 or 90 in a game like that, I can get to 105 in a regular season game with a little bit of adrenaline.

“A lot of times early in the season situations depend. You can go out there and not feel so strong and get yanked after 90 pitches where normally you might get an extra inning. At the beginning of the season it’s just like spring training. Those first few outings can be strange depending on what happens. Regardless of what you do in spring, you’re never going to be in August shape in April. It just doesn’t happen. You need to be broken down like that and throw six, seven or eight innings every fifth day before your body is really at its optimum. You just hope to come out of camp relatively strong.”

In order to keep his lower back strong during the dog days of summer, Arroyo said he’s open to trying new core activities. And in fact, he’s already adopted one new exercise — which has proven to be as effective as it is comical.

“A lot of guys are blowing up balloons, because it’s about using your diaphragm a lot,” said Arroyo. “You breathe with your lungs a lot, and a lot people don’t use their diaphragm. Your diaphragm is kind of like an umbrella that holds up your back. It’s a bit of support, so if can use that a little more involuntary basically by training it. I’ve felt better doing it.”

Whether it’s a midseason injection or more time spent blowing up balloons, whatever it takes to keep Arroyo healthy is a must at this point for Arizona.

Given the news that Patrick Corbin underwent season-ending, Tommy John surgery Tuesday, Arroyo, who has averaged 13 wins and 208 innings pitched per season during his career, has become an invaluable asset to the D-backs’ rotation even before he throws his first meaningful pitch in a Sedona Red uniform.