Early spring struggles no concern to Bedard

Early spring struggles no concern to Bedard

Early spring struggles no concern to Bedard
BRADENTON, Fla. -- Erik Bedard was asked about the injury to A.J. Burnett leaving him alone, at least at the moment, as a veteran mentor to Pirates pitchers. As the last new man standing, so to speak.

His eyes widened and he said with a smile, "Hopefully I don't fall down."

On Sunday, Bedard merely stumbled. In outsiders' view, that is. His first appearance for the Pirates was a two-inning tiptoe around trouble in the 8-5 loss to the Blue Jays. The first two men he faced took turns first reaching base -- one by being hit -- then scoring. A two-out walk was stranded. Bedard opened the second with another walk before a strong finish, with a double-play grounder and strikeout.

Bedard knew better. To him, it was ideal. For one thing, he was no longer doing his preseason pitching in Arizona, where there appears to be an atmospheric conspiracy against pitchers. For another, he was able to do everything he wanted -- which did not include being flawless.

"I just tried to get my work in, tried to throw strikes. That's it," Bedard said. "It's early. I know no other way to put it.

"Just trying to get a feel for the off-speed stuff. It'll take a couple of outings to get a real good feel, but that's what you go through to get ready for the season. As you get closer, you want to be sharper."

Presciently, Pirates general manager Neal Huntington had tempered his pregame eagerness to get his first in-game look at his new pitcher by noting, "I've seen too many veteran pitchers get knocked around in Spring Training."

"But really," Huntington said, "it'll be good to see him in a Pirates uniform facing a different team. I'll be more interested to see him make his first regular-season start. We got Erik because he can make a big difference for us. He's not far removed from being one of the best starters in the American League. If he stays healthy, he'll give us a chance to win every time he takes the mound."

Bedard wasn't exactly knocked around. He's been knocked around a lot worse in Spring Training. For instance, in 2008, he allowed 27 runs and 35 hits, including nine home runs, in 24 innings. Naturally, that was his first spring with Seattle in the dry, thin air of Arizona, where "I had some horrible spring numbers," he said.

"The ball sinks more here. The breaking pitches break a little more," said Bedard, who was in this neighborhood for years with Baltimore, prior to getting traded to Seattle after the 2007 season.

He wasn't as sharp as he will be.

"We've got to get him to work down in the zone more," manager Clint Hurdle said.

That will be a good thing for Bedard to include on his second-game to-do list. As do many veterans, he keeps time by his own inner clock in gearing up for the season.

"Next time out is to build arm strength," Bedard said. "Gradually, get the pitch count up. As the arm strength gets better, so does the feel for pitches."

Everyone associated with the Pirates admits harboring only one wish when it comes to the left-hander: That he be blessed with health, and be able to keep taking regular turns.

"Because," Hurdle reiterated for the umpteenth time, "whenever he's been on the mound, he's done very well. His biggest challenge is to be healthy so he can make a long string of starts. We knew the risks [in signing Bedard to a free-agent contract] -- but also that they could bring high rewards."

There indeed is great irony in Bedard having survived the Pirates' other key addition to the rotation -- if pitching in the first week of March can be classified as survival. The low-key lefty dismisses the notion of having to pick up any slack for Burnett, who is recuperating from surgery for an eye-orbital fracture and won't return until mid-May at the earliest.

"We're not going to lean on one guy. If you have to, it's not going to work," said Bedard, who is willing to shoulder the leadership role he was meant to share with Burnett, but sees that coming into play later.

"I'll just do what I do every day. Try to be a leader, talk to everyone, have fun doing it," he said. "The younger guys don't usually pick your brain until they have something specifically go wrong, and I'm having success. That's how I did it when I was younger.

"The guy I'd ask [with the Orioles] was B.J. Ryan. That's how I started throwing a cutter; he told me to start throwing it and see how it works. It's been a good pitch for me. So hopefully I can help someone if they ask. Hopefully I won't fall."

By that, Bedard meant not falling out of another rotation due to injury. He has come to terms with his unfortunate string of disabling injuries, can even joke about it.

Following his Sunday outing, a reporter innocuously prefaced a question with: "For someone with your longevity and durability ..."

Bedard's eyebrows almost hit the ceiling.

"Durability? I haven't been too durable. I've had three surgeries," he said with a smile, shaking his head. "That's not a good question."

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.