PEORIA, Ariz. – Chad Cordero saved 128 major league games before his 25th birthday, but couldn’t contain his excitement Tuesday when he walked to the mound in an intrasquad game.
“I felt like it was my first big league game,” Cordero said.
It looked a bit like that, too, and though he got through an inning of work for the Seattle Mariners, the man who lives on precise control was definitely without as he continued his comeback from major shoulder surgery.
Cordero missed the second half of 2008 after surgery threatened his career, and after signing with Seattle last spring – bringing a 20-14 record, those 128 saves and a 2.79 lifetime earned run average – he pitched all of 14 minor league innings.
“I never felt good, not all year,” Cordero said. “Today, my arm felt awesome. That was the good news.”
“Once I got to the mound, I tried to do way too much. I tried to throw way too hard,” Cordero said. “I tried to calm myself down. I was just so excited to be out there again, to have my arm feel so good.”
If Cordero was surprised by his response to pitching again, the Mariners were not.
“Why do you think we wanted to get him an inning before he faced anyone in an exhibition game?” asked manager Don Wakamatsu afterward. “He hasn’t pitched regularly in two years. He was going to have to deal with those emotions sometime, and we wanted him to do it sooner rather than later.
“I think he’ll be fine now.”
Cordero’s future remains in question. It’s likely he will start the season in the Tacoma Rainiers bullpen, where he’ll be asked to pitch more than an inning on occasion as the team tests his durability.
Before he can do that, of course, he has to throw strikes. When he was saving 47 games in 2005 for the Washington Nationals, Cordero rarely hit 90 mph, but put his fastball and every other pitch he threw almost exactly where he wanted them.
“I was perfect in the bullpen,” Cordero said, laughing. “I was hitting spots, my arm slot was great.”
And on the mound? One of his fastballs grazed the hand of Franklin Gutierrez.
“I kept my slider down, but my fastball was up and it was running. That’s what I almost hit Gutierrez with,” Cordero said. “I flew open on the pitch and it ran way in on him. As soon as I let that pitch go, I said ‘Oh crap!’ and held my breath.
“I apologized to him. The last thing you’re trying to do is hit a teammate.”
The losing pitcher in a 2-0 game, Cordero gave up a hit, two walks and a run.
“Once I got off the mound I was upset with myself. I sat down, I calmed down and I talked to Rick Adair. He said, ‘You were a little excited ...’” Cordero said.
“I was nervous all morning. It was like pitching my first big league game. It’s out of the way now, thank God. I’ll learn from it, put it behind me and pitch differently on Friday.
“The good news? My arm felt awesome.”