Jeremy Accardo relishing fresh start in Baltimore

When the Baltimore Orioles came calling with a minor league contract offer in December, Jeremy Accardo didn’t have to think twice before accepting it. After all, he had already endured a rollercoaster of a tenure with the Toronto Blue Jays and was anxious for a fresh start.

After starting the 2007 season with 21 consecutive scoreless innings, Accardo emerged as the Jays’ closer, replacing Jason Frasor who was filling in for incumbent closer B.J. Ryan, who had been shut down due to injury. Accardo flourished in the role, notching 30 saves to go along with a 2.14 ERA in 64 games, and it seemed the Jays had a promising asset on their hands.

Sadly, it all went downhill from there.

Accardo missed the majority of the 2008 season due to injury, and struggled out of the gate in 2009 during spring training, allowing 10 earned runs in 10.1 innings; good for an 8.71 ERA.

After pitching well with Triple-A Las Vegas to start the 2009 season, Accardo was called up to the Jays in June and picked up right where he left off, limiting opponents to a .246 batting average and managing a 2.50 ERA in his first 19 games with the Jays that year.

The day the Jays shipped slick-fielding third baseman Scott Rolen to the Cincinnati Reds for three players, though, is when the relationship between Accardo and the Jays started to go south. Josh Roenicke, one of the acquisitions in the Rolen trade, wound up taking Accardo’s roster spot in mid-August, forcing him back to Triple-A even though he had been pitching well.

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Accardo, understandably frustrated, left the stadium before even speaking to the media, and his Jays hat was found in a garbage can.

“Yeah, I didn’t think I’d be needing it anymore,” Accardo admitted of his momentary frustration at the time.

Shortly thereafter, Jays reliever Scott Downs fell to an injury and Accardo’s demotion was swiftly reversed. Accardo, however, still had some issues with the Blue Jays, prompting the reliever’s agent to publicly state that Accardo might be better off if the Jays non-tendered him to allow him a fresh start with a new club.

Newly appointed Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos called Accardo directly after reading what his agent had said, and there were enough words of encouragement to get Accardo into a positive mindset heading into the 2010 season, but it didn’t last long.

After giving up five earned runs in only 7.1 spring innings that year, the Jays decided to keep Accardo on their roster for the beginning of the season. He then struggled at the beginning of the season with the Jays, allowing six runs on 12 hits in 6.2 innings, and was demoted to Triple-A Las Vegas with his last remaining option. In Vegas Accardo stayed for remainder of the season.

In December of last year, Accardo finally got his wish and was non-tendered by the Jays, allowing him to explore a new contract with any of Major League Baseball’s 29 other clubs. He eventually signed with the Orioles.

Prior to being non-tendered, Accardo said there was little conversation between him and Anthopoulos regarding a contract, and he sensed that he might finally be able to latch onto another club in the offseason.

“We didn’t really talk much. It was just kind of where the actions spoke enough and I knew I was going to get a good fresh start,” Accardo told The Good Point. “It wasn’t like I was throwing the ball bad, I was throwing the ball pretty well, and I think I was throwing the ball better than I have in my career.”

It’s a fresh start that Accardo desperately needed to revive his career, given the frustration and confusion he dealt with in the Jays organization.

“About Toronto, if I had the answer for anything that happened there, I feel like I’d be a rich man,” Accardo said. “Getting a nice fresh start [with Baltimore] and being able to go out there with confidence again is something you really can’t trade for anything.”

With the majority of the attention being on an infield that was overhauled this offseason through the additions of Derrek Lee, Mark Reynolds, and J.J. Hardy — not to mention free-agent slugger Vladimir Guerrero — the Orioles quietly added closer Kevin Gregg to their already promising bullpen. Accardo, like many others, has taken notice of its potential.

“When you’ve got a bullpen with as much experience as we do, it makes things a lot easier. It never hurts to have too many good arms in a bullpen,” Accardo said.

“We’ll go out there and do our jobs, Kevin [Gregg], Koji [Uehara], [Mike Gonzalez], I mean you name it, top to bottom, they can all pitch and they’ve all got good arms so it’s going to be fun to be a part of it.”

Accardo finally has a clear head this spring, and his goals for spring training and beyond with the Orioles demonstrate that.

“You’ve got to go in to each spring trying to make the team and get your body ready and your mind ready,” the Arizona-native said. “I want to be part of a nice winning team and in that playoff atmosphere or that push and just help the club whenever [I have the opportunity].”

Sometimes all a player needs is a fresh start to get right back on track. For Accardo, even though he’s only signed to a one-year contract with the Orioles, he’s in a comfortable and stable situation for the first time in his life.

“I couldn’t be happier right now being over here with Baltimore. The players that we have, and the staff, it’s a good atmosphere and a good place to play baseball,” the 29-year-old said. “It’s fun coming to the yard every day when everybody wants to win you know? It makes it feel like baseball again.”

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