Erik Bedard is excited about the prospect of helping the Tampa Bay Rays get back to the playoffs.
The 34-year-old left-hander signed a minor league contract on the eve of the start of spring training and is being given an opportunity to compete for a job as the team's No. 5 starter.
Bedard struggled the past two seasons, going 11-26 with a combined 4.78 ERA for the Pittsburgh Pirates and Houston Astros. The Rays will decide over the next few weeks if he's capable of filling in for the injured Jeremy Hellickson, who's expected to miss the first six to eight weeks of the season after undergoing elbow surgery.
Bedard, who turns 35 on March 5, was 4-12 with a 4.59 ERA in 32 games, including 26 starts, for the Astros in 2013. Two years ago, he went 7-14 with a career-worst 5.01 ERA in 24 starts for the Pirates.
''You look at his numbers last year, and obviously the won-loss record wasn't the greatest, but he did a lot of things well and pitched better than those numbers indicated,'' said manager Joe Maddon, who remembers how effective Bedard pitched early in his career with AL East rival Baltimore.
''You'd like to think that putting him in front of our defense is going to make (his numbers) even better. ... He could be better than a .500 pitcher,'' Maddon said, adding that one of the keys to Bedard's success with the Orioles was ''he was able to throw something other than a fastball in a fastball count for a strike. He was uncanny at that. That's why I thought he really ruled when he was with Baltimore.''
Bedard was 40-34 in five years with the Orioles. He won 15 games in 2006 and was just as impressive the following year, when he was 13-5 with a 3.16 ERA in 28 starts.
Injuries curtailed his production following a trade to Seattle in 2008, and Bedard is happy to have an opportunity to get his career back on track with a contender.
The Rays have made the playoffs four of the past six seasons.
''They're a winning organization. They've been consistent the last five, six years, and everybody wants to be a part of that. I've always heard good things from other players that it's fun to be here, relaxed, and you just play ball,'' Bedard said after throwing a batting practice session.
The lefty isn't making any predictions about the competition for the fifth starter's spot. Among the others in the running are right-handers Jake Odorizzi and Alex Colome.
If Bedard doesn't win the job, he conceivably could wind up in the bullpen.
''You're just trying to throw strikes, get your arm in shape for games and go from there,'' Bedard said. ''It's a process. You don't try to make the team in BP. ... I'm throwing strikes. That's the main thing. Not everything is sharp right now, but it'll get there and I'll get better.''
Maddon likes what he's seen from the veteran of 10 seasons - on and off the field.
''I never knew, but he's kind of gregarious. The guy is affable. He talks. He's funny. You never got that watching from a distance,'' the manager said. ''I like his personality. I think he fits in well here.''
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