By Craig Heist
Orioles left-hander Erik Bedard is a man of very few words, and that's just fine with him. He would rather let his pitching do the talking and then not talk about his pitching.
Bedard won his sixth straight start last Saturday, allowing six hits and one unearned run in seven innings, leading the Orioles to an 8-1 win over the Rangers. He became the first pitcher in Orioles' history to win five straight games while pitching at least six innings, and allowing one run or less in each of those starts. Bedard's explanation for his success against one of the best-hitting clubs in the league was characteristically short and sweet.
As of July 19, Bedard is 11-6 with a 4.02 ERA. (Sabina Moran/PressBox)
"I just threw strikes and hit my spots," Bedard said. "I just mixed it up pretty good and had a good curveball."
Sounds simple enough but there is much more to it.
The Orioles drafted Bedard in 1999 and quickly got a glimpse of his potential. He appeared in eight games for the Gulf Coast Orioles and posted an ERA of 0.44 in 20.1 innings. In his final start of the season, Bedard pitched seven scoreless innings, striking out 12.
After two more seasons working his way through the system, Bedard left a start at Double-A Bowie in 2002 with soreness in his elbow. He underwent Tommy John surgery in September of that year and spent all of 2003 rehabbing the elbow in an effort to return, something he wasn't sure would ever happen.
"Yes, I had doubts because I really didn't know anything about it and the recovery time and the amount of time I would miss," Bedard said. "After I talked to a couple of people who had Tommy John, I felt comfortable with coming back strong and continuing my baseball career."
In 2004, Bedard won a spot in the rotation out of spring training and went 6-10 with an ERA of 4.59, leading all Major League rookies with 121 strikeouts. In 2005, he started the season 5-1 but then missed eight weeks on the disabled list with a sprained knee. After coming off the DL, he went 1-6 with an ERA of 5.01 in 15 starts.
"I did everything I needed to do, everything was on point," Bedard said. "It wasn't so much that it was tough, it's just that I had to do it. I love to play baseball so it wasn't hard for me, I just did it as hard as I could and came back early and came back here the next year and did okay."
However, there was inconsistency along the way, and the Orioles kept trying to find ways to get him deeper into games and prevent his pitch count from reaching 100 in five innings.
Bedard is now perfecting his craft and enjoying the best season of his young career. He is 11-6 with an ERA of 4.02 heading into this weekend. Over his six-game winning streak his ERA is 1.07 with 44 strikeouts and just nine walks. He has added a changeup he learned from teammate Kris Benson, and it's that pitch that has helped make his other pitches better.
"It's helped me ever since Benson showed me his grip and taught me how to throw it," Bedard said. "I have been working on it in bullpen sessions in between starts. I'm more comfortable with the feel and the grip. It's a two-seam grip, and it adds some movement on it instead of being straight like I used to throw it."
The inconsistency appears to be a thing of the past. Over his last six starts, Bedard has pitched six or more innings each, and he says pitching coach Leo Mazzone has helped him keep his pitch counts manageable.
"He's great," Bedard said. "He gives you confidence. He tells you to work more down and away rather than going in because that's what I did before. He's had a lot of experience with 20-game winners."
Bedard could very well make a run at winning 20 games this year. Catcher Ramon Hernandez sees all the potential in the world when it comes to whether or not the left-hander's career blossoms into something special.
"Now he is getting ahead of the hitters and throwing a lot of strikes," Hernandez said. "He is in and out and keeping the ball down. He isn't missing much and when he misses, he misses in or he misses away. He isn't pitching from behind as much.
"Everything is going to be up to him and how he is going to handle it. Sometimes you feel good and sometimes you don't. It will be the days when he doesn't feel good, if he can get you through seven, it will be those times when he will show everyone he knows what he is doing and that he is really learning how to pitch."
Right now, Bedard is letting his pitching do the talking, and it speaks volumes.
Issue 1.13: July 20, 2006