Chad Cordero can't wait to get to work for Mariners
Former All-Star closer is making progress after shoulder surgery but still won't be ready to pitch until May or June.
Seattle Times baseball reporter
PEORIA, Ariz. — For Chad Cordero, the diagnosis of a torn labrum last June — the dirtiest words in a pitcher's lexicon — almost came as a relief.
At least he had an explanation for his baffling, maddening, embarrassing decline in velocity — up to 10 mph, and sometimes worse than that.
Never a speedballer even in the best of times — and that included a stint as one of the game's top closers, with a National League-leading 47 saves for the Washington Nationals in 2005 — Cordero was getting down to Jamie Moyer territory last season.
"It was weird, because I never felt any pain," Cordero said Friday after slipping on a Mariners T-shirt for the first time. "It sucked basically, not knowing what was going on with the shoulder."
In one game against the Mets, Cordero couldn't muscle up anything over 78 mph, yet still got the side out in order.
"I was going, 'Holy cow, what's going on in there?' " he said. "Once I found out, it was a big sigh of relief. It [the decline in velocity] was because I was hurt."
Major reconstructive surgery followed on July 8, and now the Mariners hope they will eventually reap the benefits of a reborn Cordero.
If you're wondering if they envision him, in the best-case scenario, as their closer of the future — perhaps even the relatively near future — the answer is yes.
The M's signed him to a minor-league deal Thursday, and Cordero immediately hopped into his car and made the five-hour drive from Southern California to Peoria.
"I'm excited," he said. "The whole drive over here, I couldn't wait. I called John Wetteland [his Nationals bullpen coach in 2006, and the Mariners' new bullpen coach] right away. He sounded pretty excited.
"I've been watching all the spring-training games on TV. It's hard to sit back on the couch and watch everybody."
Cordero said his rehabilitation is going knock-on-wood smoothly — no arm pain at all during the three-times-a-week bullpen sessions he's been having in Southern California since early February. He's up to 80 mph — about 10 behind where he wants to get, but ahead of that Mets game.
Mariners scout Duane Shaffer observed most of the sessions, and liked what he saw enough to recommend Cordero, who became a free agent in October when the Nationals took him off their 40-man roster.
The Rangers offered more money, but the Mariners offered a West Coast location, Wetteland, and the possibility of becoming their closer.
Not that Cordero is presumptuous enough to think that far ahead. Not with many more weeks of long-tossing and bullpen sessions ahead before he can even test his arm in a game, most likely at extended spring training after the Mariners break camp.
"Coming off shoulder surgery, I don't expect to be in the role I'm used to," he said. "I have to go out there and prove I'm healthy, whether when I come up they want me to pitch in the sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth."
Cordero's realistic goal is to be ready to pitch by mid-May or early June ("or maybe even earlier than that."). But the Mariners know it's not a lock — shoulder surgeries have a long, sordid history of bringing down pitchers.
"This guy's been proven and an All-Star, 47 saves," Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu said. "All the indications are that he should be able to get back to that. That's what's exciting.
"You always want to be able to add depth, and somebody of that caliber, you look forward to it. But obviously there's a need where we're at right now, and depth is probably the biggest word for us."
Meanwhile, Cordero can't believe how good he feels, particularly after hearing shoulder-surgery horror stories from his former teammate, Ryan Wagner.
"They said it's normally about nine to 10 months before you start to throw full speed again. Right now, I'm at the eight-month mark," he said. "They said it could be sooner because of the way my arm has been reacting. There haven't been any setbacks. I haven't had any pain since the surgery. They gave me painkillers, I didn't even have to use them after the surgery. I've been very lucky so far."
At the same time, Cordero knows he can't rush it, as much as he is hungering to get back on the mound.
"If I go too hard, my career can be over," he said. "I can blow it out again, and I may never pitch again. I always have to think about that, knowing I want to pitch another 10, 11, 12 years. I'm 26, and I want to pitch until I'm 35, 36.
"That's really what I think about. If I go too fast, I'm going to blow it out again. I really don't want to go through that process again. It's not a fun process."
When he was saving 113 games from 2005 to 2007, "He pounded the strike zone. Got ahead early. He made things happen," said Roy Corcoran, a teammate in Montreal and Washington. "He had a deceptive fastball, and he had a lot of grit. He wanted to go out there and get it done."
Cordero still does — and yes, as a closer.
"Yeah, of course, eventually," he said. "This year, I'll do whatever they want me to do. I just want to go out there and pitch. After only throwing in six games last year, I'm antsy to get back out there again."
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or email@example.com
Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company
About Larry Stone
Larry Stone gives an inside look at the national baseball scene every Sunday. Look for his weekly power rankings during the season.