Playing catch: For Erik Bedard, it's a start
The new general manager of the Seattle Mariners described Erik Bedard as “very excited.” The new manager hung out with him in Las Vegas on Sunday night and said the two of them had “a great time.”
There’s no reason to think Jack Zduriencik or Don Wakamatsu are making this up – but a happy, effusive Erik Bedard?
That’s someone the Seattle Mariners and their fans never saw in 2008.
Acquired in a five-for-one trade with Baltimore, installed as the Mariners’ opening-day pitcher before he’d thrown a pitch in spring training, Bedard was an enigma in Seattle.
He rarely smiled.
“There wasn’t much reason to, was there?” Bedard said this week.
He had a point. Bedard also had the wrong personality for an ace. His idea of a good time?
“Hanging out with my friends at home, changing the oil on my car … just doing regular things,” he said.
Things went south so fast for the Mariners last year that a 1-10 stretch late in April that ran into May took them out of the American League West race. The months that followed led them to a 101-loss season.
The left-hander went 6-4 with a 3.62 earned run average in 15 starts, but wound up on the disabled list twice and dealt with injuries to his left hip, his back and, finally, his shoulder.
“The worst thing that could have happened for me happened – I got hurt,” Bedard said. “It seemed like something was wrong with me the whole year, and I couldn’t ever get past it.
“I thought I pitched OK when I was able to pitch, but the shoulder kept getting worse.”
By now, the story of Bedard’s left shoulder injury – fuzzy early on, then doubted entirely, then requiring September surgery – seems like a distant memory. Except to Bedard.
He felt pain from April on, and after his last start on July 4, he didn’t pitch again. A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) showed no serious damage, which left the Mariners, Bedard and the world to wonder just what the problem was.
The team tried to rehabilitate Bedard, and for two months, he played catch without getting better.
Finally, on Sept. 26, Bedard underwent exploratory shoulder surgery, and doctors removed a cyst and repaired his labrum.
Bedard flew home to Canada and wasn’t seen again publicly until this week, when he surfaced in Las Vegas and was spotted by a surprised media contingent. And that was after he’d “hung out” with Wakamatsu on Sunday night.
So, is the Bedard of 2008 now a happy-go-lucky fellow?
“I wouldn’t want to ruin my image and smile too much,” he said, and then laughed.
By the end of the season, Bedard was a bit paranoid – certain the Mariners didn’t want him back, that the media didn’t believe he was injured, and that fans believed the media.
Since then, he has been rehabilitating three days a week with a trainer near home, stretching.
“Right now, because of the stretching, I have more range of motion in my shoulder than I had last year,” Bedard said.
And today, with his brother Mark, Bedard will do something he hasn’t done in more than three months. He’ll play catch.
“It’ll be good just to start with four minutes,” Bedard said. “I remember when I was coming back from Tommy John surgery (2002), how weird it was to try to throw again.
“You wonder if your arm is going to hurt, if it’s going to blow up. You’re kind of like ‘Oh my God, will it hold up?’ I got through that, I’ll get through this. I’ll build up my strength and endurance and be ready for spring training.”
If that happens, Zduriencik said, the Mariners might see the Bedard they traded for.
Just who is that?
“One of the best pitchers in this league,” teammate J.J. Putz said. “One of the best pitchers in the game. He’s that good when he’s healthy.”
Bedard has a career record of 46-38 and has never won more than 15 games in a season – he’s won as many as 10 twice. He’s had major elbow reconstruction surgery, now shoulder surgery.
And people wonder why he doesn’t smile more.
Bedard is asked about the promise of a new chance in Seattle, and he tries to be optimistic.
“The good thing right now is, there’s no pain. But you always have doubts,” he said. “Until you’re on the mound, pitching again, those don’t go away. My hope is to be ready to go in spring training, then be ready to pitch when the season starts.”
He will pitch for a new manager, Wakamatsu, and a new pitching coach, Rick Adair.
“I’ve had three, four, maybe five pitching coaches in my career,” Bedard said. “Ray Miller in Baltimore – he was old school, he hadn’t forgotten how it was, pitching. Sometimes a coach forgets what’s it’s like out there.
“For a time in my career, I threw inside too much, and (Orioles pitching coach) Leo Mazzone helped me go down and away.
“Pitching coaches can’t tell you what to do. Most of the time they help you weather the storm, they spot something and it’ll just click and you’re back. They remind you what they see.”
Bedard sounded almost animated talking about baseball, about pitching again. If things are going well, he is asked, will he be talking to the media this year?
“Usually, I start camp talking and about two weeks in, I stop,” he said. “I hate answering the same questions. I’m just not that guy, the one who loves to talk about himself.
“I don’t hate the press. In Baltimore, there were guys I trusted, and we talked – just rarely on the record. I don’t like interviews. The notebooks and tape recorders come out, I’m done.”
So, will he be talking this spring? Bedard laughs again.
“Just say it’s under consideration,” he said. “Then, if I do talk, it’ll be a nice surprise.”
Erik Bedard’s 2008
Erik Bedard went 6-4 with a 3.67 ERA in his drama-filled first season with the Mariners. The highlights (and lowlights):
After weeks of discussions, the Mariners send outfielder Adam Jones, reliever George Sherrill and pitching prospects Chris Tillman, Tony Butler and Kam Mickolio to the Baltimore Orioles for Bedard. He soon is named opening-day starter over Felix Hernandez.
Feb. 29 Bedard gets roughed up in his spring-training debut, giving up three runs in two innings. The next day, manager John McLaren erupts at the media for what he deems overly critical questions after the game.
Finishes rough spring training with 2-2 record, giving up 27 runs on 35 hits in 24 innings and posting an 8.63 ERA with 10 strikeouts and eight walks.
Bedard scratched from a start, missing a game against his former team with inflammation in his hip. Gets placed on the DL on April 15.
Returns from the DL to pitch 62/3 innings of shutout ball in a win over Oakland.
McLaren acknowledges Bedard isn’t inclined to throw more than 100 pitches in an outing. “I’d love to see him go further, but if a guy is not capable, he’s not capable,” McLaren says.
A day after McLaren is fired, Bedard leaves start with back spasms, and an anonymous coach tees off on him. “You had guys watch Felix (Hernandez) work his (butt) off in camp and watched Bedard do the minimum – and Bedard was the opening-day starter,” the coach says.
Interim manager Jim Riggleman says Bedard, now complaining of shoulder problems, has been injured more than the public realized: “He’s trying to give more than he can give. He should be commended for that.” Bedard returns to the DL six days later, retroactive to July 5, and doesn’t pitch for the remainder of the season. Months later, it will come light that Bedard pitched in pain most of the season without telling anyone.
Exploratory surgery shows no tears in Bedard’s labrum or rotator cuff, meaning he should be healthy for the 2009 season. Bedard had speculated he might not return until 2010.