Mark Mulder deserves better

Former ace starter sitting out the season, facing possible retirement, because he can't regain velocity after years of rehab

February 23, 2010|By By Phil Rogers On Baseball

Few athletes live with more insecurities than pitchers.

Underhand, not overhand, is the natural way to throw a ball. Look at a picture of Roger Clemens or someone else throwing a fastball, and you will see an arm doing something it wasn't designed to do. It's natural that injuries result from throwing thousands of pitches every year at maximum effort.

But injuries aren't the only problems for pitchers. Another reason for concern is that sometimes the ability to throw the ball really hard just vanishes, sometimes without a discernible reason. That might be why pitchers - including some of the best of the last two decades - have been corrupted so easily with the use of performance-enhancing drugs. The job can make you crazy.

Mark Mulder, who went 97-50 in his first six seasons, is tired of beating his head against the proverbial wall in an attempt to reclaim the success he last had in 2005. He had pursued a contract for 2010 - interesting the Brewers, among other teams - but has decided to take at least a sabbatical from baseball as a prelude possibly to giving it up altogether.

He's doing it with the belief he is healthy again after shoulder surgeries in 2006 and '07 and extended rehab efforts the last two seasons. But the ball no longer comes out of his hand the way it used to when his four-plus pitches and 6-foot-6 frame made him as feared as A's teammates Tim Hudson and Barry Zito.

Mulder, 32, hasn't said he's retiring but admits that after all the time in rehab and off the field, his shoulder isn't responding. He told the San Francisco Chronicle he is fine playing catch or doing long toss but that something changes in his delivery when he's on a mound. He believes his mechanics are off, and his best efforts haven't been able to fix it.

"A buddy of mine jokes that I have to get my fast-twitch muscle going," Mulder said. "It sounds stupid, but that's what it feels like - like I'm missing the fast-twitch muscle in my shoulder when I need to rotate it. When I'm slow, it's fine, but when I need to speed things up, it's not there."

Mulder has made only 21 starts the last four seasons, most recently for the Cardinals in 2008. He had hoped he could help a contender this season, but he never regained the pop on pitches that he once would have been featuring in Chicago-area batting cages this time of year.

"Could I go pitch somewhere now? Probably," Mulder said. "But I feel like I'd have no chance to be successful at any level, and it could lead to getting hurt in some weird way. That's the last thing I want."

Wanted man: The Yankees' parting with Johnny Damon surprised many, including New York GM Brian Cashman.

"My attitude is if this is the place you want to be, you will make it happen," Cashman told the New Haven Register. "Johnny Damon professed his love for the Yankees, wanted to be here and was given every chance to be here. He's not here anymore, and I don't feel that is the Yankees' fault."

Damon, who earned $13 million last season, told Cashman not to bother making him an offer if it included a pay cut. The Yankees still made him two offers (the best a reported $14 million over two years), yet Damon stubbornly held out for a better deal.

He chose a one-year, $8 million deal with the Tigers on Saturday over offers from the Braves and White Sox.

Early to work: Getting swept in the first round by the Dodgers may have inspired the Cardinals. On the first day of workouts for pitchers and catchers, they had five positional regulars going through drills, with only Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday and the injured Brendan Ryan (wrist surgery) missing.

"Last year left a little sour taste in people's mouths," center fielder Colby Rasmus said. "We could have done better than we did."

Mets not humbled: The biggest disappointment in the majors a year ago, the Mets suffered through a long winter in which GM Omar Minaya acquired Jason Bay but did little to help an underachieving rotation.

Yet David Wright has told reporters he expects to win the World Series, a premise Jose Reyes echoes. Perhaps the biggest key toward doing more than talking is to get Reyes back on form after a season in which he played only 36 games because of recurring hamstring injuries that eventually required surgery.

Manager Jerry Manuel is looking to Reyes to hit more and run less, saying he might find a leadoff man elsewhere (Angel Pagan, Gary Matthews Jr., Luis Castillo) so Reyes can bat third.

It's a huge year for Reyes as another down season could prompt the club to let him walk rather than exercise an $11 million option for 2011.

"Right now, I'm not thinking about contract stuff," Reyes said. "I just want to get on the field, put up good numbers and try to help this team win."

The last word: "Are we a good enough team to win? To be answered. But we're not going to be distracted. We're either going to be good enough or we're not. No excuses, explanations, whatever." - La Russa on his hiring of Mark McGwire as hitting coach possibly hurting the Cardinals.

Phil Rogers covers baseball for the Chicago Tribune.

progers@tribune.com

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