BRADENTON, Fla. — Lefty Erik Bedard has come a long way from the last time he got an Opening Day start — back in 2008 with the Seattle Mariners. During ’08, Bedard was placed on the disabled list twice, once for inflammation in his left hip, the other was for stiffness in his left shoulder, which ended his season. Two months later, Bedard underwent arthroscopic surgery on the shoulder to remove any non-healthy tissue.
Then there was 2009 where he was limited to just 15 starts due to season-ending surgery on his left shoulder. The surgery revealed an inflamed bursa and torn labrum. Bedard missed all of the 2010 season recovering from the surgery itself.
Bedard made 23 starts during the 2011 season combined with the Mariners and the Boston Red Sox. It was the first time since 2007 that he had made more than 23 starts (28) and posted a 3.62 ERA.
“It’s been a long haul,” Bedard said. “A couple surgeries. Not feeling good all the time. I’m glad to be back and feeling good.”
Healthy this spring, Bedard will make the Opening Day start, the third in his career, on April 5 at PNC Park against the Philadelphia Phillies.
“It’s going to be fun. Any of our starters could have done it, but I’m going to take in the opportunity to do it and do the best I can,” Bedard said. “It’s a good opportunity. Hopefully we’ll win the game.”
Pirates Manger Clint Hurdle said there were several factors into his decision to give Bedard the nod. The first, however, was reshuffling the rotation after right-hander A.J. Burnett underwent right eye surgery.
“Matchups throughout the month, the statistical analysis, some history, and other things. We felt our strongest rotation coming out of the chute would fall this way,” Hurdle said. “He’s done this before. It won’t be his first opening day start. That puts Jeff [Karstens] in a good position. I think the counter balance of the three guys, the three different looks right out of the shoot. No similar type pitchers. Then [Kevin] Correia, try to build on some of the momentum that he established last year on the road.”
Following Bedard in the rotation will be Jeff Karstens for game two, James McDonald for game three, and Kevin Correia will get the fourth start, which is on the road against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
“It’s great,” Bedard said on the pitching staff. “We’re still missing one with A.J. He’ll be back soon. Everybody has good stuff. They throw strikes. They have good command. They always give the team an opportunity to win, and that’s what you want in a starter.”
Bedard, who signed a one-year deal with the Pirates on Dec 7, 2011, has allowed six runs on seven hits over 8.2 innings during Grapefruit League action this spring. He’s walked five and struck out seven over three starts.
Hague Wiggling at the Plate
Infielder Matt Hague is battling this spring training for a spot on the Pirates bench this season. The first baseman, who has also been working on improving his versatility with games at third base, is having a huge spring training.
The 26-year-old is hitting .438 with a team-leading four home runs during Grapefruit League action. Hague has also hit safely in four straight games and in six of his last eight.
“When his front foot hits the ground, his hands are in a good hitting position,” Hurdle said on Hague’s swing at the plate. “When the front foot hits the ground, there’s not a good hitter alive that when he’s front foot hits the ground, his hands aren’t in a good firing position over his back leg. That’s the strongest position for every hitter. That’s where Matt gets to.”
“You just see a little bit of wiggle. You see a different variation with the barrel. You see more action than you might see from some guys, but he’s comfortable with it. It’s just kind of like a dog wagging his tail. Dogs wag their tail with their hearts. He’s up there wagging his tail when that foot hits down and he’s ready to hit.”
“His bat’s giving him a chance this spring. I mean, he’s not going to make the team on his defense. Not that he’s a bad defender, but he’s a first baseman trying to play some third. He can go out in left. We brought him here because he’s a hitter. He’s put up offensive numbers every place he’s been in, in our minor league system. He’s a guy that we have in consideration for a bat off the bench.”
Morton on Track to be Ready for Season
Right-hander Charlie Morton, who underwent off-season surgery on his hip, said he plans to be ready to start the season. Morton tossed four scoreless innings scattering two hits with two strikeouts in his fourth start of the spring.
“I want the ball,” he said.
The right-hander is behind in the rotation due to recovering from the surgery itself. Although he has made four Grapefruit League starts, Morton has reached four innings and 55 pitches. Righty Jeff Karstens threw six innings and 89 pitches during his outing yesterday.
“I may be a game’s worth behind, which I’m hoping I can pick that up at the end of spring training. Get my pitch count up above 90,” Morton said. “I can’t go in there and say I want the ball tomorrow, or I want the ball in two days from now, give me the ball, I want 80 pitches. I can’t do that. If I could, I would.”
“The whole idea is to build up my arm strength within the perimeters of what we’ve been doing, what’s worked in the past, what we’ve done in the past. No one’s trying to push it past a certain limit. They’re going to look at say, how’s his arm strength? How’s his velocity? How’s the stuff coming out of his hand? And then go from there and make a decision. That’s what they’re doing week to week.”
The Pirates have two scheduled off days on April 6th and 9th to start the season. The club could get away without technically needing a fifth starter in the rotation and still give the guys regular rest until April 15th.
“We’re still having those talks,” Hurdle said. “They’re not on any timetable. We’re taking it really start to start. To get a bit of a read today was encouraging. Then he went out for four innings.”
“We’ve done it before. I’ve been in places where it’s been done before,” Hurdle said on possibly starting Morton in extended spring training. “We’re trying to consider what we need to do to take care of everybody. We’ll get reads on Charlie as he continues to pitch. He’s taking it week by week. We’re taking it start by start with him. Nothing definitive. We’re just trying to figure it out and make sense of it all as we move forward. We’ve got some options.”
“I haven’t been told anything,” Morton said. “I’ve been told I’m ahead of schedule from where they saw me from when I came down for spring training. But the whole time I’ve been saying I wanted to be ready to go the first day that I would be able to pitch.”
Igarashi Adjusting to Major League Baseballs
Righty reliever Ryota Igarashi spent 11 seasons pitching with the Tokyo Yakult Swallows of the Japanese Central League before coming over to America to pitch in the Major Leagues.
The 32-year-old spent the past two seasons combined with Triple-A Buffallo and the New York Mets before signing a minor league contract with the Pirates in December.
So far this spring, Igarashi has allowed five runs on nine hits over 8.0 innings with one walk and 10 strikeouts.
“I thought he was aggressive today,” Hurdle said. “He’s talked about the difference in the balls in Japan and the balls here, the leather. He’s trying to find a better more consistent split grip to find out the best package of pitches for him to be as consistent as he can be here. He’s still in competition. He’s still battling and doing well.”