What will it take for Erik Bedard to solidify himself at baseball's highest level? That's a question Orioles' fans have been asking ever since the lefthander's premature major league debut four years ago.
Bedard is one of the many prospects rushed to the big stage before completing the necessary auditions. A year ago he got off to a hot 5-1 start that seemed to have him headed to the All-Star game. But Bedard instead ended up with a prolonged stay on the disabled list and a final record of 6-8 that was almost lost in the Orioles' lengthy list of embarrassing disappointments.
| Bedard was selected in the sixth round of the 1999 Draft.
When McGregor first burst onto the scene in spring training with the Yankees in 1974, he was a "lights out" lefthander with all of the tools -- not unlike Bedard. A shoulder injury the following year took much of the pop out of his fastball and was a primary reason he became available to the Orioles in that mammoth 10-player trade in 1976.
Bedard had Tommy John surgery in 2002 that caused him to miss the following season, but the adjustments he has had to make since are nothing like the ones that confronted McGregor three decades ago. Unlike McGregor, Bedard remains very much a power pitcher -- only now working some finesse into his program.
"He's a maximum effort guy who could pound the hitters inside," said McGregor. "The curve is great, but sometimes it's there and sometimes it's not…sometimes the umpire calls it, sometimes he doesn't."
That, of course, left the fastball as the pitch of choice, and the hitters were hardly the last to know.
"He'd come in, in, in with hard stuff they couldn't hit," McGregor said, assessing Bedard's style, "but they'd foul off a lot of pitches, and ultimately his pitch count would get up and that would get him in trouble."
The change McGregor believes Bedard is in the process of making is subtle. It involves one addition, and two adjustments. "He's developing a changeup, a good one, and it will help keep batters off balance. It will also help him trust his stuff out over the plate -- keep him from pounding inside all the time."
All of which fits nicely into O's pitching coach Leo Mazzone's well documented philosophy of commanding the down and away fastball. The thinking is that once Bedard gains complete confidence in throwing his fastball away, everything else will fall into place.
McGregor said Bedard also needs to adjust his tempo. "Sometimes he gets very deliberate out there -- kind of like Dennis (Martinez) was when he first came up. If he picks up his tempo, it will help him."
When it's taken into consideration that Bedard is barely past the elementary level in his baseball education, you can realize this has not been a slow transformation -- even though this is the fifth season fans have been hearing about his potential. A native of Ontario, Canada, his high school did not have a baseball team, and he didn't surface until spotted by scout Jim Howard while pitching for Norwalk (CT) Community College.
Drafted in the sixth round of the 1999 draft, Bedard had less than two years minor league experience before making a couple of brief relief appearances for the Orioles in 2002. He returned to Bowie and dominated Eastern League hitters while compiling a 6-3 record (1.97 ERA) until his elbow blew out less than three months into the season.
Except for six token late-season appearances totaling 19 innings in 2003 (enough to assure the O's he was healthy and worthy of keeping on the 40-man roster), his preparation for the big leagues was finished. Ready or not, 2004 was Bedard's roller-coaster rookie year. His 6-10 record was more indicative of the team he was pitching for than the potential which probably would've been better served with another touch of minor league seasoning.
What might have been a year ago is now immaterial. The future is now.
As Mazzone's long running TV promo intones: "They say there's a time and place for everything (or everybody)."
For Erik Bedard, the Orioles are counting on his crash course in baseball basics translating to here and now.
Issue 1.2: May 4, 2006