By TODD MILLES
PEORIA, Ariz. – At this point, pitcher Scott Baker would like to deliver his own stern, sharp elbow to Tommy John recovery, just to speed it up.
Just to return to full normality.
Baker, who signed a one-year deal with the Seattle Mariners in January, continued his bid to make the major-league rotation by throwing 75 pitches in a minor league game against Milwaukee at the Peoria Sports Complex on Sunday.
Struggling early with fastball command, Baker showed better feel with his off-speed stuff in 42/3 innings, giving up a pair of earned runs on five hits, striking out four and walking two batters.
“There were a couple of things I wanted to accomplish as far as making better two-strike pitches. For the most part, I did that,” Baker said. “Obviously in those minor-league games, guys are really aggressive. I feel like only the balls they really hit were kind of get-me-over pitches, which in hindsight, you regret throwing.
“For the most part, I felt like everything was crisp. Obviously the first inning was a little jumpy, but I settled down.”
Baker threw 23 pitches in the first inning, leaving many fastballs up in the zone. He surrendered a two-out, RBI single to Jeremy Hermida, the former outfielder in the Miami organization who is now with his seventh team.
After that Hermida hit, Baker bounced back to strike out Khris Davis to end the inning.
“We all have these kinds of things we have to be aware of, and for me it is really to stay tall and stay back,” Baker said. “I was collapsing and getting out front a little bit too much.”
Baker gave up a double to Hector Gomez to opening the third inning. Gomez eventually scored on Hunter Morris’ sacrifice fly to center field.
Baker’s best inning was in the fourth inning – 11 pitches, eight for strikes. He struck out Hermida on an off-speed pitch for the first out, then got two groundouts to end in the inning.
The Louisiana native was lifted with two outs in the fifth inning after Gomez double into the right-field corner. Of his 75 pitches, 47 were for strikes. He touched 88-89 mph on his fastball.
“I felt like I could have gone more. I felt really good,” Baker said. “Obviously I would have liked to get that last guy out – I had him two strikes and sneak a fastball by him, and he ran into it. For the most part, I felt really good – felt strong.”
Baker won 63 games in 10 seasons with Minnesota. During a five-year stretch from 2007-11, he averaged nearly 165 innings in the Twins’ rotation. His best season came in 2009 when he was 15-9 with a 4.37 earned-run average.
Does the 32-year-old feel he can return to that type of workload – that type of reliability – for the Mariners two years removed from Tommy John surgery to repair the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) in his right elbow?
“I think so. I don’t want to say I am not a believer in limiting innings. An inning is not an inning is not an inning – there are very stressful innings sometimes. Sometimes there are real easy innings,” Baker said. “I think it is a judgment call, but I feel as normal as I have been in a long time. I don’t see why not.”