Disabato: After tweaking delivery, Mark Mulder attempting major league comeback
By Pat Disabato firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @disabato January 21, 2014 7:54PM
Updated: February 23, 2014 6:34AM
Mark Mulder hasn’t pitched in a Major League Baseball game since the 2008 season.
He hasn’t won a game since 2006.
But if the Thornwood graduate’s against-all-odds comeback continues to progress as it has, that’s all going to change in 2014.
“Everything is right where it needs to be right now,” said Mulder, a 6-foot-6 left-hander. “The ball is coming out of my hand good. My arm feels great.”
There was a time when Mulder was one of the best left-handed pitchers in the big leagues, compiling a 103-60 during a nine-year career that included stops in Oakland and St. Louis. From 2001 to ’05, he was 88-40, including a 21-8 season in 2001 and the honor of starting the 2004 All-Star Game.
His success led to lucrative contracts, totaling more than $30 million in his career.
A shoulder injury, however, led to surgeries in 2006 and ’07. Mulder was never the same. More precise, his arm never was the same. In 2008, with just three appearances under his belt, the South Holland native decided to call it a career.
At age 30.
And he was fine with that.
“I was working with ESPN, spending time with my family and golfing,” said Mulder, a married father of three children, sons Xander and Dax and daughter Tatym. “I wasn’t working out or anything. I had no intention of making a comeback.”
Until October, that is. Mulder was sitting at home watching the National League Championship Series when the Los Angeles Dodgers summoned left-hander Paco Rodriguez from the bullpen.
Mulder didn’t realize it at the time, but his comeback was about to take flight.
“My whole career my hands came up, my hands came down and I would deliver the ball,” Mulder said of his own delivery. “He (Rodriguez) set his hands real high. They never came down before he delivered the ball.”
Mulder was intrigued by Rodriguez’s delivery. So much, in fact, that Mulder got up off the couch in his living room and tried emulating the delivery.
“I don’t know why I stood up and tried it,” he said. “I was like, ‘Wow, this feels good.’ A few days went by and I went outside on my basketball court. I grabbed a ball and threw it against the wall. It felt good. I went and grabbed a glove out of the garage and threw again and it felt great.”
The comeback was full-steam ahead.
He insists from the naked eye, most people won’t realize the adjustment in his delivery. It’s slight, but it’s made all the difference in the world.
“When Paco Rodriguez separated his hands (during his delivery), something changed with me,” said Mulder, a 1998 first-round draft pick by Oakland out of Michigan State. “People who watch me don’t notice anything different. To me it’s a huge difference. I said to myself, ‘Why can you all of sudden be able to do this?’ I don’t care. It’s working and I’m going to run with it.”
Mulder, 36, kept himself in good shape the past six years while doing analyst work for ESPN — just not pitching shape. He’s endured a few minor bumps along the way — a sore neck and legs. His arm, though, has been golden.
His agent invited a few teams in December to watch him throw, among them the Diamondbacks, Angels and Giants. Mulder had a few guidelines before signing a contract: the team’s spring training site had to be in Arizona and their home address on the West Coast.
“If I was going to do this, and with so much uncertainty with it, I wanted to be close to home and my family, not in Florida,” he said of spring training.
He eventually signed with the Angels, who have invited him to spring training with the big-league club. Mulder’s pitch velocity is up to 92 mph — similar to his prime. His pitching arsenal is nicely progressing.
The excitement in his voice is apparent — like a kid on Christmas morning. The prospect of pitching pain-free in the big leagues, with his children in attendance, is a great motivator, like adding rocket fuel to a Fiat.
“It would have been different if I left the game because I wasn’t good enough anymore. But I was injured,” he said. “I’m working harder now than at any time in my career. When I get tired, I think of my kids and it pushes me to do another set of squats. The way the ball is coming out of my hand and how it’s moving, I really believe it’s going to happen.”