Talk Is Cheap for O's Bedard, Pitching Isn't

Erik Bedard
Erik Bedard was more impressive than any other Orioles pitcher at camp this spring, finishing 2-1 with 24 strikeouts and six walks in 23 innings. (Charlie Riedel - AP)
By Jorge Arangure Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 2, 2007

MINNEAPOLIS, April 1 -- One day last month, as Erik Bedard leaned on a chain link fence in the corridor that leads to the Fort Lauderdale Stadium clubhouse, watching his Baltimore Orioles play a spring training game, he was approached by a friend of his father's. The man was in Florida on vacation and asked about Bedard's father, who was scheduled to arrive there a day later.

Bedard spoke politely with the man, then after the conversation ended, Bedard began to chat with several reporters standing nearby. The normally reticent pitcher -- who opens the season Monday here against the Minnesota Twins -- talked openly, revealing personal tidbits such as his favorite road stadium in which to pitch: Fenway Park.

Bedard's charming personality and sense of humor, once rarely seen, are becoming more visible -- as is his domination of the opposition, which led him to a 1.96 ERA this spring and a chance to be the Opening Day starter for the first time in his career. Bedard, 28, is pitching like an ace and starting to learn how to deal with the attention that goes along with that role. Only when notepads and tape recorders are in his face does he freeze up.

"If I give up a bunch of runs entering the season, then it will be like, 'Oh, God.' I know exactly what you guys are going to do," Bedard said when asked why he wasn't more positive about his spring starts. "That's why I say nothing, so you guys can't write anything."

Silent or not, no pitcher in Orioles camp was as impressive as Bedard, who was 2-1 with 24 strikeouts and six walks in 23 innings this spring.

"Coming on from last year he could have come a little bit erratic," Orioles Manager Sam Perlozzo said. "Not one time did I see him falter, he just pitched professionally and went about his job professionally."

Bedard showed a mastery of the strike zone that had once been rare for him. Had he enough innings to qualify, Bedard would have led the majors in 2004 with 19.4 pitches thrown per inning. Last year, Bedard lowered that number to 16.8. This spring he's been even more efficient. In one start against the Boston Red Sox, Bedard had an 0-2 count on five of the first seven batters he faced.

"I'm throwing strikes and getting ahead early, that's the biggest thing," Bedard said. "I'm just trying to get them out early instead of trying to throw a lot of pitches."

There was no sense of worry when Bedard allowed eight hits and three runs in four innings in his final start of the spring last week against the St. Louis Cardinals.

"I could have gave up a lot more runs, but I got out of it," Bedard said. "I made some good pitches when I needed to."

Bedard allowed a booming two-run home run to Cardinals minor leaguer Tagg Bozied and struggled to find the strike zone. Yet his spring domination earned him a mulligan.

"I don't think we need to worry about him," Perlozzo said with a grin after the game. "He had a great spring. It was a little tune-up at the end. You can't ask for much more from him."

Bedard, not satisfied with his performance, declined a television interview. Bedard occasionally will delay his availability or pout to discourage reporters. When he was named the Opening Day starter, Bedard played cards for almost an hour just to keep reporters waiting for an interview.

But should he continue to pitch as well as he did this spring, Bedard won't be able to deflect attention much longer.

"I haven't changed anything," Bedard boasted about his routine. "Same program, it's worked up to now so I'm not going to change it."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company