Can Erik Bedard Continue Being Dependable for the Tampa Bay Rays?

By Thomas Swan

For the second start in a row, Erik Bedard pitched a very good game, this time against the New York Yankees. He had to because he was still living on borrowed time. Going in the game against the Yankees, Bedard had not won a start since June 26, 2013. That he was still in the Rays’ starting rotation at that point tells you everything you need to know about the management’s feelings about the readiness of their Triple-A starters. However, the lefty battled and came through with his second strong start in a row. In those starts, Bedard has allowed just 2 runs in 11 total innings, good for a 1.64 ERA. Are these two starts just an anomaly or is Erik Bedard really finding himself?

It has been a long time since Erik Bedard has found consistency. He used to be a much sought after pitcher, and from 2006-2007 he posted a solid 28-16 record and 3.47 ERA for the Baltimore Orioles, striking out 393 batters in 378.1 innings. Then, he was traded to Seattle and the bottom fell out. He did manage a strong 3.31 ERA for the team, but he never reached even 100 innings in any of his four years with them before they traded him to the Boston Red Sox in 2011. In the last two years, Bedard has stayed on the mound, but his effectiveness waned as he managed just a 4.78 ERA in 276.2 innings pitched, including 4.3 walks per 9 innings. Do these last two starts provide any evidence that Bedard has put those struggles behind him?

The answer is a mixed bag. Yes, Bedard was good last time out against the Yankees, giving up just one run on six hits. But even so only struck out three and didn’t fool hitters much if at all. From 2004 to 2013, Bedard never struck out fewer than 7.9 batters per 9 innings. Thus far in 2014, he has struck out just 5.7 per 9. His fastball velocity has lost a few ticks and his curveball simply does not have his same bite. Bedard has succeeded nevertheless by keeping his pitch count down and going right at the hitters. Instead of overpowering the opposition like he used to, he is forcing weak contact and taking advantage of a good Rays’ defense. More encouraging than anything for Bedard is that he is becoming more efficient with his pitches and attacking the strike zone better. Last start, he threw 85 pitches in six plus innings. In his other three starts, Bedard threw 73 pitches in 3.2 innings against the Yankees, 90 in 4 innings versus Minnesota, and 104 in 5.0 versus Boston. He has thrown less pitches per inning in his last three outings and is finally starting to look comfortable as a Rays starter. With his stuff not what it used to be, we have to wonder whether Bedard can keep this up. At this point, though, he is making the most with what he has and his prospects are looking as bright for him as they have in years.

Whatever the case, the Rays need Bedard to settle in and continue this upwards trend, especially if Jake Odorizzi cannot right himself. Going into this season, no Rays fan or pundit could have foreseen the importance Erik Bedard would play for a team that entered the year with one of the best starting staffs in baseball. Injuries and the struggles of Odorizzi and Chris Archer have thrust Bedard into a very important position, and they need him to continue taking advantage. If he wants to continue his career as a Ray–and probably as a major league pitcher–after Alex Cobb and Jeremy Hellickson return, Bedard needs to keep being Mr. Dependable.