Backe, working his way back to the Astros rotation after elbow ligament replacement surgery in September, had just finished his first 2007 rehab start, throwing 77 pitches in a five inning outing for the Double-A Corpus Christi Hooks in front 7,614 Texas League fans.
Backe, with his fastball hitting 90 miles per hour, allowed three earned runs on five hits and two walks in the outing. Two of his four strikeouts came on a slow curve and his secondary pitches all seemed to be working. "I felt comfortable with just about everything I threw," he stated. "My command was better than I expected it to be after being out of real game situations for so long but once I settled in it was pretty much business as usual."
The 29-year-old right-hander, attempting an accelerated comeback from a surgical procedure that normally takes 12 to 18 months, said his biggest problem wasn't physical. "I had more trouble controlling my emotions than anything," he declared. "Getting back on the mound in a real game was exciting and I made a few mistakes before I could calm myself down."
Backe didn't allow a hit until the San Antonio Missions pitcher singled with two outs in the third. The next batter smashed a 88 mile per hour fastball over the left-field fence. Backe allowed another single before getting out of the inning with the Hooks trailing 2-0.
Corpus Christi catcher J.R. Towles tripled in two runs in the bottom of the inning to even the score but the Hooks misplayed a fly ball into a double that put San Antonio ahead again. But the Hooks pushed across two more runs in the fifth inning to put Backe in position to be the winner when he left the game.
Backe, rehabbing a rib cage muscle strain, pitched in Corpus Christi late in the 2005 season, making two starts, one of which featured Jeff Bagwell in the Hooks lineup. Last year he went through a series of rehab starts with Triple-A Round Rock as he tried to come back from his elbow injury without surgery.
"I'm pretty tired of rehabbing but whatever it takes to get back to where I can help the Astros is fine," Backe said. "This is the longest I've ever been away baseball and that's harder to deal with than the injury."
Backe, a former position player who takes justifiable pride in his hitting, didn't get to swing the bat in his first plate appearance of the season, putting down a perfect first-pitch sacrifice bunt instead. His last appearance on the field for the night came in the bottom of the fifth laid down another perfect sacrifice bunt and reached base when the pitcher couldn't handle it.
Backe will join Round Rock for the next phase of his rehab stint. He'll make five starts with the Express, beginning on Tuesday night at Dell Diamond where he will face the Salt Lake Bees, the Triple-A affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels.
There's also a strong possibility he'll pitch at least a few times in winter ball. "I'm going to be 100 percent ready for next season and I'd like to keep pitching after the regular season if possible," he stated. "This is the first step toward that and I think it was a good one. That's enough for now."
Michael Point is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.