CLEARWATER, Fla. - Jason Berken finally made it back on a mound today, throwing a scoreless sixth inning in his first spring training game. The hamstring injury is in the past. Now he's waiting to find out what the future holds for him.
"I was anxious and excited to get out there," he said. "A leadoff double isn't the way I wanted to start, but fortunately I was able to stay out of it some. As a whole, I felt good, felt healthy. All my pitches were working pretty good, so I'd say first time out it was a success."
Berken's fastball was 92-94 mph.
"The biggest thing for me is I was able to keep throwing while I was rehabbing my hamstring, so my arm really never fell behind in terms of throwing," he said. "There's really no way to simulate games and stuff, but I feel strong. I think last year I came into spring so light I think I lost a lot of strength. And this year I was able to come in a little bit stronger and I feel like velocity-wise in a sense it's been better. But as a whole my arm feels good, my shoulder is healthy, my legs are feeling better. I don't gauge myself on velocity in terms of how I feel, but I feel good. And if the velocity is up there, that's even better.
"I threw a lot of sinkers today. I was able to get the ball in to a few guys. I hadn't really thrown any sliders this whole spring training, and I threw some today. Having a situation where I needed to get an out, I went to my slider and it was pretty good. I felt like I threw a good curveball, threw good sinkers, had a couple sliders to some guys. Got a strikeout on my slider, so, yeah, it seems like things are working pretty well right now. It's a matter of maintaining that and fine-tuning.
"There's always room for improvement. The ball was up a little bit, especially to (Carlos) Ruiz, so I've got to get the ball down more consistently. But as a whole, I felt good. It went pretty well."
Is there enough time for Berken to make the club out of spring training?
"I sure hope so," he said. "I've busted my tail to get back and I worked hard to get this thing behind me, so with the time I do have left I have to make the most of it. And today was a good first step.
"Whatever time I do have left and however many games I get in, I've got to pitch well. Whether I have a ton of time or not that much time, it's all the same for me. I've got to pitch well. I sure hope there is.
"Coming in this spring, I had every intention of making the team, and that hasn't changed. But I've got to go and pitch well and whatever happens, happens."
Berken might pitch in some minor league games to build up innings and perhaps work on back-to-back days.
"Hopefully, if I feel good tomorrow, I can come back and come back quick," he said. "For me, it's a matter of keeping my leg healthy, my arm healthy and however many games I get in, go in and pitch well. If I can get in a bunch, that'd be great, but obviously there are a lot of guys in camp. Whatever innings you do get, you have to make the most of them. That's what I plan to do."