The rust was evident and also understandable from a pitcher who hadn't thrown in a game of any significance in 7 1/2 months.
The most important thing for the Orioles was that Brad Bergesen looked comfortable and felt healthy after his exhibition debut Wednesday night against the Pittsburgh Pirates at McKechnie Field. That, however, wasn't enough to satisfy the second-year pitcher.
Bergesen allowed two earned runs, three hits and a walk in 1 1/3 innings in the Orioles' eventual 3-2 win, reaching his maximum pitch count of 35 on Steve Pearce's run-scoring line single to left field.
"I'm disappointed," Bergesen said. "I think it was definitely a positive getting out there and getting going again, but you never like to go an inning and a third when you're supposed to go two innings, and give up the [three] hits I gave up."
Orioles manager Dave Trembley also gave the pitcher mixed reviews.
"The second inning, he was really rushing. The first inning, he was good, got on top, got ground balls," Trembley said. "The second inning, he got underneath some pitches, but we got his pitch count up. ... I saw him when he got taken out of the game, and he was running like he got a get-out-of-jail card for free. Goodness sakes, the guy was so excited today it was unbelievable."
Bergesen, who was the Orioles' best pitcher last year before his season ended when he was hit in the left shin by a liner off the bat of the Kansas City Royals' Billy Butler on July 30, acknowledged that he felt "a little bit rusty" and had trouble slowing himself down on the mound. Bergesen, normally a consistent strike thrower, missed the zone on 17 of his 35 pitches and went to three-ball counts with four of the eight hitters he faced, including the first two. He walked Brandon Moss with one out in the second.
Pirates top prospect Pedro Alvarez followed Moss' walk with an RBI double to deep right-center field. Pearce then connected for an RBI single, which ended Bergesen's night.
"In some ways, obviously, I would have liked to been a little better than that in the second inning, but getting out there -- it was basically the first time I've been in a live situation like that since July 30 -- that part was great," Bergsen said. "But from just a pitching standpoint, I worked behind too many guys. I guess in some ways, that's kind of expected at this point. Hopefully, I'll get better and better each outing now."
Bergesen's status has been one of the primary story lines of an otherwise quiet Orioles spring training. Already facing questions about the status of his left shin, Bergesen strained his shoulder in early December while filming an Orioles television commercial. The injury caused him to come to spring training about 10 days behind other Oriole pitchers, but team officials said all along that he should be ready for spring training.
Wednesday night was a step in the right direction for Bergesen, who went 7-5 with a 3.43 ERA in 19 starts last year and was one of the front-runners for American League Rookie of the Year before his shin injury. Overall, Bergesen pitched six or more innings in his final 12 starts and allowed three runs or fewer in 11 of his final 12 outings.
"Obviously, based on how he did last year, he's a huge part of us moving forward," pitching coach Rick Kranitz said. "He fits the mold of a starting pitcher because he works fast, throws strikes and gets ground balls. He gets more ground balls than anybody we have on our club ,and that's what you need in our ballpark and in our division. I would say his progression is needed, but we obviously want to see him healthy first."
Bergesen said Wednesday night that his shoulder felt good, but he certainly wasn't as encouraged by his command. He went to a 3-1 count with Pirates leadoff man Andrew McCutchen before getting him to ground out to shortstop Cesar Izturis. He then fell behind 3-0 to No. 2 hitter Bobby Crosby, who grounded out on a 3-1 pitch.
Pittsburgh designated hitter Garrett Jones hit a two-out double off the glove of diving center fielder Adam Jones, though he was stranded when Bergesen got Ryan Doumit to bounce out to second baseman Justin Turner for the final out of the first.
After getting Ryan Church to line out to Jones to start the second, Bergesen walked Moss and then gave up the back-to-back hits to Alvarez and Pearce.
"I felt like I was rushing myself," said Bergesen, who threw all fastballs except for four changeups and one slider. "I was getting a little too quick. I didn't slow it down. That's normally what I'm able to do when I feel myself getting that way. In the second inning, I just felt myself getting quicker, quicker and quicker. That's definitely something I need to work on."
Bergesen will throw two bullpen sessions before his next start, which is tentatively scheduled for Tuesday against the Minnesota Twins in Fort Myers.