CLEVELAND - David Aardsma was one of the best relievers in baseball to start last season. With the White Sox, Aardsma came into games and quite often dominated. His fastball would reach about 96 miles per hour, plus he had (and still has) good secondary pitches. By May 12, after working 20 2/3 innings, Aardsma had struck out 26, allowed 3 runs, and amassed a 1.31 ERA.
Then it started going bad. Very bad. Over his next eight games, Aardsma allowed 16 runs and struck out just six in seven innings. He allowed 16 hits, six walks, and three home runs as his ERA ballooned to 20.57 over the span. Most of those runs came in three outings, in which he allowed a combined 14 runs. He was sent to Triple A Charlotte.
"I had, I think it was three bad outings, four bad outings in a row, then down in the minors," Aardsma said. "That's what was tough, especially on a team that was struggling really bad. We weren't playing well at all. Then you have just a couple bad outings, all of a sudden you're gone.
"It's tough. It's tough because then you believe that nobody has faith in you, nobody trusts you. You're the man for a month and a half, but four outings and all of a sudden you're nothing."
Though he was recalled for a brief time, from June 16 to July 4, Aardsma spent the remainder of the season in Triple A, before being shipped to the Red Sox in January for minor league pitchers Willy Mota and Miguel Socolovich. He left behind the 72-90 White Sox for the World Series-winning Red Sox.
And for the second straight year, Aardsma made a major league team out of spring training, surviving cuts that felled Kyle Snyder and Bryan Corey. He was put in a big spot Sunday night against the Yankees, with the Red Sox' premier relievers glued to the bench.
Aardsma followed Daisuke Matsuzaka into the three-run ballgame, and though he walked two of his first three batters, prompting a visit to the mound from pitching coach John Farrell, he got the next two. Then Aardsma followed with a 1-2-3 seventh inning.
The Sox see potential, the same potential that the Giants and Cubs and White Sox saw before them. Entering this season, Aardsma had a career record of 6-1 but a 5.16 ERA over 81 games. With the Red Sox, Aardsma has allowed two earned runs (three total) over 7 2/3 innings, striking out seven - and walking six.
Command, of course, is an issue.
"He's got a pretty big arm, a split and a breaking ball," manager Terry Francona said. "He's got a lot of swing-and-miss in what he throws. If he can pound the zone, he's got a chance to be a good pitcher.
"Sometimes when a pitcher goes, like, this is his fourth organization, teams keep seeing the arm and they want him and for whatever reason he gets thrown in a trade or something.
"We'd like to try to build on what he's doing and see how good he can be. It's really an intriguing guy. You don't see arms like that come along that often, especially that has a split and a breaking ball."
Aardsma posited that part of his trouble last season came from getting caught up in his results. He knew he was doing well and he dwelled on that. It didn't help him. But he now knows that, and seems prepared to focus more on his pitches and less on success in past outings.
When he vanquished Alex Rodriguez on Sunday (fly ball to right field), Aardsma said he went right to the next batter, instead of congratulating himself for getting out perhaps the best hitter in the majors.
"You always, especially after that last season, you want to start off fresh," Aardsma said. "Then you're starting off fresh with the world champions. They're saying, the team that was statistically the worst team in baseball last year, they don't want you. But the best team in baseball, in the world, wants you. They think that you can make them better. That's a good feeling."