PEORIA, Ariz. - En route to the American League Cy Young Award last season, Felix Hernandez found time to get pounded in pingpong again and again by a left-hander who didn't throw a pitch in the majors all year - Erik Bedard.
“Erik is one of the best in the game when he’s healthy, and he’s healthy,” said Felix. “We play pingpong a lot and he always beats me. He’s pretty good at pingpong.”
Bedard, whose third shoulder surgery in his Mariners career kept him off the mound all of 2010 (except for an appearance with Triple-A Tacoma), became a free agent this winter. There were a handful of offers, one from the Seattle Mariners.
Bedard took it without a second thought.
“I took less money to come back, but I’m comfortable here,” Bedard said after throwing his first bullpen session of spring training. “I’m comfortable here, I love the staff, the players, the city, the fans. Felix is a close friend, but in the end I couldn’t see playing somewhere else.”
“I talked to him all last year, and he told me he was coming back,” Hernandez said.
When he wasn’t talking about his teammate, Hernandez had no trouble discussing himself and a new haircut that someone labeled a “faux mohawk.”
The cut features fullness in front, then tapers to a single strip down the back of his head and neck. What’s the cut called?
“A fade mohawk?” Hernandez said.
When someone suggested calling it the “Fe-hawk,” his megawatt smile dazzled.
“I like the sound of that, the fe-hawk,” he said.
“I like it. But if I lose one game with it, it’s over.”
BEDARD FEELS GOOD
Bedard threw a bullpen session Monday, working far more methodically than most other teammates throwing beside him.
Was he hurt? Afraid to let it loose? Babying himself?
“He’s smart, he’s a veteran pitcher,” catcher Josh Bard said. “He looked great today, but he wasn’t in a hurry. Why throw 100 pitches if 50 will do the job? He got his work in and didn’t waste anything.”
Bedard hasn’t pitched in a big league game since 2009, and admitted to being “happy and excited” to be in camp and healthy.
“It’s been a long road, a roller coaster,” he said of his comeback from three shoulder surgeries since he was traded to the Mariners before the 2008 season. “You have good days, bad days, times when you’re discouraged because you don’t see progress.”
“I feel great, like I did two springs ago,” he said. “I was good for two months that year. I hope this one will be different.”
What kept him pushing his way back?
“Baseball,” he said. “It’s the greatest job ever.”
The first day of workouts went smoothly, with pitchers doing a variety of defensive drills on three diamonds and 16 of the 30 healthy pitchers in camp throwing a bullpen session. Manager Eric Wedge wanted the defensive drills done well – and methodically. “You get on the mound, run to first base to cover and what’s that do for you?” he said. “We want these guys taking their time, but doing things right. Focus on the play, get it done, we’ll move on.” Of the 33 pitchers invited to camp, 32 made it. The one who didn’t, Yusmeiro Petit, is having visa problems in Venezuela. When you’re a non-roster invitee, visa problems don’t help. Veteran lefty Royce Ring, 30, has had a marvelous minor league career as a specialist, going 28-15 with 54 saves and a 2.92 earned-run average in 351 games. With the Padres, Braves and Yankees, he’s gone 3-3 with a 5.29 ERA in 99 games. Ring throws sidearm, dropping down to make left-handed hitters uncomfortable. Yes, he has a shot to make this team. No pressure, but: Michael Pineda worked off a bullpen mound Monday, and don’t think it went unnoticed. General manager Jack Zduriencik, special assistant Ted Simmons, Wedge, pitching coach Carl Willis, bullpen coach Jaime Navarro and – from 20 feet away – team CEO Howard Lincoln were all on hand to watch Pineda throw.