Bucs hope rebirth starts with Bedard

Bucs hope rebirth starts with Bedard

Bucs hope rebirth starts with Bedard
PITTSBURGH -- For those who want to denigrate them, the Pirates are an easy mark. Taking potshots at a team that has not had a winning season since there were two NFL teams in Los Angeles is safe.

For many, open season began with the season's first pitcher. Given Erik Bedard's injury history, Clint Hurdle was said to have gone out on a limb by naming him the Opening Day starter with two weeks still remaining in Spring Training. Others pointed out that the Bucs' No. 1 is the same guy who a few months earlier had been Boston's No. 5 1/2.

Go ahead, have your fun. But the truth is, there can be no more appropriate Opening Day pairing than Bedard and the Pirates. The rebirth which spring perennially offers mutually appeals to both. He needs to jump-start a healthier phase of his career, and the Pirates will strive to be better than anyone thinks they will be.

Both are eager to show it's not only a new year, but a new direction. They can embark together.

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"As an individual, there is nothing special about Opening Day," said Bedard, as laconic as anyone you'll find in a uniform. "It's more of a team than an individual thing. You want to put some zeros up there, to give the team more confidence going into the season.

"As a team, you try to get off on the right track, build some momentum as quick as you can for the season. But if you personally don't do well, there are 30 other starts."

Actually, that usually has not been true for Bedard. The last time -- the only time -- the eight-year veteran got to that number was in 2006. The start on Thursday against the Phillies will be his third career Opening Day assignment. He did the honors in '07 for the Orioles and in '08 for the Mariners; in neither season was he still around for September.

A partial season, then, is something else Bedard has in common with his new team, which also wasn't around by last August. They both want to get whole.

Bedard is sort of like a left-handed Josh Johnson or Chris Young, a couple of right-handers who are terrific whenever they make it to a mound, health permitting. Guys like them deserve a lot of credit for repeatedly willing their way back from injury, even if their repeated breakdowns frustrate and mystify.

The Bucs know they can't keep Bedard healthy. They also know that if he keeps pitching, they will keep winning.

"The risks are big," Hurdle said. "But the rewards can also be big."

Switching leagues is supposed to be to Bedard's advantage, simply because National League lineups without the DH aren't as relentless as those of the AL. Despite notorious examples to the contrary like Barry Zito, that perception is pretty accurate.

Projected Opening Day lineup
1 LF Alex Presley
2 RF Jose Tabata
3 CF Andrew McCutchen
4 2B Neil Walker
5 1B Garrett Jones
6 C Rod Barajas
7 3B Pedro Alvarez
8 SS Clint Barmes
9 LHP Erik Bedard
Projected rotation
1 LHP Erik Bedard
2 RHP Jeff Karstens
3 RHP James McDonald
4 RHP Kevin Correia
Full 25-man roster | Depth chart

Lifelong American Leaguers to recently switch leagues such as Matt Garza, Zack Greinke, Derek Lowe, Shaun Marcum, Ted Lilly and Roy Halladay all had significantly lower ERAs in their debut NL seasons, bearing in mind that won-loss records are subject to many other factors.

The poster boy of the trend, Javier Vazquez, experienced it twice. He went from the 2008 White Sox (12-16, 4.67) to the Braves (15-10, 2.87) to the Yankees (10-10, 5.32) to the Marlins (13-11, 3.69) last season.

Maybe that was just Vazquez. Or maybe he just best illustrated tendencies Bedard will try to exploit. Bedard's own history with NL teams suggests he will like the change: In 18 Interleague starts against NL clubs, he had a splendid ERA of 1.82, along with an 8-3 record.

At his best, Bedard is an anomaly -- a strikeout lefty who doesn't scorch batters with heat, but repels them with changes of speed and with command.

"He keeps hitters' timing off-center," said pitching coach Ray Searage. "Erik brings deception; he's able to change the speeds with which he throws, and the sides of the plate he throws to. When he's on, he makes the batter go to-and-fro, back-and-forth."

Nice to know Bedard can torment hitters as much as he does reporters. He is an affable guy with a wry sense of humor, but is already a national legend as a tough interview. People who loathe talking about themselves usually are. Will Rogers never met a man he didn't like, and Erik Bedard never heard a question he did like.

He is not one to wax lyrical about Opening Day.

"Everyone makes a big deal out of it, but it's just another game. There's always another after that ... 161 others, actually," Bedard said.

He relegates his Opening Day duel with Halladay to the same so-what bin. Three times the two righties matched up when Doc was in Toronto and Bedard was in Baltimore, with Halladay prevailing twice.

"I've thrown against him before," Bedard said with a shrug.

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.