Five years ago, Erik Bedard was one of the hottest pitching commodities in Major League Baseball. In twenty-eight starts, the left-hander struck out 221 batters in 182 innings for a clip of 10.9 strikeouts per nine innings. He went 13-5 that season for an awful Orioles team with a very fine 3.16 ERA. And that season built on the year before to give Bedard $40 million of value to the Orioles for the 2006 and 2007 seasons. That's why it seemed inexplicable that the Orioles traded him to the Mariners in a multiple player deal that in part brought Chris Tillman, George Sherrill and Adam Jones to the Orioles.
Perhaps the Orioles knew something they didn't tell the Mariners and perhaps not. But whatever the case, the Mariners made Bedard their opening day starter and gave him $7 million to avoid arbitration. People have been laughing at the Mariners ever since. Bedard only made it to 15 starts in his first season with the Mariners and showed regression in all of his statistics. He gave up a bunch of homers in the first month of that season and wasn't the same pitcher he showed in Baltimore.
Bedard then made only 15 starts the following season too. When he pitched, he was effective. But he couldn't pitch enough in 2009 to be a factor for the Mariners. He was diagnosed with a torn labrum and after hopes of being able to come back in 2010, he ended up missing the entire season. To that point, the Mariners had paid Bedard almost $16 million and had little to show for their investment. Bedard became the pitching equivalent to the Nick Johnson jokes about injuries. Nick Johnson was the Erik Bedard of position players and vice versa.
Well, spring always brings new hope and the 2011 version is no different. Bedard says he is pain free and his pitching so far in exhibition games show every indication that he is back to being dominant again. In three appearances covering 5.2 innings of work, Bedard has struck out eight batters while only giving up three hits. It would be a bit ironic if the Mariners, who are now only paying Bedard a million dollars to pitch in 2011, finally getting the pitcher they hoped they would get back in 2008.
The Fan can't help himself. Comebacks are always rooted for hard and the underdogs hold a special place of interest. And while this writer knows that a lot has to go perfectly for Bedard to have a full and healthy season, the Fan can't erase visions of glory returning for the Ontario native. For Bedard to put away the jokes, he has to stay healthy. For every obvious reason why baseball intrigues every season, it's hard to bet against or root against Erik Bedard.