FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla., Feb. 27 -- The stands at Fort Lauderdale Stadium mostly were empty, save for a few die-hard fans and some octogenarians with nothing better to do on a muggy Tuesday afternoon, when left-handed pitcher John Parrish took the mound for the Baltimore Orioles in an intrasquad scrimmage. To calm his nerves, Parrish began to breathe rhythmically, one breath in, another out.
Prior to a debilitating elbow injury that wiped out half of his 2005 season and all of last year, Parrish often pitched as if he were in a race. But in a torturously long rehabilitation stint at the team's minor league complex in Sarasota, Fla., Parrish had no choice but to take things slowly. While he couldn't pitch, Parrish learned to breathe.
"I basically found out that I wasn't breathing out there," Parrish said. "I'd go into the game and not breathe in between pitches and try to get through the inning as fast as possible instead of having a longer one."
The rhythmic breathing helped Parrish relax just moments before his outing on Tuesday. One breath in, another out. Once on the mound, Parrish slowly worked through his windup, looked toward home plate and then delivered a pitch that popped in the catcher's mitt.
Tuesday marked the first time since 2005 that Parrish has pitched in front of the Orioles' major league coaching staff, and only the second time he has faced live batters (the first was a one-inning stint in Sarasota in an instructional league game). Parrish's final tally: one inning, one strikeout and one bloop hit.
"Still a little nervous and anxious to get out there," Parrish said. "I made sure I gathered myself before I went out there and pitched. I took my time in between pitches and I made sure I gathered myself before I made my next pitch."
At one time, Parrish was highly regarded by the Orioles' front office. Dave Ritterpusch, formerly the team's director of baseball information, considered Parrish a better closer candidate than B.J. Ryan. Parrish never performed consistently -- he had a 4.31 ERA in 177 1/3 innings with the Orioles -- but his new approach Tuesday got his manager's attention.
"I think he was more under control than we've seen in the past," Orioles Manager Sam Perlozzo said. "We've seen him real hyper, wild and firing the ball all over the place. I think he's got himself to a point where he's pretty much under control and pitching now, as opposed to throwing. We just need him to stay healthy. He can help us."
For almost two excruciating years, Parrish spent most of his time in Sarasota on his rehabilitation. At one point it was just Parrish, Kurt Birkins (rehabbing his left elbow) and Aaron Rakers (rehabbing his right shoulder) at the team's complex.
"All of us were itching to get out of there," Birkins said.
Perhaps none more so than Parrish. He underwent elbow ligament replacement surgery in July 2005, then last April had surgery again to remove scar tissue from the same elbow. A month later, Parrish had a third surgery on the elbow to remove bone spurs. He has not thrown an inning in a game that counts in the standings since early July 2005.
"It's tough watching and not being able to be competitive in really anything," Parrish said. "Everything I do really revolves around throwing with my left hand, even off the field. I bowl, I fish. I had to learn how to fish left-handed."
Mostly, though, Parrish said, he learned how to pitch.
"Really watching a lot of games out there and watching how guys control themselves, I used to be too aggressive, too fast," he said. "I don't need to do all that. I just need to take my time and make good pitches."