Programming note: Giants Insider Andrew Baggarly is in Arizona; check back for his coverage throughout spring training and watch SportsNet Central nightly at 6 and 10:30 p.m. for all the day’s MLB news.
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Being the farthest or the fastest is great if you’re an Olympian.
If you’re a major league pitcher, or aspiring to be one, it only means so much.
So Erik Cordier’s eyes didn’t light up just like the radar guns that clocked his first spring training appearance as a Giant on Friday. When told he threw four pitches that hit 100 mph, he barely reacted at all.
He knows the premium velocity is what got him in the room. It’s what got him a major league contract and a coveted 40-man roster spot with the Giants, even though he hasn’t accrued one day of big league service time.
But it’s not the room at Scottsdale Stadium where Cordier wants to be. It’s the big league clubhouse at AT&T Park.
He knows the value of first impressions. He tried too hard to make a good one Friday.
“Amped up. Really amped. Too amped,” he said, asked to describe a scoreless eighth inning in which he walked the leadoff hitter before striking out two.
“The adrenaline was flowing. The nerves were going.”
At 100 mph.
Cordier, who turned 28 last week, is not a fast-track prospect. His draft class has been out of session for a long time. To give you some idea: The Kansas City Royals took him out of Souther Door High School in Brussels, Wisc., in the second round in 2004, with the 63rd overall pick.
The 64th pick was Hunter Pence. The 65th was Dustin Pedroia.
Pence has six years in the big leagues. Cordier is still striving for his first day.
He stalled for the reason most pitchers stall out. He had trouble staying healthy. He had a Tommy John procedure. He didn’t throw a competitive pitch in 2005 or in 2007. When he was able to pitch, he gave up a lot of hits and a lot of walks. By the time he became a six-year minor league free agent, he could pick his spot to land. The Pirates, seeing a starter who still hummed it at 93-95 mph, offered him a Triple-A contract and a chance to reinvent himself as a reliever.
He can’t say the word “project” without a sneering lip.
“That’s what I was,” said Cordier, who uses the French pronunciation of his last name. “I had plateaued as a starter and so I became the Pirates’ project guy.”
They told him to try throwing sidearm, ostensibly to give him a slot that could keep him healthy but really to create a one-trick pony who could provide a different look against right-handers. When it comes to project relievers, major league coaches can be a bit like their college brethren. They’re trying to assemble useful parts for their bullpen -- and no baseball personnel are more interchangeable, more disposable, than relievers.
It wasn’t working. Cordier couldn’t repeat the motion, couldn’t throw strikes.
“So it came to me,” he said. “I had to take the reins and be accountable for myself."
Held back in extended spring -- “the same place where I started” -- the Green Bay native began throwing over the top again, and because he was pitching in short bursts for the first time, his velocity played up. He hit 98 mph, then 99. When he reported to Triple-A Indianapolis, he hit 100 more times than he could remember.
He was told he maxed out at 103, but shies away from discussing it.
“That’s rumorville,” he said.
Even with a tool to measure velocity, fastball speed is by nature apocryphal. Even on Friday, the Giants’ gun, held by scout Pat Burrell nearest to the backstop, registered 100 mph on four of Cordier's pitches. Other scouts, sitting further back in the section behind home plate, had him at 97.
Still awfully firm, for February.
Besides, Cordier shrugged, he would rather play the PGA Tour than be the golfing gorilla. He wants to star on the course, not the driving range. Farthest and fastest don’t mean a lot when there’s a strike zone and a hitter in the box.
The Giants have had their high-velocity projects over the years. Erick Threets comes to mind. Merkin Valdez was another. They barely had enough big league service time to fill a Starbucks mug.
Cordier wants more than a sip, too. For now, he has one full season of Triple-A relief under his belt (4.58 ERA and 1.49 WHIP with 65 strikeouts and 28 walks in 55 innings over 44 appearances). He’ll probably have to go to Fresno and fill up the strike zone as best he can.
And he’ll have to breathe.
Cordier walked the leadoff hitter Friday, went 2-0 to the next guy and received a “calm down” visit from catcher Andrew Susac. He did, striking out two of the next three hitters.
“I made the adjustment and it worked out,” he said.
What adjustment was that?
“Simple,” he said. “I slowed everything down.”