As he walked to the mound at Cheney Stadium, a familiar feeling engulfed Chad Cordero.
His pulse was racing, adrenaline filled his body and the anxiety of a game on the line filled him with intensity.
It had been a long time since he’d felt like that. Then again it had been a long time since he’d been in that situation – almost three years.
It was a save situation. In years past, Cordero reveled in them. But injuries and subsequent surgeries robbed him of precious years in his career.
So Sunday at Cheney Stadium, when he was asked to hold a one-run lead in the ninth inning, it was a milestone of sorts in his recovery.
And he passed it with efficient ease.
Cordero pitched a 1-2-3 ninth – a strikeout of Jay Payton sandwiched between two harmless ground outs – to secure the Rainiers’ 4-3 win over the Colorado Springs Sky Sox.
“I missed it,” Cordero said of the adrenaline rush. “It’s something I haven’t felt in a couple of years. To get that back, it’s a pretty cool feeling. It shows that I’m almost there and I’m almost back.”
It’s been a long process to get to “almost back.”
Cordero was an All-Star closer with the Washington Nationals in 2005 after saving 47 games. In 2006 he had 29 saves, in 2007 he had 37. But shoulder pain shut him down before the 2008 season, and after coming off the disabled list, he made only six appearances before being shut down for good. He had surgery to repair a torn labrum and was done for 2008.
The Mariners signed him before the 2009 season, and he spent most of the season rehabbing from the shoulder surgery.
He made a total of 14 appearances last season between the Arizona League Mariners and Class A Everett. He went almost two years between games pitched.
“He’s come a long way in the last couple years,” Rainiers manager Daren Brown said. “It’s taken a while to get back, but we like what we are seeing right now.
Cordero also worked two scoreless inning Friday with three strikeouts.
In both appearances, his fastball reached 89 to 90 mph, and even touched 91 mph Sunday, according to the Cheney Stadium radar gun.
“The velocity felt like it was there. They said it was 91 on a couple of them,” Cordero said. “My arm felt like it used to. Everything is coming back.”
Hopefully that includes the save situations. The Rainiers don’t use a specified closer, but Cordero liked the opportunity.
“We really don’t have any roles,” Cordero said. “But I will be ready any time they want me to go in.”
Officially, Cordero picked up a save last season in eight appearances with Class A Everett. But that felt more like a part of his recovery. On Sunday, it felt like he had recovered and was pitching in a real save situation.
“This was my first save situation where I had some juices going and I felt like I had a whole lot of adrenaline in basically three years,” Cordero said.
His last save situation came Sept. 29, 2007 – the last day of the season, when he notched his 37th save in a 4-2 win over the Phillies at old RFK stadium in Washington, D.C.
“He’s been trying to get back where he was, and it’s good to see him have success,” Brown said.
It took another solid starting pitching performance and a little offense to get the game to Cordero.
Rainiers starter Chris Seddon (1-0) gave a respectable showing, going 5 innings and allowing three runs on six hits. He hurt himself with a throwing error in the third inning on a pick-off play that led to two runs.
“He battled and got us into the sixth inning,” Brown said. “For his first time out, he gave us a chance to win.”
The Rainiers’ offense provided just enough support in much warmer conditions. Greg Halman got his first hit as a Rainier, tripling home Ezequiel Carrera and later scoring on Mike Carp’s single up the middle.The Rainiers took the lead for good when Brad Nelson blasted a two-run homer to right in the fifth inning.
“It was obviously a more pleasant day than what we had the first three,” Brown said.
The Rainiers open a four-game series with the Sacramento River Cats today at Cheney Stadium. The Rainiers’ starter has yet to be announced, while right-hander Kyle Middleton (0-0, 5.40 ERA) will go for the River Cats. First pitch is set for 7 p.m. The game will be broadcast on 850-AM.
Ryan Divish: 253-597-8483