PEORIA, Ariz. -- Erik Bedard had the opportunity to sign with other teams for more money, but chose to return to the Mariners this year on a non-guaranteed contract that only kicks in if he makes the club out of Spring Training.
So while the team doesn't have a lot invested in the oft-injured left-hander, Bedard has considerable investment in how things play out in the coming weeks, and he took the first step in that process Monday with his first bullpen session as pitchers and catchers took the field for the first time under new Mariners manager Eric Wedge.
"It's been a long road, and I'm just glad to be healthy and have no pain, just to be here and enjoy baseball," said Bedard, who missed all of last season with a shoulder injury and has had two surgeries since last pitching for the Mariners in 2009.
The Mariners will be cautiously optimistic with Bedard, knowing his history. He's made just 30 starts and thrown 164 innings since being acquired from the Orioles in 2008. But he's also one of the better left-handers in baseball when he is healthy, so the upside remains intriguing for a team that could certainly use a veteran No. 2 starter behind Felix Hernandez.
"We're all rooting for him," Wedge said after watching the 31-year-old throw for the first time. "I saw him about as good as you could see somebody a few years back. He looks good. He was free and easy today. That's the first thing that stuck out to me. He was free and easy and his arm was working well. So that's a good start."
Veteran Josh Bard caught Bedard's bullpen session and came away impressed.
"He's definitely not letting it rip, but nobody that is smart is at this point," Bard said. "The thing I was really encouraged by is he threw some curveballs, and it looked like he had good arm speed. Once you can do that and get a good feel for it, it's just a question of building up your arm strength again and getting the innings and all that stuff. Sometimes it takes two years. I know a lot of guys who have had stuff and fight it for another year and then come back and they're fine.
"Everybody in this clubhouse really cares about Erik," Bard said. "He's a fun-loving guy that is in here and we'd love to have him be able to contribute, because we know what he's capable of. Everybody who has faced him knows how good he can be."
For his part, the man who went 28-16 with an ERA of 3.47 with Baltimore in 2006-07 said he's just hoping to continue being pain-free as he works his way forward. This was the best he's felt since the start of '09.
"Two years ago, I felt really good the first two months of the season," Bedard said. "Then, after that, it went downhill, so hopefully this year is different."
The ensuing months have been difficult for fans as well as the Mariners. It hasn't been a picnic for Bedard either.
"How do I describe it? Wow," he said. "Rollercoaster, I guess. Up and down, feeling good, feeling bad. Sometimes discouraged because you're not making progress or you're not even close to making it back. It's hard to explain, but you have to go through it and it makes you tougher at the end."
The decision to re-sign with Seattle was simple, he said. He had other offers, but simply waited for the Mariners to make their pitch.
"I just like everybody here," said Bedard. "I like the staff, the fans, the city. I feel comfortable here. I just really wanted to come back. There's nowhere else I wanted to go."
Bard, the veteran catcher in his second season with the Mariners, acknowledged the frustration fans feel toward Bedard, but said patience could pay off.
"I know sometimes for the public it's hard when you don't throw for that long, and people start to talk," Bard said. "But Erik has been in there working hard. It's not that he doesn't want to pitch. You just have to do what you can do.
"Today I thought he threw the ball good. Everybody in Seattle can sleep well tonight."