Red Sox silencer Bedard tries to throw off O's plan

Slated for Triple-A, lefty makes bid for parent club with 3.08 ERA in 4 games

March 22, 2004|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - As he stood on the mound dominating the Boston Red Sox for five innings yesterday, Erik Bedard gave the Orioles a glimpse at both their past and their future.

He just wishes he could change their minds about the present.

Bedard, who was considered the Orioles' top prospect before he injured his left elbow two seasons ago, turned in one of the team's best pitching performances of the spring in a 4-2 exhibition loss at Fort Lauderdale Stadium.

Given his first chance to start, Bedard held the Red Sox hitless until the fifth inning, when David McCarty lined a one-out home run over the left-center-field fence. Bedard also struck out Manny Ramirez once and David Ortiz twice.

"I've been out of the loop for a year and a half," Bedard said. "To come out there and throw strikes and have a great result, it's a real confidence boost."

Bedard, 25, underwent the Tommy John ligament-transplant surgery in September 2002 after blowing out his elbow that season at Double-A Bowie. He made a speedy recovery last year and appeared in six minor league games on his rehabilitation assignment, but none of those was above Single-A.

So without hesitating, Bedard called yesterday his best on-field experience since the surgery. "By far," he said. "By far."

Coming into camp, the Orioles were fairly certain they'd be sending Bedard to Triple-A Ottawa, figuring he needed to regain some polish at the minor league level before pitching in the big leagues.

But Orioles manager Lee Mazzilli said Bedard is still in the mix for the No. 5 spot in the starting rotation, which had seemed to be a two-man battle between Matt Riley and Omar Daal.

"[Bedard] did a hell of a job out there today," Mazzilli said. "That fifth spot is not a done deal. He's making a case every time he goes out there."

In four games this spring, spanning 11 2/3 innings, Bedard has posted a 3.08 ERA.

Riley has a 3.86 ERA, and Daal has a 6.00 ERA, which doesn't include his subpar performance in his minor league start Saturday.

Asked yesterday about Bedard's chances of securing a place in the starting rotation, Orioles executive vice president Jim Beattie said, "We're probably getting ahead of ourselves.

"Obviously, when you see what he did today, and what he did [Wednesday against Houston], you get excited," Beattie added, "but he just needs to pitch."

That would be the drawback to handing Bedard the No. 5 spot. The Orioles have the first three Mondays in April off, so they can skip the fifth spot in the rotation multiple times and keep their top four starters on regular rest.

In their current thinking, they think Bedard has a better chance of helping them in May if he is getting regular work at Ottawa during April. For Bedard, a native of Navan, Ontario, that would also be a chance to spend April close to home.

"I'm just trying to make their decision harder for them," Bedard said. "I just want to be on the big league team because I don't really want to go home. I've been there the whole offseason."

But if he keeps pitching the way he did yesterday, he probably won't be at Ottawa for long. His rapid re-emergence would soften the blow if the Orioles feel they need to release Daal and eat his $4.5 million salary.

It would also help keep the heat on projected No. 2 starter Rodrigo Lopez, who struggled again yesterday in his four-inning relief appearance. In 12 innings this spring, Lopez has a 6.00 ERA.

And the better Bedard looks, the more the Orioles can consider trade offers for Riley, who is said to be high on the Los Angeles Dodgers' list. Riley could eventually be packaged with one of the Orioles' second baseman - Jerry Hairston or Brian Roberts - in a trade for Dodgers starter Odalis Perez.

Bedard had two walks and three strikeouts against the Red Sox. He struck out Ortiz with a nifty curveball in the first inning, and then blew fastballs past Ramirez and Ortiz for back-to-back strikeouts in the fourth.

Eighteen months after the surgery, Bedard feels almost as good as he did before the injury came.

"Physically yes," he said. "Pitching-wise, I'd say 90-95 percent. My last two outings my fastball was a little erratic. This time the fastball was good. It takes a while with my other pitches."

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