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Bedard no stranger to overcoming obstacles

Feeling great after shoulder surgeries, veteran lefty out to join Rays' rotation

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The path to success keeps getting longer and harder for Erik Bedard, but he's doggedly staying on it as long as he can. Bedard, in camp with the Rays, is attempting to overcome a litany of shoulder injuries and reestablish himself as a starting pitcher.

It all seemed so simple back in 2006, when the left-hander made 33 starts and logged a 15-win season for an Orioles team that lost 92 games. The last eight years have been taxing, though, teaching Bedard more than anyone should have to know about persistence and dedication to one's craft.

Bedard, speaking before Tampa Bay's 6-2 loss to Boston on Monday, expressed optimism for the way Spring Training has gone and confidence in his ability to get outs at the big league level. The 35-year-old gave up three runs against the Red Sox, but he knows there's still a long way to go.

"I think you do probably take it for granted when you have success," he said. "If I hadn't gotten hurt, maybe it would've been different. But after three shoulder surgeries, it's hard to be the same as I was. But I still throw pretty close in terms of velocity. Last year, I was between 89-93 [mph], which isn't bad for a lefty. And I can still pitch. I have confidence in myself and I still have some decent pitching to do."

Bedard threw 62 pitches in his three-inning relief stint, and manager Joe Maddon felt the need to ask him if he felt healthy after he exited the game. But it wasn't anything physical, he said. Bedard is just going through the rigors of Spring Training and wasn't sharp in his latest outing.

There was a time -- perhaps seven or eight years ago -- that a poor spring start would've been no cause for concern. Bedard was one of the top pitchers in the American League in both 2006 and '07 with the Orioles, and Seattle made him the focus of a blockbuster trade before the '08 campaign.

And that's when adversity set in. Bedard made just 15 starts in '08 for the Mariners due to an assortment of injuries, and he made another 15 starts in '09 before his shoulder gave out.

The southpaw had the most dreaded surgery for a pitcher -- an operation to repair the labrum in his pitching shoulder -- and he wound up needing more than one to repair the injury. Bedard didn't pitch in the big leagues in '10, but he came back to have a successful year for Seattle and Boston the following season.

"It's real frustrating. You get one, and then you think you're going to be fine after that," said Bedard of his first shoulder surgery. "You get another one and you still think you're going to be fine after that. And then you get another one. Right now, I feel great. It took a year or two to get my arm not to hurt, but I feel great now. I know I've got a couple years left in me and want to do the best I can with it."

Bedard, one of at least four candidates for Tampa Bay's fifth rotation slot, said that the game is still fun for him despite all the pain and frustration. And while he does a little more maintenance work on his shoulder than he did in his prime, he said that it's generally a good idea to exercise caution.

He doesn't want to work the shoulder too much and leave it fatigued for when he actually pitches, and he doesn't want to do nothing and wind up hurt again. The Rays, meanwhile, are still trying to figure out what he can do, and they're willing to overlook a rough beginning to Spring Training.

"The velocity is a little bit different," said Maddon before the game. "He's trying to come up with a changeup and it's coming along. I love his curveball. ... I think his curveball plays at any time, and I think during the season, command of the curveball will be a big issue. His confidence to throw it when he's behind in the count. When he's able to do that, he's really difficult to hit. We'll see how it plays out. But I think he has the savvy. And he still has the stuff to pitch. He's definitely got the demeanor."

Bedard, meanwhile, just keeps on trucking. The Navan, Ontario, Canada, native made 24 starts for the Pirates in '11, and he stuck with the Astros for 32 appearances last season. Twenty-six of those games were starts, and Bedard's 151 innings marked the most he had thrown since the '07 campaign.

The best part? Bedard overcame a pool of five or six other candidates to stick with the Astros last season, an achievement that gives him confidence that he can do it again for Tampa Bay.

The early part of spring has been devoted to working on his changeup and getting to know his new teammates, but Bedard is sure of one thing. He's known what it's like to be part of competitive teams and last-place teams, and he's willing to do whatever it takes to be on a contender again.

"Obviously, it's better to be in a winning environment. Houston was more of a building environment," he said. "You just concentrate on your starts as opposed to everything else. We had a good group of guys, and it was fun even though we lost. But you do the best you can with what you've got."

Spencer Fordin is a reporter for

Tampa Bay Rays, Erik Bedard