Now healthy, Bergesen ready for debut

Right-hander has battled back from shin and arm injuries, will start Orioles' home opener

April 08, 2010|By Jeff Zrebiec | jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — It certainly seemed improbable eight months ago, when the pain in Brad Bergesen's left shin was so intense that he would lie in bed at night in a cold sweat, feeling like he was about to pass out.

He didn't feel much better about his chances eight weeks before the start of spring training, when he couldn't throw a ball 50 feet without excruciating pain in his shoulder.

But after months of dealing with pain and little progress, after one significant setback followed by a rapid recovery, Bergesen will emerge from the home dugout at 3:03 p.m. Friday, take his usual hop over the first-base foul line and throw the first official pitch of the 2010 season at Camden Yards against the Toronto Blue Jays.

"To start the year with the team, I wouldn't have thought this was going to happen if you talked to me even a month and a half ago," Bergesen said. "It's a huge honor, and I'm so appreciative of it. From getting called up to getting the leg injury to getting healthy to getting the arm injury, the last year has been a roller coaster.

"But just talking to some of the veteran guys, that's really what this game is about: overcoming the failures and getting back up. I'm just so thankful to be in this position, healthy and ready to start the season."

Wanting to reward his young right-handed starter for how hard he has worked to get back, Orioles manager Dave Trembley told Bergesen back in January at the team's FanFest that he wanted him to start the home opener.

"I think it's a significant accomplishment by him and it speaks volumes for what everybody in this organization thinks and feels about him to be the Opening Day starter at home," Trembley said. "Brad Bergesen is one of those guys who epitomizes what the Orioles are all about. He's a guy that takes nothing for granted, wants no special favors, doesn't think he's got it made. He'll never stop working, and he'll never stop appreciating the opportunity that he has to be a major league pitcher."

Bergesen, 24, made his major league debut last year on April 21, allowing one earned run over 5 2/3 innings to beat the Chicago White Sox. Before long, he developed into the Orioles' most effective starter. He pitched at least six innings in each of his final 12 starts, compiling a 2.46 ERA during that span. He had seven quality starts to end the season and allowed three runs or fewer in 14 of his 19 outings.

A fourth-round pick in 2004, Bergesen pitched well enough to be one of the front-runners for the American League Rookie of the Year award, but July 30, everything changed.

In the seventh inning of another solid start against the Kansas City Royals at Camden Yards, Bergesen threw a fastball to the Royals' best hitter. Billy Butler, 6 feet 2 and 240 pounds, ripped it back up the middle, and it struck Bergesen flush on his left shin.

Bergesen immediately went down and the ball ricocheted toward the first-base line, where catcher Matt Wieters picked it up and threw to first for the final out of the inning. Bergesen got up, smacked Wieters' outstretched glove and hobbled off the field on one leg. When he got back to the dugout, he collapsed in the tunnel leading into the clubhouse and screamed in agony.

"Most of the guys would have just laid on the field, but he's got something different inside of him," pitching coach Rick Kranitz said. "To see how it all unfolded and to understand how many problems he went through just to get back, it was unbelievable that he was able to get up and run to the dugout. It tells you a lot about him. You pull for him because this guy gives you everything he has every single day. He doesn't leave anything on the field."

Bergesen was diagnosed with a left leg bruise, and he wouldn't pitch again in 2009. For the first couple of days after the injury, Bergesen stayed in bed with his leg elevated, struggling to cope with the pain and feeling sorry for himself for sustaining another injury that potentially could derail his burgeoning career.

In 2006, he missed nearly half of the season for Single-A Delmarva with mononucleosis. The following year, he was struck in the back of the head with a ball during batting practice, knocking him out for a split-second and forcing him to miss several starts.

"I kind of always saw the light at the end of the tunnel," Bergesen said. "I just wanted to put those things behind me and keep going after my dream. That's what I was able to do, and fortunately enough, I made it up here."

After the shin injury, it took three full months for the pitcher to even be able to jog pain-free. Bergesen is convinced that he sustained a stress fracture that wasn't detected by the multitude of magnetic resonance imagings and CT scans performed on him.

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