Mariners reliever, playing for his fifth team in seven seasons, has a shot at the closer role.
PEORIA, Ariz. — In his seventh professional season, acclimating to new situations has become the norm for David Aardsma.
A former No. 1 draft pick by the Giants, Aardsma has been traded four times, the latest coming in January when the Mariners picked him up from Boston for a Class A pitcher.
Aardsma hopes this is the chance he’s been waiting for since he left Rice University in 2003 as the Owls’ all-time saves leader, fresh off retiring 15 of the 16 batters he faced in the College World Series while leading them to the national title.
“I started reading some of the articles, and Jack Zduriencik, Wak [manager Don Wakamatsu] and [pitching coach] Rick Adair we’re all saying it’s going to be open competition for every single spot on the team,” Aardsma said. “And I’m going, ‘Wow. I like that.’
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“One of the big spots is the closer, and they were saying that everyone will go out, and we’ll take the best. That’s the way it should be every year.”
Well, perhaps not at his former stop, where Jonathan Papelbon had the Red Sox closer’s job locked up, or in recent years in Seattle, where the ninth inning was the province of J.J. Putz.
But with Putz traded to the Mets, the job is wide open. And among the six perceived candidates — Aardsma, Mark Lowe, Tyler Walker, Roy Corcoran, Miguel Batista and Randy Messenger — no one has been more impressive so far than Aardsma.
In six appearances covering six innings, he has yet to give up a run. His command, a perpetual deal-breaker for Aardsma throughout his career, has been sharp. He’s walked three, and opponents are hitting .227, perhaps verifying the January assessment of former teammate Jon Lester that Aardsma had made great advancements last year with Boston until felled by a groin injury in July.
“Coming to Boston last year I think really helped him, being around a good group of veterans, and being around young guys in our bullpen that were somewhat veterans,” Lester said while in Seattle to accept the Hutch Award.
“I think he definitely learned a lot. Any time you can go to Boston and somewhat succeed, if not succeed, you can pretty much play or pitch anywhere, maybe with the exception of New York.”
Aardsma has arrived in Seattle believing he has reached that perfect confluence where maturity and savvy matches the evolution of his pitching form.
It’s been a slow process that has taken Aardsma, 27, from San Francisco to the Cubs (traded for LaTroy Hawkins in ’05) to the White Sox (traded for Neal Cotts in ’06) to the Red Sox (traded for Willy Mota and Miguel Socolovich in ’08) and now to the Mariners.
“You get drafted, you assume you’ll be with that team forever and never get traded,” he said. “I look back and say, ‘Wow, I was so naïve.’
“I’m a way different pitcher now. You compare my motion now to then, there’s very, very few things that are similar. I look back and say I wish then I was the person I am now. They [the Giants] definitely wouldn’t have traded me, and I would have been their closer the last six years.”
Teams have thought that Aardsma was ready to break out before, only to find out it was a tease. He made the Giants’ opening-day roster at age 22 in 2004, his first full professional season, and got a win in his major-league debut. But Aardsma blew a save two days later, and wound up on the shuttle between Fresno and San Francisco, logging six separate stints with the Giants and an ultimate 6.75 ERA.
His biggest chance, before last season, came with the White Sox in 2007, “and I blew it,” he said frankly.
Not initially. By May 12 of that year, he had worked 20-2/3 innings, struck out 26, allowed three earned runs and compiled a 1.31 ERA. But over his next eight games, Aardsma allowed 16 runs over seven innings and wound up being demoted by the White Sox to Class AAA, then traded after the season.
Last year marked another late-season letdown, but it was mostly attributable to his groin injury.
“I was having a great season until the groin injury,” he said. “It was very frustrating, because it was definitely coming together. I was pitching really well, cutting down on my walks, getting a lot of big hitters in big situations out.
“I definitely rushed it back. It was definitely my fault for not holding back and let it rest. I had never been hurt before, so I didn’t know how to react to it. I wanted to come back as soon as I could, and when I came back, I wasn’t ready, and I re-hurt it. Then I tried to pitch hurt, and I couldn’t do it.”
Now he’s with yet another organization trying to seize perhaps his best opportunity yet.
“I know my abilities, and I definitely have faith in myself,” he said. “I want to be the closer. That was my focus right away. But there’s a lot of good arms, and if I’m not, I’m going to do what I can to help them.”
David isn’t the only Aardsma trying to break out. His older sister Amanda is a burgeoning actress, having landed roles on TV shows like “Judging Amy” and “CSI,” with a couple of movies in the can (including a horror flick called “Hyenas”) waiting for a distributor.
Amanda Aardsma was also co-host of the game show “Temptation” (a remake of “Sale of the Century”) and her image is used as the “Screaming Girl” on the movie posters for the film “Prom Night.” She’s a former Miss Teen Colorado and a semifinalist for Miss Teen USA in 1997.
“She had some lines in ‘Shaft,’ ” David Aardsma said proudly, referring to the Samuel Jackson 2000 remake. “Unfortunately, her lines got cut out, but you still see her on screen for a minute.
“She does amazing stuff. I can’t believe she hasn’t made it huge yet. She’s a very hard worker. She instilled a very good work ethic in me. I definitely look up to her. What she does is 100 times harder than what I do.”
Maybe this is the year that both the Aardsmas break through.
“You never know,” he said with a smile.
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or firstname.lastname@example.org