On-the-mend Feierabend progressing
Lefty slated for action in Sunday's Cactus League game
PEORIA, Ariz. -- It has been so long since Mariners left-hander Ryan Feierabend faced a batter from another team that he can't remember when it was, where it was, not even who he faced.But he does know it happened about 18 months ago. "The last game I remember pitching was against the Yankees," the 24-year-old said Wednesday at the Peoria Sports Complex. "It was one of the best games I pitched all year." He held the Yankees to two runs over seven innings for his only win of the season with the Mariners and ended a personal seven-game big league losing streak. The date: Sept. 7, 2008. He made three more starts and got roughed up each time, and as the runs allowed increased, so did the pain in his left elbow. Then came another date: March 4, 2009. That was the day Feierabend underwent Tommy John surgery, the now-common remedy for damaged elbows. The recovery process usually takes about a year and Feierabend is right on schedule to make his first appearance in a "real" game situation since starting against the Angels at Safeco Field on Sept. 27, 2008. He is penciled in to pitch the third and fourth innings of Sunday's Cactus League game against the Padres at Peoria Stadium. "I'll be anxious and nervous," he said. "Heck, I was pretty anxious and nervous just facing our own team [during Tuesday's intrasquad game]. Guys were trying to get me relaxed, but it had been so long since I faced competitive hitting."
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Feierabend took a deep breath and tossed a scoreless inning. He faced three batters, surrendered a single and promptly picked the runner off first base."I think just getting in the intrasquad game was big for him," pitching coach Rick Adair said Wednesday. "Ryan has worked extremely hard and we've made some mechanical changes that have helped. "I thought his composure and tempo were good, he wasn't favoring anything, and he came in today feeling pretty good. Health is the issue." Not a problem so far. "Knock on wood, this is the best I have felt in two years," Feierabend said. "Rick said I would throw a bullpen [Thursday] and see how I felt. I told him I would be ready to go on Sunday." The Mariners' third-round Draft choice in 2003 needed fewer than four Minor League seasons to reach the Majors, jumping from Double-A San Antonio to Seattle in 2006. Two of his four starts with the big league club were in starting roles and he had a 3.71 ERA in 17 1/3 innings. He split the following season between Tacoma (6-4, 3.99) and Seattle (1-6, 8.03), then started the '08 season with the Rainiers, won seven of his first eight decisions, was on the 15-day disabled list from May 17-July 24 with elbow tendinitis and spent the remainder of the season worried more about his elbow than his performance on the mound. "My head just wasn't where it should have been," he said. "It's hard to compete when you have it in your mind that this is going to be "the pitch" [that causes a major injury]." The initial diagnosis, elbow tendinitis, was confirmed by two other physicians and all three recommended rest and rehab. An MRI revealed a partial ligament tear, but surgery was not recommended. "I tried the rehab thing and reported to camp, ready to go," he recalled. "About 20 pitches into my first bullpen, I threw a slider and felt a 'pop' in my elbow. I stopped right there, and I was asked by our former pitch coordinator Dave Wallace, if I was stopping because the pitch was so bad or was I stopping because of my elbow. "It was a pretty bad pitch, but I told him it was my elbow. The pain was pretty excruciating. I didn't drop to my knees or anything like that," he added, "but it definitely was a lot worse than anything I felt before then." The ligament was torn, prompting surgery. It went smoothly, though Feireabend said he doesn't remember much about it. "I remember waking up and being told I had to eat something. So my wife went to Subway and got me a six-inch Italian BMT." He returned to Arizona a couple of days later to begin the rehab process. The hard cast on his arm was removed -- prematurely as he found out later -- and the tedious step-by-step recovery progressed during hot summer days in Arizona. "The first time I saw Dr. [Frank] Jobe he told me he likes to keep the cast on for 10 days," Feierabend said, "and I didn't know that. I took mine off after three days. Fortunately no repercussions came out of that." The range of motion in his elbow improved quickly, he started playing loss toss, eventually reaching 150 feet, and on Nov. 9, Feierabend stepped on a mound to throw a pitch for the first time in almost a year. "I have been throwing off a mound ever since and I feel great," he said. Adair said that the only "limitation" on Feierabend this spring and into the regular season is the amount of innings he pitches. The organization plans to monitor his workload throughout the season, most of which will be spent in the Minors, probably with Tacoma. Asked about his expectations for Sunday, Feierabend said: "Go out and throw strikes, basically, and don't give up a home run on my first pitch."
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.