When Erik Bedard steps on the mound for the Seattle Mariners at Safeco Field this afternoon to make his second start this season, the fans' response will likely be mixed.
There will be more than a few cheers honoring the talented left-hander’s return to the mound at Safeco for the first time since the middle of 2009.
There will almost certainly be a few boos remembering the unmet expectations that were placed on Bedard when he was acquired for five players from the Baltimore Orioles before the 2008 season.
Few players on the Seattle roster divide fans more than Bedard. For a while, it seemed fans either loved or loathed him. There was nothing in between.
Most likely, there will be casual applause out of habit and indifference.
Since he hasn’t pitched in a game since 2009, Bedard has been mostly forgotten.
He’s been overshadowed by Felix Hernandez and rookie prospect Michael Pineda.
Sure, there were hopeful moments last season when it looked as if he might return. But they were crushed by another season-ending surgery.
The idea of seeing Bedard on the mound in a regular- season game has become the equivalent of seeing a unicorn show up for lunch.
It’s a far cry from 2008, when he stepped on the mound at Safeco Field on March 31 having inexplicably been named opening day starter ahead of Hernandez by manager John McLaren.
Back then, Bedard was supposed to be the difference maker. He was going to raise the Mariners from decent to AL West contenders. He was going to form a dynamic duo with Hernandez – one of the best top-of-the-rotation combinations in baseball.
He never came close. It all went so wrong so fast. Injuries, disappointment, a perceived poor attitude and discontent led to Bedard being one of the symbols of the Mariners’ dysfunction in 2008. But when he steps on the mound today to face the Cleveland Indians, there should be no expectations. None.
Well, because he hasn’t pitched in 11/2 years, that’s why.
Because the Mariners came into the season knowing that winning 75 games could be difficult, and might even be nearly impossible based on early results.
And mostly because Bedard will likely never be the pitcher that then-general manager Bill Bavasi thought he was acquiring when he mortgaged the Mariners’ future.
He’s had three shoulder surgeries in three seasons. He’s now 32 years old. He’s become less edgy with the media, more engaging with his teammates and understanding of where he’s at in his career. He hasn’t pitched in a game since July 31, 2009 (coincidentally against the Indians). He’s made a total of 30 starts from 2008 to the start of this season. It’s an accomplishment just to be taking the mound.
Sure, his velocity has mostly returned, and the nasty curveball is still there baffling hitters. But there is no body of work to tell you that he can stay healthy for an entire season.
He’s made one start. He felt great. He pitched pretty well. To suddenly jump to the idea of him going back to a front-of-the-rotation starter is ludicrous. There’s a reason the Mariners slotted him fourth.
Right now, that’s what he is – a No. 4 starter.
It’s time to stop hoping Bedard will return to being the pitcher he once was, and start considering the pitcher he could be – a solid starter. A pitcher who probably can’t throw more than 110 pitches in a game or 200 innings in a season.
Is there anything wrong with that? No.
The five to six innings Bedard could give you in a start are still likely to be better than what Seattle could get from Doug Fister or Luke French.
For all of the unmet expectations, misconceived perceptions, the injuries, the surgeries and the failures, Erik Bedard will take the mound today at Safeco Field. He might be booed. He might be cheered. But he’s healthy and on the mound pitching for the first time since 2009. He’s already met the only expectation for him there should be this season.