PEORIA, Ariz. -- Sitting in front of his locker Saturday morning, Chad Cordero looked different. But only because he didn't have on his cap, which he'd wear in that trademark askew style on the mound while racking up a National League-leading 47 saves in 2005. Otherwise, this was the same guy, taking it easy in the Mariners' clubhouse. A few years older, but not old. That is a very important distinction for a right-hander making his way back from major shoulder surgery. "Physically, I feel like I did back in that  season. No difference," Cordero said following some light conditioning drills. "Now it's just a matter of staying on the mound and making pitches. It's a huge relief."
"It" was his first competitive appearance in a Major League-caliber game in Friday's exhibition against the Padres. Relieving in the top of the ninth, Cordero surrendered a leadoff single to Tony Gwynn Jr., then retired the next three batters on a grounder and two flies. Cordero had traveled a long road to that one-inning line, since the operation on his labrum in July 2008. Rehab led to his competitive return last July with the first of 14 appearances in the low Minors. "When I had the operation, they told me it would be about 18 months before I started feeling well again," said Cordero, whose comeback steps in 2009 were tentative and unimpressive. He allowed 23 hits and 15 runs in 14 1/3 innings. July 2008 to March 2010 ... 20 months. Check. Back with Seattle on a Minor League contract for the second consecutive year, Cordero is hardly a low-level project for the Mariners. In his young heyday, this California native was awesome. And he is still young, not turning 28 until the middle of this month. "If I get it back, I know I can pitch for eight, nine more years," Cordero said. Friday brought indication that he is on his way back to getting it back. Confident in and comfortable with the condition of his shoulder, he has retained the mechanical keys to the control that was his forte.
Seattle manager Don Wakamatsu certainly saw a different guy from the one he was getting reports on last year."He's a command guy," Wakamatsu said. "I like what's coming out of his hand. To see him where he was last year to now, it's a tremendous improvement." Five months before he turned 26, Cordero became second in career saves for the Montreal-Washington franchise, with 128 for the perennial also-rans. In that 2005 season, his 47 saves and two victories gave him roles in 60 percent of the Nationals' 81 wins. To put that into some perspective, Francisco Rodriguez contributed to 64 percent of the Angels' wins when he set the Major League record of 62 saves in 2008. Cordero has never had a bad season. He's rarely had a bad week. In 305 career appearances, he has an ERA of 2.78. And despite such an accomplished personal history, he was a jumble of nerves prior to that maiden Friday outing -- and uncontrollably giddy afterwards. "The whole game I was nervous," he recalled. "But once I got out on the mound and threw a pitch over, I didn't worry about anything." Except, perhaps, hiding that grin as he was walking off the mound after putting up the zero. He used his mitt to shield the ear-to-ear smile. "I couldn't hold it in," Cordero said. "It just felt so good to be back out there after two hard years. You never know for sure whether you'll be able to pitch again. I can't wait for the next time." The next time figures to be on Tuesday, when the Mariners host the Indians, with an in-between bullpen session on tap for Sunday. As far as when it again will be Cordero time, that's an unknown. In the Seattle 'pen, his day job already belongs to David Aardsma, who converted 38 of 42 save opportunities last season. "I'm just looking for the opportunity to pitch," said Cordero, unconcerned. "Setup, middle relief ... I'll do anything they might ask me to. I'd still be pitching in the big leagues. "Having to go through rehab for two years wasn't fun. Now I want to enjoy this as long as I can." It is premature to make any assumptions. It was only one inning. And as a non-roster camp guest, Cordero has no guarantees of a roster spot opening up on a team which last season ranked third in bullpen ERA (3.83) in the American League and welcomes back all components with the exception of Miguel Batista -- who, ironically, as a free agent has signed a Minor League contract with Cordero's old club, the Nats. So even if he continues to prove his health, and evokes memories of the 2005 All-Star who placed fifth in the voting for that year's NL Cy Young Award, he may emerge as a candidate for a trade, not for the Seattle bullpen. "Yeah, it could lead to other opportunities," he said. "We'll see. Right now I'm happy to be here, but anything I do will only lead to more good things."