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Originally published May 24, 2010 at 10:00 PM | Page modified May 25, 2010 at 7:07 PM

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Grounds-crew veteran loosens up his arm to toss BP to Milton Bradley

Kevin Dvorak, a member of the Mariners grounds crew, was taken up on his offer to throw batting practice to Milton Bradley while Bradley was on the restricted list.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Tuesday

Detroit Tigers @ Mariners, 7:10 p.m., FSN

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A ballplayer will sometimes take any help he can get when prohibited by baseball rules from working out with his team.

In the case of Milton Bradley, who spent 15 days on baseball's restricted list before rejoining the Mariners last week, it took a member of the Safeco Field grounds crew to help keep his bat sharp enough during his prolonged absence. Kevin Dvorak, a former college baseball player in his fourth season with the grounds crew, wound up throwing batting practice to Bradley on a handful of occasions during the final stages of the player's preparation to return.

Bradley had been doing indoor hitting work with the team's mental performance coach Steve Hecht, a former professional ballplayer. But when Hecht tried throwing outdoor batting practice to Bradley, it became clear to Dvorak, 26, who was doing on-field maintenance work at the time, that the pair needed help.

"He wasn't throwing a lot of strikes," Dvorak said of Hecht. "And when it comes to batting practice, that's kind of important."

Very important when it comes to Bradley, a selective hitter known to be discerning about any pitch he swings at, even when it's only a practice session. So, if Bradley wasn't going to go for Hecht's offerings, it was going to be tough to get the timing of his swing down pat for his return to action.

Dvorak, a Seattle native and former first baseman at Oklahoma City University, knows a little about throwing batting practice. He'd done it for years as an assistant coach at Lake Stevens High School as well as on an occasional volunteer basis at Bellevue Community College.

So, he approached grounds-crew chief Bob Christofferson and asked him to pass along an offer to Hecht about throwing batting practice for Bradley.

"Bob said, 'If you want to watch Milton, Kevin can throw really good BP,' " Hecht said. "You know how selective Milton is. If you're not throwing him good pitches, he isn't going to swing at them. It doesn't matter if it's a game, or BP. And I was having some trouble giving him the pitches he needed."

Hecht and Bradley gladly took Dvorak up on his offer.

Dvorak insists he wasn't nervous his first time out. He'd been around major-leaguers for years as a member of the Boston Red Sox grounds crew in 2004 and 2005 and had thrown BP to pro players in the offseason through a minor-league contact he had with the San Diego Padres.

"The key is just to keep a good rhythm and try to be consistent," Dvorak said.

He and Bradley didn't really chat during the half-hour sessions.

Instead, Dvorak would simply go about his grounds-crew duties every day until Bradley would come out on the field with Hecht at about 1 p.m. Bradley and Hecht would go through a throwing regimen on the field, and Dvorak would head over once he saw them setting up the protective screen for BP.

"He just said 'in' or 'away' and where he wanted the pitches, then thanked me afterwards," Dvorak said.

Bradley has continued to heap praise on Dvorak since his return. He quickly credited his BP sessions when asked about the five hits he compiled his first three games back from the prolonged layoff.

"He threw some very good BP," Bradley said. "It's not easy to go out there and keep throwing consistently in the same spot for almost a half an hour. It gets to be pretty tiring on the arm. So, you have to know what you're doing out there."

Bradley, a switch-hitter, also said Dvorak's ability to consistently work both sides of the plate enabled him to get the work in that he needed. When the Mariners returned from their last trip, Bradley told teammate Mike Sweeney about how Dvorak had helped him.

"I was asking, 'What have you been doing every day?' and he told me, 'There's this grounds crew guy who can throw pretty good BP,' " Sweeney said with a laugh.

And Dvorak hopes this isn't where the story ends.

"Hopefully, somebody puts in a good word for me," Dvorak said. "It's something I'd love to keep doing."

Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or gbaker@seattletimes.com.

Read his daily blog at www.seattletimes.com/Mariners

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