Bedard hangs tough

The Baltimore Sun

SEATTLE -- The No. 45 on the back was familiar, as were the days-old stubble on the baby face and the involuntary reddening of his cheeks as the game's intensity increased.

It was Erik Bedard as Orioles fans remember him, except for the name on the front of the jersey and an inability to control his devastating curveball.

Pitching his first regular-season game apart from the only organization he has known since the 1999 amateur draft, Bedard labored but survived his Seattle Mariners debut.

Hampered by a high pitch count, Bedard lasted just five innings against the Texas Rangers, allowing one run on three hits. He struck out five and walked three, receiving a no-decision in the Mariners' 5-2 win on a frosty Opening Day afternoon in the Northwest.

"Bedard was a bulldog. He had good stuff, but his command wasn't there," Mariners manager John McLaren said. "He hung in there and kept us in the game. He was really fighting out there."

Afterward, Bedard was the verbal minimalist that fans and the Baltimore media have come to expect. Asked to evaluate his performance, he offered two letters: "OK."

Bedard, 29, whom the Orioles dealt to the Mariners in February for outfielder Adam Jones, reliever George Sherrill and three minor leaguers, is being counted on to help anchor a staff that also includes 21-year-old fireballer Felix Hernandez.

The Seattle Times wrote in yesterday's editions that, "As goes Erik Bedard, so goes the franchise - that has been the overriding sentiment" in Seattle since the trade. The hope placed on Bedard here was evident yesterday, as No. 45 jerseys were sprinkled throughout the Safeco Field stands.

When announced during pre-game introductions, Bedard received probably the second-loudest cheers, behind only Ichiro Suzuki's, currently Seattle's most popular athlete.

Initially, the adulation seemed justified.

Bedard took the mound to open Seattle's 2008 season at 3:45 PST and immediately struck out Texas leadoff hitter Ian Kinsler on three pitches, receiving roars with each strike.

The excitement was short-lived.

The Rangers' next hitter, Michael Young, smashed a 3-1 fastball to deep right field for a solo homer and a 1-0 Texas lead. Bedard then allowed an infield single and a walk before getting two groundouts to escape the 30-pitch inning down just 1-0.

The next four innings were a battle for the Canadian left-hander, who at times couldn't get his curveball over for strikes. On several occasions, he had two strikes on batters but couldn't finish them off. Although his fastball touched 96 mph once on the stadium radar gun, he continually pitched at 91 and 92 mph.

He threw 79 pitches in the first three innings but then settled down, throwing just nine pitches in the fifth and 106 overall. He allowed just one hit after the third batter of the game.

Although not overwhelming, Bedard's outing was encouraging after a spring training in which he looked like anything but an ace.

In six exhibition starts, Bedard went 2-2 with an 8.63 ERA, allowing 23 earned runs in 24 innings. Most alarming, he surrendered nine homers in six spring games - he gave up just 19 homers in 28 games with the Orioles in 2007.

That was spring training.

Yesterday, the season started for real, and Bedard, a Mariner now, did enough to show the hometown fans glimpses of why he was so coveted.


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