PEORIA, Ariz. – Yes, it’s been a good year for David Aardsma.
It didn’t start off so grand. The former No. 1 draft pick arrived in Seattle’s 2009 camp as a castoff middle reliever, basically given away by the Boston Red Sox in a trade for a Class A pitcher.
Then Brandon Morrow failed in six weeks as Seattle’s closer. Thirty-eight saves in less than a full season later, and this former baseball nomad has found stability, and a home.
He got a huge raise this season, from $419,000 to $2.75 million. He has his first child on the way. And he has one of the most important jobs on a team expecting to be in the playoffs for the first time since 2001.
“I understand I came over here as a nobody. Nobody had any expectations,” Aardsma said. “I’m very fortunate. They gave me a chance.”
He had zero major league saves when new Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik gave him that shot – and a new life.
“Yeah, I’ve got a job. I’ve got a contract. But that doesn’t mean anything now,” said Aardsma, who converted all but four of 42 save opportunities last season, with a career-best 2.52 ERA and 80 strikeouts in 711/3 innings. “I still have to try to get better every day. That hasn’t changed.”
His 38 saves were the third most in Seattle history, and third most by any pitcher who was without a previous career save. Eric Gagne had 52 for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2002, and Derrick Turnbow had 39 for Milwaukee in 2005.
Every team needs an effective closer to contend. The offensively challenged M’s really need one.
Their lineup includes Casey Kotchman, who has never hit more than 12 homers in a season, as a No. 3 hitter. Milton Bradley is the cleanup batter. He’s never hit more than 22 homers in a year.
So Aardsma can expect to enter as many 2-1 and 3-2 games in the ninth inning as he did in 2009.
Seattle was 35-20 in one-run games, a team record for one-run wins. Thanks to Aardsma, the M’s were just five wins short of the A.L. record for most one-run victories in a season, held by the Baltimore Orioles of 1970 and ’74.
Aardsma’s mid-90s velocity hasn’t appeared consistently on his fastballs this spring. His spring numbers aren’t the stuff of a pennant-contending closer: seven earned runs, 10 hits and six walks in 61/3 innings, an 8.53 ERA.
Then again, it’s Arizona. While pitchers try new things, infields are as hard as asphalt and fly balls that don’t sail out through the thin air or behind the desert winds for home runs often get lost by outfielders against the sun and high clouds.
Aardsma was also set back by a strained groin early in camp. He said he’s healed now, thanks in part to the daily stretching and twisting he does on a foam roller in front of his locker.
“I’m very happy with (camp),” he said. “The numbers aren’t great, but it’s not a big deal.”
Aardsma’s last two outings reassured the Mariners. He allowed just one hit and one walk combined in one-inning stints against the Dodgers and Chicago Cubs on Saturday and Sunday, respectively. It was the first time he’d pitched on consecutive days this month.
“He had a better arm angle and more life to his pitches,” manager Don Wakamatsu said. “When everything clicks, you start seeing a jump in his velocity.”
That’s not all that’s jumping for Aardsma these days. His personal life is, too. Wife Andrea is due to deliver a boy on June 20. They already have a name: David.
Little David will enjoy far more stability than dad had from 2005-09. After making San Francisco’s opening-day roster in his second big-league season in 2004, he was traded from San Francisco to the Cubs to the Chicago White Sox to Boston to the M’s during the next four years.
“I’m good right now,” he said of his career – and his life.
He then knocks on the wood siding of his locker. He knows a closer is often only as good as his last blown save.
Some cynics think he got tired late last season. They cite the six runs he gave up over three consecutive outings Sept. 29-Oct. 2.
They forget he had gone 12 consecutive scoreless appearances before that.
“I’m sorry I wasn’t perfect,” he said, sarcastically.
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