Following year off, Cordero refreshed, motivated

Veteran reliever enthusiastic about chance to compete for role in Sox 'pen

Following year off, Cordero refreshed, motivated

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Retirement can wait.

Francisco Cordero, fresh off a year-long baseball sabbatical, is back on the mound and competing for a roster spot with the Red Sox, a prospect that seems thrilling to the three-time All-Star.

Cordero never got an offer he liked last year, and he elected to stay home rather than force himself into an adverse roster situation. Now, a year older and a year further removed from the most difficult season of his career, Cordero is having the time of his life in Spring Training.

Cordero, speaking before Boston's 4-1 win over the Pirates on Sunday, emphasized that his love of the game has intensified from his year on the sidelines. The right-hander isn't taking anything for granted, and he said it was tough to get a glimpse of his future when he's still capable of playing.

"I was just hanging out. Working out and hoping to get a job," said Cordero. "It was not my choice to be at home, but at the same time, I enjoyed it. I got to spend a lot of time with family and friends and do stuff I hadn't done in a long time. It's something we've got to get used to. We're not going to play forever. But I thought, 'It's not time yet.' I think I can play at least one or two more years."

Cordero, who ranks 13th on the all-time saves list (329), pitched for manager John Farrell in Toronto in 2012, but it turned out to be one of his most trying years. Cordero logged a 5.77 ERA in 41 appearances with the Blue Jays before he was traded to Houston and subsequently released.

That experience -- and the lack of interest in his services -- temporarily made Cordero seek shelter outside the game he's loved for most of his life. But instead of seeing his skills atrophy while off the mound, Cordero said the rest helped reinvigorate himself mentally and physically.

"I wasn't throwing, and I was just resting. But I could work out harder than I used to work out. I even went on a diet and lost 28 pounds," said Cordero of his year off. "I don't think I have the same stuff that I used to, but I'm going to be 39 in May. I know that with the stuff I have, I can get people out. I'm not going to blow anybody away like I used to do. When you're like me, you've just got to be smart. You've got to hit your spots, throw strikes, and locate your pitches away. Don't hang them."

In camp with the defending World Series champions, Cordero said he feels like a little kid. The veteran threw a scoreless ninth inning against Pittsburgh on Sunday, giving him four straight scoreless outings to start Spring Training. Cordero has six strikeouts and has allowed four hits.

Farrell said that the Dominican Republic native has been impressive so far in camp. Cordero isn't showing the explosive fastball that helped him rack up seven 30-save seasons, but he has shown an ability to adapt and improvise.

"He's not pitching like a guy who's been out for a year," Farrell said. "He's throwing a lot of strikes. He's very similar to the guy that was in Toronto and Houston a couple years ago. He's made the necessary adjustments as a pitcher gets deeper into his career where they've got to pitch a little more and use an assortment of pitches rather than rely on sheer velocity. He's showing that in Spring Training."

Farrell said Sunday that Boston's bullpen doesn't have a lot of wiggle room, and Cordero's ability to make the team may well depend on whether everybody else stays healthy. Cordero, who has never pitched in the postseason, understands his position.

Being on the outside looking in, he said, is tough, but it also helps him focus. Cordero knows he has to work hard, but at root, he's really proud that a team as good as Boston thinks he can help.

"Through all my career, this is the best Spring Training I've ever had, just because of all the people here," Cordero said. "The teammates, the ownership, the general manager. The training staff. Everyone. This is more than a team. This is a family. I'm not just saying that because I'm here. Watching them last year, you could see they played at 110 percent. And they have fun with it. That's what you want. You have to play hard, but you want to have fun. And they did that last year. You can see the results."

The Red Sox had the fourth-best bullpen in the American League last year, and their pitching staff worked to a 1.84 ERA in their six-game victory over the Cardinals in the World Series. Farrell wants to be loyal to the arms that won him a title, but Cordero is providing stiff competition.

"So much is going to depend on the guys coming out of camp and their health," said Farrell. "We had a pitching staff that looked to be in pretty good shape in terms of who was going to head north with us. Nothing has changed dramatically that would change the outlook of that going forward."

And nobody understands that better than Cordero, who just wants another chance. The 38-year-old knows that even if he doesn't hook on with Boston, there can be another job for him somewhere. And for someone who spent last season at home, that's reassuring.

"It's hard to just go home after you've been doing it for so long," said Cordero. "You can say this has been my life. I've been playing professional ball for 20 years. But it's something where you don't have a choice. You have to accept it. I'll know when the time has come, and I'll be happy to do it."

Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.