It All Comes Down to This for Erik Bedard, Tampa Bay Rays
No one thought about this scenario. In their harshest nightmares, could the Tampa Bay Rays have imagined Alex Cobb, Matt Moore, and Jeremy Hellickson all going down to injury, with Moore needing to undergo Tommy John Surgery? Whether they could or not, it has happened, and the Rays need to find a way to fill the vacant spots. Jake Odorizzi won the fifth starter job to replace Hellickson, but the Rays have no ideal option for the remaining two rotation slots. So who is taking the hill tonight against the New York Yankees? Left-hander Erik Bedard. Bedard is the former Baltimore Orioles ace who finished fifth in the Cy Young award voting in 2007. Bedard is the pitcher who went 10-3 with a 2.94 ERA in 14 starts against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays from 2004 through 2007. He also has never managed a strikeout rate below 7.8 per 9 innings his entire career. However, he is also the pitcher who hasn’t been effective at all since 2011 and is suddenly a 35 year old with his career hanging by a thread.
Erik Bedard is the same man who delivered all those exploits, but the ability that got him there is all but gone. The Rays and Bedard both know that at this point. His fastball, which touched as high as 97 MPH in 2007, often fails to hit 90 MPH. Bedard’s curveball is still a very good pitch, helping him to an 8.3 K/9 even the last two years. But he has also allowed a 4.3 BB/9, and a 1.0 HR/9 as his fastball is not the pitch it once was and he has been unable to make the adjustments to compensate. The inconsistent control and lack of a quality changeup that Bedard was able to pitch through earlier in his career are major concerns now. So what is left for Erik Bedard? Is there another effective season still in him? Bedard could never stay healthy, never once topping 200 innings in his career and failing to top 130 each year from 2008 to 2012, but the constant for a long time was that when he was on the mound, he was still a quality pitcher. The past two years have shown that he is no longer that pitcher, managing ERAs of just 4.59 and 5.01. Why should the Rays believe he can be any better now? Doesn’t he have nowhere to go but down at this point?
There was a point in time when Erik Bedard had a chance to be one of the best pitchers in baseball, a multiple-time All-Star who opposing teams would covet to no end. That opportunity has passed him by–in fact, he was not an All-Star a single time. Another source of ignominy for Bedard: not a single team he has played for has made the postseason. He was acquired for the stretch run by the Boston Red Sox in 2011, but that was the year that Boston’s historic collapse brought the Rays to an improbable postseason berth. His 2012 Pirates got off to a great start, but it was not until the following year that they finally broke their playoff drought. So what can Bedard brag about at this point? What is he going to tell his grandkids in thirty or forty years? He will find the positives, the few moments he can talk about for hours on end, but he needs something more, and this stint with the Rays can be it. Bedard can be anything remotely resembling the pitcher he once was for a few starts and lead the Rays to a few wins, suddenly he can be part of a contender and just maybe keep his career going. His motivation is through the roof, and for the first time in far too long, Bedard is being handed the ball with his team telling him that they need him. Can Erik Bedard show the Rays and show himself that he is capable of one more stretch of greatness?