Every time Chad Cordero warms up for the 51s, the former All-Star closer stops for a moment to contemplate the tattoo on the inside of his left forearm.
It's an image of his baby daughter, Tehya Irene Cordero, who died of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) Dec. 4 at 3 months old.
Cordero, 29, got the tattoo three days after she died in her sleep at the pitcher's parents' home in Chino, Calif.
"Before I start throwing, I usually take a step back and look at her and try to talk to her a little bit," Cordero said. "That kind of helps me go forward. I know she's always going to be there with me, no matter what."
While Cordero, his wife Jamie and their daughter Riley, who turns 2 this month, are doing their best to deal with the tragedy, Cordero said the grief is still too much to bear at times.
"I break down all the time and my wife breaks down all the time," he said. "I've cried several times on the buses and in the clubhouse.
"It's always in my mind. Luckily having baseball has been kind of a distraction for a couple hours a day. But it would be a lot better distraction if I was pitching better."
Nearly four years removed from recording his last save in the major leagues, Cordero has struggled for Las Vegas as the right-hander continues his comeback attempt from 2008 shoulder surgery for a torn labrum.
Cordero, who led the majors in 2005 with 47 saves for the Nationals, has allowed 15 runs on 18 hits in 12 2/3 innings for the 51s (10-14). He has a 10.66 ERA.
In his last outing Thursday, Cordero (0-2) surrendered three home runs to Sacramento in the 13th inning of Las Vegas' 13-9 loss.
"Nothing can get any worse than what I've already gone through, but the other night when I gave up those three homers, I took it hard," he said. "That was the first time I really got upset. I threw my glove, threw my hat and everything just kind of came to a head.
"It's difficult, but my wife and I are doing the best we can to handle it and we're actually doing really well."
Despite his numbers with the 51s, Cordero sees some bright spots.
"My strength is my command and I feel that's back," he said. "I had a couple rough spots where I lost control this year, but for the most part my arm's feeling pretty good."
After compiling 113 saves for Washington from 2005 to 2007, the former Cal State Fullerton star missed virtually all of the 2008 and 2009 seasons.
Last year, he compiled a combined 3.03 ERA and six saves in 34 Triple-A games for Tacoma and Buffalo, striking out 36 and walking nine in 35 2/3 innings.
He also made it back to the big leagues with the Mariners, where he appeared in nine games and allowed seven runs on 10 hits in 9 2/3 innings.
"I didn't have the success I wanted to, but it felt good being back up there and my arm felt good," he said.
Since signing a minor league deal with the Blue Jays in January, Cordero's velocity has been inconsistent, ranging from the mid-to-high 80s. But he remains confident he can regain his prior form.
"I know I can," he said. "It's early in the season, so it might take a month or two to get full strength again. I know it's going to eventually come back this year."
As Cordero keeps his comeback hopes alive, he and his wife also plan to keep Tehya's memory alive by raising awareness of SIDS, which, according to the American SIDS Institute, causes death in about 1 in every 2,000 live births.
"Eventually we're going to start a foundation trying to raise money for research so they can find a cure, because right now there is no cure and there's no way to detect it," he said. "That's the hardest part, besides losing our daughter, is knowing there's no real reason why this happened. She just fell asleep and didn't wake up."
Contact reporter Todd Dewey at email@example.com or 702-383-0354.