PEORIA, Ariz. – In the seclusion of a morning B game, Travis Blackley felt more pressure Friday than his major league debut.
Since the last time he’d pitched in a game, late in the 2004 season, Blackley had undergone surgery on his left shoulder and put himself through more than a year of recovery. When he took the mound Friday, the anxiety hit him.
“There were more nerves than the first time I pitched in Safeco Field,” Blackley said. “I wasn’t sure how the arm would be. I’d heard so many stories about people coming back and their arms blowing out their first time out.”
His worries lasted as long as it took him to warm up. Blackley shook off the rustiness and pitched a 1-2-3 fifth inning.
“It was nerve-wracking a little bit, but once I went through the warmup and was able to pitch, it all went away,” he said. “I didn’t worry so much about the outcome, I just worried about making each pitch.”
Blackley, 23, became one of the Mariners’ brightest pitching prospects the moment the club signed him out of high school in Australia in 2000. He went 6-1 with a 3.32 ERA with the Everett AquaSox in 2001, then 17-3, 2.61 at Class AA San Antonio in 2003, when he won more games than any Texas League pitcher in 25 years.
He had pitched well in 2004 at Class AAA Tacoma, going 7-2, 2.63 in 14 games before the Mariners called him up. He beat the Texas Rangers in his major league debut on July 1, 2004, but never found success again.
Blackley lost three of his next five decisions and, in one, walked nine in four innings against Oakland on July 26. The Mariners optioned him back to Tacoma on Aug. 1, and his season ended a short time later because of tendinitis in his left shoulder.
The shoulder kept barking the next year at spring training, and Blackley had surgery on Feb. 8, 2005, to repair two tears in the labrum. He has been rehabbing ever since.
“I definitely wouldn’t want to go through it again,” Blackley said. “I never had any real setbacks and it wasn’t grueling by any means. It just got boring. I couldn’t watch a whole baseball game on TV. I’d have to turn it off after a couple of innings. But I’m itching to play now.”
Blackley hasn’t been told where he’ll start this season – either at San Antonio or Tacoma, he guesses – and he doesn’t really care.
“It doesn’t worry me too much,” he said. “I just want to get back out there and pitch.”
Pineiro solid: Right-hander Joel Pineiro held the Padres to one hit in three innings in the Mariners’ 3-1 B-game victory, his final outing before he pitches for Puerto Rico next week in the World Baseball Classic.
Pineiro allowed one baserunner – Walter Young on a leadoff single in the second inning – and finished his 33-pitch effort with one strikeout. He threw another 10 pitches in the bullpen in order to increase his pitch count for the WBC.
“We wanted to get him up to 45 or 50, so they finished it off in the bullpen,” manager Mike Hargrove said. “He’s fine. His velocity was good, he had a good breaking ball and he was aggressive.”
Pineiro will start Wednesday against The Netherlands in Puerto Rico’s second game of the tournament.
“It’s going to be a good thing for baseball,” he said. “It’s going to be a group of guys getting together for the first time having some fun, but doing the right things to show their country what they can do.”
Eddie unsteady: Closer Eddie Guardado is no fan of pitching in spring training games, and his first one was a struggle Friday. Guardado gave up two hits, including a home run by Ryan Klesko, in one inning of the B game.
“I’m figuring out where I am, what it is I need to work on,” Guardado said. “I wasn’t finishing my pitches, so I was bouncing the slider. I threw a batting practice fastball to Klesko to see if I could fool him and he hit it out.”
It was a performance that sent Guardado gladly back to the bullpen for work. He prefers it that way.
“I don’t watch batters when I face them anyway,” he said. “I strictly look at how I’m feeling, what my pitch is doing, how my mechanics are. I can do that in the bullpen.”
Of note: Hargrove on the sloppy 15-8 loss to the Cubs, when the Mariners pitched and hit poorly with runners on base: “I hate sitting there watching this thing. I tried to get the umpire to throw me out a couple of times and he wouldn’t do it. It was an ugly game, but you’re getting people’s feet wet after being off since October.” … The Mariners will put single-game tickets on sale at 10 a.m. today at the Safeco Field box office and the Mariners team stores, including the outlet at the Alderwood Mall. Tickets also will be available online at www.seattlemariners.com or at Ticketmaster centers. … Catcher Kenji Johjima got the day off Friday but will catch today against the Padres. Jeff Clement caught the morning B game Friday and Rene Rivera started the afternoon A game against the Cubs.