I placed a call to pitcher Brad Bergesen shortly before 9 p.m. last night, which he returned about 20 minutes later. We had a nice chat, though I kept it brief. The poor kid will be dealing with the media on a daily basis beginning next week, so I try not to intrude much during the winter months.
I wanted to check on his health, and whether the rumors were true that he sustained an injury while shooting a commercial two months ago. I heard some whispers, and they grew loud enough yesterday that I finally reached for my phone and dialed his number.
It had pretty much been confirmed, but I needed to hear it from Bergesen. I obviously caught him off guard, and he issued a friendly denial that wasn't convincing.
It was understandable, given the delicacy of his situation. This isn't an injury that teams normally reveal to the media, though we certainly would have found out once he reported to camp and began working on a separate schedule than the other pitchers.
Bergesen called me back a few hours later, after I turned off my laptop and headed upstairs. He kept apologizing for not coming clean earlier, but he wasn't sure how to respond to my questions and decided to play it safe until checking with someone in the organization. I tried to ease his mind by telling him that I completely understood, and that I appreciated how he got back to me. It tells me a lot about his character - not that I needed further proof.
At that point, Bergesen had been receiving multiple calls about his health issue and knew that it needed to be addressed. He's convinced that he'll be ready for Opening Day, and that the exercises and throwing program already have brought positive results. If he's worried, it isn't showing.
We can add Bergesen to the short list of interesting storylines in spring training. We'll keep a close watch on him and try to determine whether he'll be part of the starting five on April 6.
Kevin Millwood is the No. 1, but it's possible that Bergesen would have been slotted second if manager Dave Trembley decided to separate Millwood and Jeremy Guthrie. Bergesen has spent more time in the majors than Brian Matusz and Chris Tillman. He was turning in an excellent rookie season before Billy Butler's line drive slammed off his left shin. It wouldn't have been a big reach to give him the ball on April 7.
I suggested to a friend and fellow scribe that Bergesen could be slotted fifth and skipped the first week if he needed a little more time, but that won't work. It was pointed out to me that the Orioles will play 16 straight games before their first open date on the schedule, which is highly unusual.
So much for that idea.
Assuming that president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail doesn't bring in another pitcher - he only made a strong push for Erik Bedard, who wouldn't have been much help anyway - Bergesen's absence could open the door for David Hernandez or Jason Berken. It's also conceivable that someone like Jake Arrieta steps up and seizes the opportunity.
Another possibility, of course, is that Bergesen will be fine and we can eventually put this storyline to bed, but it's an unwanted distraction and concern. It also makes you wonder if pitchers should be off-limits to December commercial shoots, no matter how much they warm up before the cameras roll. That's especially true with Bergesen, who hadn't stepped on a mound in four months.
He accepts much of the blame for getting "caught up in the moment," as he put it. That, too, is understandable, since Bergesen knows his body better than anyone and makes his living with that right arm. He's old enough to speak up and save himself.
Here's the commercial, which was shot at Camden Yards: