Resilient Bedard reports healthy, ready to win
Injury-plagued lefty optimistic after rehab-free offseason
BRADENTON, Fla. -- Erik Bedard feels like he is ready to separate himself from the other perennial candidates in pop culture.Susan Lucci was nominated for an Emmy Award 19 times before finally winning one. Ralph Nader was 0-for-3 in presidential elections. The Buffalo Bills have been in four Super Bowls, and have yet to win one. In baseball, you don't get to be formally nominated for a Comeback Player of the Year Award. You are saddled with that campaign by virtue of misfortune. Bedard, a southpaw whose career went south after a splendid 2007 season, is running for a fourth consecutive year. He thinks he finally has his platform in order. "For the first time in a long time, I didn't have to spend the offseason rehabbing [from an operation]. So, arm-wise, I'm way ahead of where I've lately been at this point," Bedard said Tuesday morning, shortly prior to demonstrating that during a 35-pitch bullpen session at Pirate City. "I started throwing in December, like I used to [before the injuries]. After the surgeries, I wouldn't be throwing until mid-January."
The Pirates were more attracted by seeing him pitch in September. Bedard had not been up to that task for, remarkably, four Septembers, since 2006. The 32-year-old has made 165 career starts; 18 of them have been made in September."Yeah, I was aware of that. It was big for me, to finish the season," Bedard said. "I hadn't done that in a while, so mentally it was a good thing." Pittsburgh general manager Neal Huntington thought so, too. He signed the free agent to a $4.5 million contract in early December, the first veteran given the implicit task of stabilizing the Pirates' rotation -- 10 weeks before A.J. Burnett joined in. "Having some experience in the clubhouse is a good thing," Huntington said, "But most important, we brought in players who can still play. They were brought here to pitch well and give us a shot to win every time they take the mound." That has always been the lesser of Bedard's problems: He has won more than a third of his career starts, which in today's bullpen-impacted game is a nice percentage, while keeping his ERA below four (3.70) and averaging nearly a strikeout an inning. However, getting to the mound has been an issue. Since his final start of the 2007 season on Aug. 26, Bedard has been on the disabled list seven times -- while winning an aggregate of 16 games. And we are not talking minor injuries: A couple of shoulder operations, the Tommy John job on the elbow, a strained oblique, hip inflammation, a sprained left knee. The box score, post-Aug. 26, 2007: 401 DL days, 293 innings pitched. "One thing I found about my body, it's a lot tougher than I thought. It keeps bringing me back," Bedard said. He never once thought about giving up, never once felt close to deciding that another stretch of grueling rehab simply was not worth the disappointment of yet another setback. "You just learn to deal with it," he said. "The shoulder surgery was far more stressful than the others, especially the first one [on Sept. 26, 2008, for labrum cleanup]. It makes you feel like you're lost, like, 'Oh, my God; I'll never throw again.' The shoulder is the biggest part of the body used to throw. So I was more worried about that, but once I came back from that, I was fine with it. When I hurt it again and needed another operation [on Aug. 14, 2009, for a torn labrum], it wasn't as stressful. I knew what to expect. "The third one will be even easier." Take a deep breath: He laughed as he said that. As far as why Bedard has dealt with the interruptions, why he again is working toward charging through the season gate ... that's easy. When he is able, he can. Always could. "He's always had results when he's been on the mound, as far as getting people out," said manager Clint Hurdle. "He wants to get out there and pitch more games than he has in the past, maybe with a bit more consistency." "Yeah, that's always been in the back of my mind: If I come back, if they fix me up, I know what I can do, so I just have to keep going through surgeries," Bedard said with a nod. "From a mental standpoint, that [attitude] has been a good thing to have -- otherwise I wouldn't still be here. "At some point, if I get into my late 30s, that would be another story with the age factor. But for now, if it happens again, I know I can still come back." Bedard has gotten too good at that, of course, with way too much practice. It may be time for all that perseverance to be rewarded -- which obviously could be reflected in the National League Central standings. If misery loves company, so must redemption: The Pirates have not had a winning season since 1992; Bedard's teams have never had a winning season. He went 620-785 with the Orioles and Mariners from 2002 through last July 31, when -- Hallelujah! -- he was traded to the first-place Red Sox. Boston went 24-32 thereafter. "I wanted to come here and try to help this team finish, help them to win," said Bedard, aware of the parallels. "It'd be nice to be recognized for that."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.