PEORIA, AZ The Seattle pitchers will throw in earnest Monday for the first time since last season as the Mariners are one of the nine Major League teams that will use Valentines Day as a springboard for spring training 2011.
David Aardsma, the teams closer the last two years, will be watching from the sidelines, unable to walk properly, much less throw.
“Thats going to be tough, watching everybody else, Aardsma said Sunday morning in the Mariners camp. “Theres nothing Id like more than to be able to be with them.
Aardsma is coming off hip surgery and is using crutches to get around as he works to recover from the Jan. 3 surgery that has his status for the 2011 season up in the air.
On the one hand, his doctors told the Mariners Aardsma should be ready to go by the second week of the season. On the other hand, Aardsma is going to need to remain dependent on crutches to a diminishing degree through the end of February. Can he go from crutch-reliant hopeful to flame-throwing closer in five weeks?
“Im going to be the softest thrower in the bullpen, Aardsma said with a laugh, “at least to start.
In the last few days hes talked with club officials including manager Eric Wedge and general manager Jack Zduriencik. Hes come away reassured that the Mariners arent locked in to the second week of April return.
“What they are saying is that my body will tell me when Im ready to throw, Aardsma said. “Im not going to rush it. I want to pitch for another 10 or 15 years. And I know I wont be doing myself or the team any good by rushing back.
“Ive been around long enough to know that it doesnt make sense in the long run to push it faster than your body is willing. So I wont. If that means I’m not back until May, I can live with that.
Aardsmas absence will have the Mariners scrambling for a closer to start the season, and much of Seattles spring will be devoted to finding the guy who will be filling that role.
It could be Brandon League, who was 6-for-12 in save tries last year when Aardsma wasnt available. It could be minor league invitee Chris Ray, who has 51 big league saves, 49 of them in 2006-07 with the Orioles before injuries took him off the fast track. Or it could be someone else.
“We have plenty of guys here who can do that job, Aardsma said with typical spring training optimism. “When I come back, I dont expect to have the job handed to me. When I come back, I want to earn it.
Pitching coach Carl Willis said that while “we are optimistic that David will be back sometime in April, the club has to be realistic as well.
“Eric (Wedge) and I have to plan for what might be, Willis said. “League and Ray both have some time at the back end of games. (Manny) Delcarmen has pitched toward the end, too. We have options.
John Hickey is also Senior MLB Writer for AOL FanHouse (www.fanhouse.com)