By Kirby Arnold Herald Writer
PEORIA, Ariz. — When Ryan Feierabend walked to the pitcher’s mound Tuesday morning, it felt like he had climbed back on top of his world.
Nearly 18 months since he last faced a hitter in a game, Feierabend pitched one inning in the Seattle Mariners’ spring training intrasquad game. For most of the Mariners, it was a low-key tuneup to the month-long exhibition season, a 5½-inning scrimmage in front of a couple hundred spectators.
Not to Feierabend, a left-hander who is coming back from “Tommy John” ligament replacement surgery to his left elbow.
“Honestly, this was like my first time pitching at Safeco Field,” he said. “That might sound weird, but for me having not faced a hitter in 18 months, it just felt so good to get out there, whether it was against my own teammates or whatever. To be able to go out there and throw strikes and be consistent, it was awesome.”
This is an important spring training for Feierabend, who never got a chance to show new manager Don Wakamatsu and pitching coach Rick Adair what he could do last year. In the second bullpen he threw last February, Feierabend’s elbow blew out after he’d spent much of the previous year gritting his teeth and trying to pitch through the pain.
“My initial injury happened in late April of 2008 and I pitched as long as I could with it,” Feierabend.
He spent two months rehabbing in Arizona that summer and, even though the Mariners called him up late in the season, he still wasn’t healthy.
“It was one of those things where they said I needed to try and push through it and it would be better,” Feierabend said. “I did the best I could to get through the year. I didn’t want to have Tommy John. I tried to rehab from November until February, but finally in the bullpen it blew up and a couple of weeks later, Tommy John.”
Tuesday morning, when Chris Woodward stepped into the batter’s box, he became the first hitter to face Feierabend since the Angels’ Garrett Anderson on Sept. 23, 2008.
It was a monumental step in a two-year period of hard work and pain that Feierabend has put himself through to get this far.
“A lot of work and a lot of pain,” he said. “I don’t want to say it was helpful to have it done but it was for me, to see what type of mental capacity I have and how to deal with an injury. I’d never been hurt and never been on the DL in my pro career before last year. It was a good test of my mental state to see where I was at.”
He looked sharp Tuesday, giving up a broken-bat single to Woodward, then getting Eleizer Alfonzo to fly out and Alex Little to strike out looking. And, with Michael Saunders at the plate, Feierabend picked Woodward off first base.
“I’m not going to lie. I did have nerves,” Feierabend said. “It’s been almost 18 months since I’ve been on a mound competitively. But once I threw that first pitch for a strike, I relaxed out there and just pitched. Don’t think, just pitch.”
Too much adrenaline
Tuesday’s intrasquad also provided a comeback moment for right-hander Chad Cordero, who’s trying to make his way back to the big leagues after surgery to repair the labrum in his shoulder in July, 2008.
This one was a struggle, when Cordero walked two, gave up an RBI single to Corey Patterson and took a little skin off Franklin Gutierrez’s knuckles with a wayward fastball.
Cordero pitched late last season for the Class A Everett AquaSox and has felt strong in his bullpen outings in spring training.
“It’s been close to two years since I’ve had a chance to throw in spring training and throw to big-league guys,” he said. “Throwing my bullpen I was perfect. But when I got on the mound I was trying to do way too much. I tried to calm myself down and take deep breaths, but today I was so excited to get back on the mound again.”
Cordero couldn’t harness his fastball, and one he threw to Gutierrez nicked the Mariners’ star center fielder on his right hand. Gutierrez stayed in the game.
“I tried to go up with that pitch and I threw it way too hard. I flew open a little bit and I just let it go,” Cordero said. “I’m glad it didn’t hit him. I held my breath, and then I apologized to him.”
Back on the air
Dave Niehaus, who begins his 34th season today as the Mariners’ play-by-play voice, says the anxious feeling in his stomach is no different now that it was when he first started calling games.
“Tommy Lasorda used to say he’s got a weight problem this time of year,” Niehaus said. “He couldn’t wait to get down here.”
Niehaus and Rick Rizzs will call the first of 22 exhibition games today on ESPN 710 AM radio when the Mariners play the San Francisco Giants at 12:05 p.m. (PST) in Peoria.
“It’s always fun watching the club come together, young players trying to make an impression and veterans trying to hang on,” Rizzs said. “There are always great stories to tell.”
Niehaus calls it the greatest time of the year.
“But,” he added, “it’s also the toughest time of the year.”
It’s spring training for the broadcasters, who must get to know the 63 players in camp and do their best to become familiar with the minor leaguers who’ll appear in the late innings of the exhibition games.
“We’re going to see kids the next 2½-3 weeks that we’re not going to see at any other time of the year,” Niehaus said. “You don’t know a thing about them. It’ll be the same when the Giants, the Padres, whoever, come in.
“There will be two No. 99s in there and you’ll only know who one of them is. And when they do cut the squad and send the kids down, lo and behold they’ll bring them back up and throw them into the game in the seventh inning, and you’re thinking, ‘Where in the hell did he come from?’ ”
Today’s exhibition opener is a Northwest treat with Tim Lincecum, the Cy Young Award winner from the University of Washington, starting for the Giants. Right-hander Doug Fister will start for the Mariners, followed to the mound by right-handers Kanekoa Texeira, Ricky Orta, David Pauley, Mike Koplove and Jesus Colome, and left-hander Chris Seddon. … Most of the Mariners’ regulars will play the first four or five innings today. Gutierrez won’t start because he’s nursing a sore shoulder and catcher Rob Johnson will sit out the first week of games as he’s held back after offseason surgery to both hips. … Felix Hernandez and Cliff Lee both threw in the bullpen Tuesday and will pitch simulated games on Friday. … The “visiting” Mariners won Tuesday’s intrasquad game 2-0 on Paterson’s RBI single in the third inning off Cordero and Ryan Langerhans’ home run in the fourth off Josh Fields. … Dustin Ackley continued to make a nice early impression, going 2-for-2 and making a nice double-play pivot at second base. “Good hitters seem to find a way to get hits, and he got two on some pretty good pitches,” manager Don Wakamatsu said. … Right-hander Michael Pineda, one of the Mariners’ top minor league pitching prospects, made everyone take notice in the final half-inning of the intrasquad game. First, it was with his size _ listed at 6-foot-5 and 243 pounds _ and then with his performance with two ground balls and a strikeout against the three hitters he faced. “He’s one of those guys you want to take with you at the first look,” Wakamatsu said. The chance of that would be slim because Pineda suffered arm problems last year and the team wants to be careful with him. … The Mariners’ foursome of Jason Vargas, Mark Lowe, Shawn Kelley and Sean White shot an 11-under-par 61 and finished second in their annual scrambles golf tournament Tuesday against the Padres. The foursome led b Padres pitcher Jon Garland won with a 61. Lowe won the long-drive contest with a 370-yard poke, and minor league conditioning coordinator James Clifford won the closes-to-the-hole contest with a shot within one foot of the cup.
Read Kirby Arnold’s blog on the Mariners at www.heraldnet.com/marinersblog