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Mark Mulder makes pitch to renew career with Angels

Left-hander, 36, hasn't played since 2008 but is trying to return to the big leagues after coming up with a delivery similar to that of Dodgers reliever Paco Rodriguez.

February 11, 2014|By Mike DiGiovanna
  • Mark Mulder, 36, hasn't pitched an inning in of Major League Baseball since 2008, but he's attempting a comeback with the Angels after a five-year layoff caused by shoulder injuries.
Mark Mulder, 36, hasn't pitched an inning in of Major League Baseball… (Rhona Wise / EPA )

Joe Winkelsas, Brian Sikorski, Brandon Knight, Adam Pettyjohn and Brad Thomas combined for a 12-19 record and 6.32 earned-run average in 154 major league games from 1999 to 2011.

A fab five, it isn't. But when Mark Mulder hears the link between them, the 36-year-old left-hander who was the American League Cy Young Award runner-up in 2001 jumps at the chance to be included.

They are the only pitchers in the last 15 years who had spans of at least five years between big league appearances.

"Without a doubt, I want to be added to that list," said Mulder, who will try to revive his career with the Angels this spring after a five-year absence from the game. "It's exciting, something unique."

His career cut short by two shoulder injuries, Mulder hasn't pitched in a big league game since July 9, 2008, and hasn't won a game since 2006. He was perfectly content in retirement, playing golf, working as an ESPN analyst and being a father to children ages 6, 4 and 2.

Then he saw Dodgers reliever Paco Rodriguez pitch in the playoffs. Mulder was intrigued by the way Rodriguez separated his hands near the top of his delivery. Mimicking the motion in the living room of his Phoenix home, Mulder was surprised how natural it felt.

Mulder had his wife take cell phone video of him throwing a ball against a wall. He played catch with former St. Louis teammate Kyle Lohse. He began working out hard and throwing every day.

On Nov. 25, Mulder threw two sets of 25 pitches off a bullpen mound in Tempe, Ariz., for scouts from the Angels, San Francisco and Arizona.

"You could tell right away this was a little different than most guys who do these things," said Tim Huff, special assistant to Angels General Manager Jerry Dipoto. "After 10 pitches, all three of us kind of looked at each other and said, 'Who's going to get on the phone to their GMs faster?' "

Mulder's fastball ranged from 89 to 92 mph and he located it to both sides of the plate. He also had good feel for his breaking ball and changeup. He threw another 50-pitch session Dec. 18 that Huff said was "just as good or better" than the first.

"What amazed me was how loose and free and easy his arm was," Huff said. "I pulled some video of him from St. Louis and you could tell he was fighting it on every pitch, trying to find some kind of arm slot that wasn't going to cause pain."

Mulder agreed to a minor league deal with the Angels on Jan. 1 that includes $1 million in base pay if he makes the club and another $5 million in incentives. He will report to camp with pitchers and catchers Thursday with a solid chance of winning a rotation spot.

"This is just such a fluke," Mulder said. "I have no idea why I stood up in my living room and did what I did. There's no explanation. I had no plans to play again. I have two years left on my ESPN contract, so that shows you how much intent there was of this happening. But I feel like a little kid with a new toy."

Mulder completed several four-inning, 100-pitch simulated games in January before tapering off so he would not be fatigued at the start of spring training. He has done the same fielding drills he'll do in camp.

"It's getting better each time I throw," Mulder said. "It's less thinking and worrying about my arm and more repeating my delivery."

Mulder's biggest concern isn't his arm. It's his lower back, knees, hamstrings and calves, all more susceptible to injury after hours of drills and shagging on Arizona's sun-baked fields.

"The joke is, the best way to get ready for spring training is to put on your spikes and stand in a parking lot for four hours," Mulder said. "You can't simulate it. I'm doing everything I can before camp so I'm not ridiculously sore the first couple of weeks."

Ignoring a minor ache got Mulder in trouble in the first place.

The second overall pick of the 1998 draft, Mulder reached the big leagues with Oakland in 2000 and was an All-Star in 2003 and 2004. He was 81-42 with a 3.92 ERA in five years with the Athletics, but his career turned in August 2003 when he felt pain in the hip of his landing leg.

"I remember the trainers saying, 'Hey, we need to be careful with this hip — don't change anything with your arm, or you could hurt yourself,' " Mulder said. "I thought, 'Yeah, whatever.' You're young, things are going great, you're not thinking anything is going to happen."

After three pain-filled starts and a strange day in Fenway Park when Mulder couldn't lift his right leg to get off the bench, he was sent for an MRI test that showed a stress fracture in his femur.

Mulder was 17-8 with a 4.43 ERA and started the All-Star game in 2004, but his delivery deteriorated that July.

"I lost my release point. I thought I was losing my mind," Mulder said. "I couldn't throw the ball where I wanted to. Little did I know that my delivery was changing because my release point changed. Then my shoulder started bothering me."

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