Baker hopes he can return to form in Seattle
PEORIA, Ariz. (AP)
Might not seem like a notable accomplishment. For Baker, in his attempt to find his way back into a starting rotation following Tommy John surgery in 2012, feeling fine a day after throwing live batting practice is important.
''I think first and foremost you're trying to prove to yourself more than anybody else because really it doesn't' matter of what anybody else thinks as long as you know you're doing the best that you can, you're doing everything you're supposed to be doing to be successful,'' Baker said. ''I think the most important thing is I felt good. I think I have a decent idea of how to pitch, it's just making sure that you're healthy and making sure you're reaching every level of progression until it's time to pitch in the games.''
There is no denying what a healthy Baker, finding the form that once made him an opening day starter in Minnesota, could mean for the Mariners and a rotation that outside of ace Felix Hernandez and AL Cy Young finalist Hisashi Iwakuma has no guarantees. Sitting empty is the No. 3 spot in Seattle's rotation, with the expectation that a pair of youngsters out of the group including Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, Erasmo Ramirez and Brandon Maurer will fill out the final two rotation spots.
A bridge is needed. The Mariners understand that. So does Baker. It's why he chose to accept a minor league contract with Seattle.
''Selfishly I think this was a nice place for me to be. Of course they have a lot of great things going here,'' Baker said. ''At this point in my career I want to be at a place that has a chance to win. They've obviously improved greatly from last year with a lot of key free agents, but I felt there was a good opportunity to make a team here.''
Not long ago, Baker was a top starter for Minnesota. Between 2008-10, Baker started 90 games and went 38-22 with a 4.11 ERA for the Twins. Coming off a career-best 15 victories in 2009, Baker was Minnesota's opening day starter in 2010. He didn't fall off much in 2011 starting 21 games and going 8-6 with a 3.14 ERA before arm problems sidelined him for most of the final two months of the season.
But those arm problems at the end of 2011 were the precursor to his elbow surgery in April 2012.
''Look at his track record. It's pretty good,'' Seattle manager Lloyd McClendon said. ''It's just a matter of if he's healthy and can he get back to that level that he was.''
Baker hoped to be back in a starting rotation a year ago, but forearm problems landed him on the Chicago Cubs disabled list for most of the season. He was able to make three starts at the end of last season that were critical for his own confidence and for others to see he could be counted on regularly.
He was hopeful that brief time last September would lead to a major league contract in the offseason. He was also a realist.
''We held out a little while to see if it was there and we thought it might be there but it ended up not being there, which I understand,'' Baker said. ''I'm confident enough wherever I end up that I feel good and like I said I have a pretty good idea of how to pitch.''
Right now, there isn't much competition for that third spot in the rotation, baring the Mariners making a significant free agent signing or a trade. Aside from the youngsters, Seattle also brought in veteran Randy Wolf, also coming off Tommy John surgery. While Baker felt fine on Saturday, the real test will come later when he throws bullpen sessions on a regular basis and eventually gets into a spring training game.
''I'm anxious to see him compete against hitters,'' McClendon said. ''I know this, you run him out there, they'll either step up or they'll eliminate themselves. I'm anxious to get it going and get in the competition.''