Healthy Bergmann Ready For Return

Early on this season, Washington starter Jason Bergmann looked primed to put together the best year of his career, but injuries unfortunately got the best of him.  Before he made his triumphant return to the big league club this week, we caught up with the right-hander in Columbus.

Based on Bergmann's recent performances in the minors, it looks as though he is ready to return to Washington and try to salvage what is left of his 2007 season. Bergmann took the mound last Saturday against the division-leading Toledo Mud Hens and pitched six scoreless innings in a 6-0 win. With the win, he moved to 1-1 with a 2.12 ERA in his four rehab starts with Columbus this season. Bergmann said he felt healthy and confident in his most recent appearance.

"The hamstring didn't bother me at all," Bergmann told "My arm is obviously fine. I shook off a lot of the rust because with my hamstring—when you hurt it like that—you can't run. When you can't run, it's hard for you to throw. I threw at a good quality team. To have success against a good team like that, it's good. Control was pretty good, and velocity was 88-92, which is fine. The good thing was that my off-speed pitches were there and they worked well."

At the beginning of the 2007 campaign, Bergmann surprised a lot of people with his success and he quickly became one of Washington's best starters. Before his first injury, Bergmann's record was only 1-3, but he had a very respectable 2.76 ERA. Included among a handful of quality starts was his eight-inning, 10-strikout gem against Atlanta on May 14. Soon after that game though, Bergmann was forced to go on the DL to nurse an injured elbow.

"Injuries stink," Bergmann said. "I've been relatively healthy my whole career. The elbow thing was a real freak thing. I was throwing what I felt was really good baseball at the time, and it just wouldn't go away. We tried to do it normally and just let it work itself out, and it didn't."

After two rehab starts, he quickly returned to Washington. Although it was great to be back in the lineup, the lighthearted Bergmann said that following the first injury, he didn't pitch as well as he wanted to. And on July 24 at Philadelphia, in just his sixth game since returning, Bergmann went down again.

"The second injury was just stupid," Bergmann said. "I was rounding third base, trying to score and get the game back to 1-1. I just felt a little pop in there. There's no one to blame. It just happens to some athletes, and I've seen some other guys do it. It has nothing to do with conditioning or anything: It's just random events. It was just me trying to bust my butt a little bit, get home, and throw it into a gear I didn't have, and I got hurt."

It's not often when a pitcher gets injured while running the bases, and Bergmann admitted that this fact makes the injury even more frustrating. 

"It all happened because I failed to get a bunt down," Bergmann said. "If I'd had got the bunt down, I wouldn't even be in that situation. I take pride in my base-running skills. I like to run around and feel like I'm part of the scoring system. The hardest part once you're hurt is getting over being hurt and watching other guys doing well around you. You want to be there and contributing." 

Bergmann is not the first Clipper to suffer a hamstring injury this season. Former Clipper and current Washington starter Joel Hanrahan injured his hamstring in April, while catcher Juan Brito injured his hamstring in May. Bergmann went through a similar rehab process, including one start in the Gulf Coast League. He said that although the rehab can sometimes take longer than expected, it has been on schedule for the most part.

"Mine wasn't a really bad pull, but it was bad enough that I was limping around the first couple days at the big leagues," Bergmann said. "After a few days, I was able to walk right, but the hardest part of it was the acceleration, the cutting, and making an agile move. When I went down to Florida, we started more running drills, cutting back and forth drills, and just working off a mound and treating it. I was down there for two mound appearances, one bullpen. As soon as that was done, they opted to send me up here to pitch in front of the Triple-A pitching coach. I've had two starts since and they've gone alright."

If there's one advantage to being on the DL, it's that Bergmann has been able to devote more time to his mechanics. He told us in an interview earlier in this season that he was working hard to find a consistent arm slot and finger placement. On Monday, he said that although he has progressed, he is still working on these aspects of his game.

"I feel like I've gotten a lot better," Bergmann said of his mechanics. "I think that's the reason I had success earlier in the year. When I start to not pitch as well as I can, it's because of that. I know that, but sometimes it's not as easy as just making as easy change. When you're on the mound—especially in a game—it's not the time for working on stuff. You need to be at your best, and whatever you have is what you have at your disposal at the time. But when you're on your off days, that's when you work. I'm down here, and aside from getting my hamstring healthy, I'm really working hard to get my mechanics straightened out. They're looking pretty good right now, and I'm in a position where I can put all my pitches over the plate for strikes in any count."

In addition to his mechanics, Bergmann said that the successful outings he had this season with Washington have also helped a lot with his mentality and confidence. He admits to being a little star struck when coming to the majors in 2005, but he is now much more relaxed.

"I think I've proven that I can pitch against anybody," Bergmann said. "I had a good game against the Braves, the Mets, and the Brewers. Those are some top teams. It's good having that kind of confidence behind me that I can pitch against anyone at anytime. 

"It's a lot easier to pitch around guys that are more like your friends than guys that you used to look up to. When I first came up, Mike Stanton was there. Mike Stanton is a guy I've watched on TV for long time being a Yankee fan. For him to be side-by-side with me, it was pretty incredible. Now, I just think of Mike as a guy I play against, and it makes a big difference."

Two of the main reasons why Bergmann's early season success was such a surprise were that he had primarily pitched as a reliever in the big leagues and that he struggled a little in his starting role at the end of last season. However, he said that becoming a full-time starter was an easy adjustment because he had pitched as a starter a lot in the minors, and because focusing on only starting helped him find a groove, unlike last year.

"I had a real bouncy '06," Bergmann said. "I started up [in Washington], and then I got sent down real quick, then back up, and back down. It was really hard to fall into a groove in one place. It felt like I was bouncing around so much that it was hard to feel comfortable in one area."

Bergmann said he has enjoyed starting this year, but he still has a lot to prove. He is hoping to put this season's injuries behind him and pitch well down the stretch for Washington. If he can, it would definitely provide a big boost of optimism for next season's Nationals.

"The biggest thing is to get out there, stay healthy, and finish strong—finish kind of the way I started out," Bergmann said. "If I could have any kind of outing resembling the ones I had before I went on the DL the first time, and stay healthy through it, I think that would be the biggest goal. I know I can pitch well. They know I can pitch well. It's just a matter of going out and doing it."

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