Mark Mulder is attempting to make a comeback. This isn't a gag for a series of ESPN commercials for Baseball Tonight. This is apparently really happening.
ESPN.com's Jerry Crasnick reports that the former A's and Cardinals pitcher has been working himself into shape at a workout facility in Phoenix, has actually thrown for three MLB teams recently and was clocked at 89 to 90 mph. Mulder, 36, hasn't pitched in the majors since 2008 and has been an analyst for ESPN since 2011.
While watching Dodgers left-hander Paco Rodriguez on television, Mulder was intrigued by the reliever's delivery and decided to try it for himself. As Crasnick explains in his article, the key in Rodriguez's mechanics is keeping his hands up high, near his head, when he separates his hands and releasing the ball from there. When Mulder pitched, he held his hands low at his midsection and separated them from there. That little bit of saved movement apparently makes the difference.
You can watch Rodriguez's delivery in this video.
Mulder tried throwing like Rodriguez while playing catch with former teammate Kyle Lohse in late October at a distance of about 150 to 200 feet. That's typically the distance pitchers will throw when rehabbing from injury or surgery. As Mulder tells it, Lohse told him he was throwing like he had in the majors.
"The best way to describe it is, the ball is coming out of my hand better now than at any point when I was in St. Louis," Mulder told Crasnick. "I wouldn't be trying this is if I didn't think the stuff I was throwing was good enough [to pitch in the big leagues]."
Consider what Mulder is saying there. In his first year with the Cardinals, the left-hander went 16-8 with a 3.64 ERA and threw 205 innings. That was the best — and only healthy — season Mulder had in St. Louis. His final three years with the club were plagued by injuries to his left shoulder that required two surgeries on his rotator cuff.
Claiming that he's now throwing better than he did during his four seasons with the Cardinals could be hyperbole. Or perhaps Mulder simply can't remember a time he didn't throw without some pain or difficulty while he played for St. Louis. That was five years ago.
At first glance, this looks like another example of an athlete who can't quite let go of his glory days as a player. Keeping a close eye on the game as an ESPN analyst may have kept that itch alive. Yet Mulder also presumably doesn't want to risk making a fool of himself and likely wouldn't try this unless he really felt he was throwing the ball well. As he said in Crasnick's article, "Why not give it a shot?" He's only 36 and looks like he's stayed in shape.
Mulder has nothing to lose by giving it a try, throwing for some teams later this winter and maybe getting a shot with a club in the spring. And if it doesn't work out, maybe only coaches and teammates will have seen the effort and results. Maybe a few fans in Grapefruit or Cactus League play, if Mulder's comeback got that far.
But if Mulder is to be believed with how well he's throwing, is it really that improbable to imagine he could catch on as a left-handed reliever with a team? This could become one of the most intriguing, compelling storylines to follow this spring. And it would probably make for a good Disney movie too. Who would play Mulder in that one?