BRONX, N.Y. — With everything David Aardsma had been through in the past two years, it would be hard to blame anyone that doubted he could get back to the big leagues this season.
The 30-year-old righty reliever had strung together two excellent seasons for the Seattle Mariners, saving 69 games between 2009 and 2010. But he underwent hip surgery following the latter season, and then had to have Tommy John surgery in June of 2011 during his first comeback attempt.
Then, while rehabbing this June, Aardsma felt discomfort in his surgically repaired elbow, and was shut down from throwing in any meaningful games for nearly two months. Thankfully, the third time was a charm.
The endlessly friendly Denver native rehabbed with the Thunder during their playoff run, appearing in five games. He improved dramatically as his stint went on, and ultimately pitched to a 3.60 ERA in five innings of work, getting out of some self-created jams in the process.
Today at Yankee Stadium, I had the chance to speak with Aardsma about his return to the big leagues and just how he fit in so well with his Trenton teammates during his stay.
Mike Ashmore, Hunterdon County Democrat: It didn’t always seem like a foregone conclusion that you’d actually get back to pitching in the big leagues at the end of the season after leaving Trenton. How realistic did you think it was that you were going to be able to get this opportunity?
David Aardsma: “There was never a doubt in my mind. The only thing that would have stopped it was the timing, that’s the only thing. I was healthy, I was pitching in Trenton and I was pitching great. I knew with my rehab assignment that they would have had to call me up or do something, so there was never a doubt in my mind that I would be here.”
HCD: It seemed to me at least that you really progressed in your outings at Trenton. Do you feel like you still have a litle ways to go before you get to 100 percent?
Aardsma: “Absolutely. I’m not going to be 100 percent probably until next year at the earliest. They say it takes a while, even after you’re back. I feel great, I feel like my stuff is wonderful; good slider, good split. My fastball is a little notch below, but what it is is just getting out there and pitching and understanding counts and where you want to put the ball and putting it right where you want it. It’s just getting back into all those things that you can’t do unless you’re in games.”
HCD: You really fit in really well with that Thunder team, whereas you see a lot of other rehab guys kind of stay sheltered away from everyone else. Did you make a conscious effort to do that?
Aardsma: “I think the difference is a lot of rehab guys, they’re playing in the season and they’re on one team and then they have to go rehab somewhere else. For me, I didn’t have a team. I was by myself — well, not by myself — but individualized down in Tampa, and I felt like I didn’t have a team. Getting to Trenton, I wanted to be a part of it. I wanted to make them feel like that I wasn’t trying to be a big leaguer or a Yankee, I wanted to be with them and be one of them. They accepted me, and it was wonderful.”
HCD: After everything you’ve been through, to get into that big league game the other day, what did that mean to you?
Aardsma: “Man, it meant the world. It absolutely meant the world. To get back out there and show to myself and show everybody else that I could do it, it’s amazing. I always know in the back of my mind that I can come back from anything. Any time this game tries to stop me, I know I can come back from it.”
HCD: Must have been a nice feeling to see a jersey with pinstripes hanging at your locker today then…
Aardsma: “Absolutely. It’s different seeing those pinstripes. I never thought I’d be a Yankee, I knew there was always a chance, but to actually be here and put those on, it’s a different feeling.”
Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com