Ryan Feierabend was told his surgically repaired elbow would feel different. And, sure enough, it did.
Feierabend, who was considered a top Seattle Mariners pitching prospect since he was a third-round pick in the 2003 draft out of Midview High School in Grafton, Ohio, was coming off Tommy John surgery that cost him the entire 2009 season. And so when he felt discomfort in his elbow when he started throwing again, it wasn’t good, but at least he expected it.
“I had the opportunity to talk to Erik Bedard and some other guys who had Tommy John surgery and they said you’re going to feel stuff that you’re not used to, and I did,” Feierabend said. “I felt stuff in my elbow and it felt like I hadn’t had surgery. But probably about June or so it stopped bothering me completely and I didn’t have any other issues. From there, it’s been good.”
That much was obvious Sunday night. Feierabend, a 25-year-old left-hander, mixed fastballs and changeups with outstanding command, keeping the Sacramento River Cats off balance and leading the Tacoma Rainiers to a 4-1 win in the decisive Game 5 of the Pacific Conference Championship at Safeco Field.
Feierabend had his best outing of the season, going eight innings, allow- ing just two hits and a run, striking out four and allowing no walks. Of his 84 pitches, 57 were strikes.
“What a performance,” Tacoma manager Jose Castro said. “It was unbelievable. But he has that kind of ability and we felt good having him on the mound in a Game 5. And he showed why.”
Now Feierabend and the Rainiers get a chance to play for the Pacific Coast League championship against the Memphis Redbirds, with Game 1 at 5 p.m. today in Memphis. The challenge is a big one, since the series will be played only in Memphis while Cheney Stadium is under renovation. A Tacoma official said the team gave several options to the PCL, including playing games at Everett Memorial Stadium (the Mariners are back at Safeco now), but all other options were rejected.
If Tacoma is to win the title, it will need another strong effort or two from Feierabend, who will likely pitch Game 3 or 4.
“I’m feeling really good,” he said. “My numbers this year weren’t what I wanted but the focus this year was to get and stay healthy and I’ve done that. It took me a while to really feel back completely but I feel that way now.”
Feierabend made his professional debut as a 17-year-old for the Mariners’ Arizona Fall League team. He worked his way through the system, making his Major League debut on Sept. 8, 2006, as a 20-year-old. He started the 2007 season with Tacoma but made eight starts with Seattle, going 1-6 with a 10.27 ERA.
He was back with the Rainiers to start 2008 and went 7-1 with a 2.16 ERA for Tacoma, being named the organization’s Triple-A Pitcher of the Year despite going on the disabled list with a strained left elbow in May.
Then came 2009 and Tommy John surgery. He wondered if he’d make it back.
“You just never know,” he said. “A lot of guys have had the surgery and come back even stronger, but you never know how your body is going to react. Fortunately it went really well for me.”
Feierabend pitched seven games for Single-A High Desert and went to the mound once for Double-A West Tennessee before returning to Tacoma for the third time. With the Rainiers, he’s gone 4-7 with a 5.30 ERA this season. For his career, he’s 17-12 with a 3.88 ERA with the Rainier.
Feierabend said it helped him Sunday that he was familiar with Safeco Field and had pitched from the mound for the Mariners. He’d like to do that again.
“It wasn’t an overwhelming experience for me because I’ve been there,” he said. “This year, it was about getting myself back on track. Now that I’ve done that, I’m ready to take that next step.”