BALTIMORE -- Dennis Sarfate's winter season began on Sunday, when the right-handed reliever reported to Hermosillo in the Mexican Pacific League. Sarfate, who fired off two scoreless innings in his Winter League debut, had an intentionally short break between the end of the regular season and his return to action.
"I'll get home, unpack, re-pack, and go there. It will be a quick turnaround," Sarfate said in the last week of the season. "The first game is October 9. I'll get there on the 11th and it's right into the action, right into the fire."
Sarfate, who pitched just 23 innings this season due to a circulatory problem and a setback during his rehabilitation, is planning on using winter ball to get himself back on track. Sarfate missed nearly four months of action and never really got back to his peak velocity during his September return, prompting a bit of concern.
For Sarfate, who had used 2008 as a transition year, it was upsetting. The 27-year-old came over from the Astros as part of a five-player haul for Miguel Tejada, but he injured his collarbone early and pitched with the ailment all year long. Sarfate had surgery on his collarbone last winter and came into the spring on an optimistic note.
"I'd say it was disappointing," he said. "You go from having offseason surgery to coming in to Spring Training in probably the best shape you've ever been in, and then the arm didn't respond early on. Then I went from getting sick to having the artery problem. It's been one thing after another. I don't think you can really do anything about it. You've just got to go on, think about next year and go to winter ball, do some things there to get you ready."
In this case, it's a plan that has worked before. Sarfate has participated in Winter League twice, but he played only briefly one year due to his wife's pregnancy. Sarfate served as the closer for parts of each season and played in the league championship and the Caribbean Series in 2006, an experience he counts as a career highlight.
This year, he said, he's only going for a month to make sure he has plenty of time to prepare for Spring Training.
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"The first year I went there, I went from the big leagues to the Arizona Fall League, to winter ball, to the Caribbean Series," said Sarfate. "I had like one day off before the season started. That kind of burned me out. But the way I'm doing it this year is I'll go straight there, I'll play for a month and then I'll come home for two or three months to train. And I talked to my wife, and I may go back out there in January if my team makes it to the playoffs."
Sarfate, who has a career 4.53 ERA and has held hitters to a .225 batting average, said that he won't really obsess over statistics in Mexico and that he just wants to feel progress from outing to outing.
"I've thought about that: Am I going to be upset if I don't put up numbers?" he asked. "If I feel good and I'm giving up hits, then I don't care. But if I'm putting up numbers and I feel good, it's great. I just want my arm to come back and I want it to respond. I feel like it's strong, but I'm just not getting the results I need every time out."
Sarfate now has more than two years of service time but will fall short of the threshold for arbitration. The former ninth-round draft pick knows that there may be a lot of change in Baltimore's bullpen next season and counts his future as uncertain, but he said he has more to prove to himself than he does to the team this winter.
"I think it's mainly to myself," he said. "It's one of those things where I've been trying to find the velocity since I've been back. One day, it's there and one day, it's not. It's just overall arm strength, and once I prove to myself that I can get it back, I should be alright. As far as the team, if they want to judge me for how I do down there, that's cool.
"I really don't care if I do well or don't do well. I know I'll get a job next year somewhere. I'd like it to be here in Baltimore, but if not, there are 29 other teams that would like to have me."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.