It looks like 2015 is already the year of pitching comebacks or comeback attempts, at least. Whether or not the pitcher in question has been retired for years or out of baseball just a matter of months, it seems like more and more pitchers are trying to make their way back to the show and guide their teams up the MLB rankings.
Most are in their mid-late 30’s and have been out of the game for reasons ranging from injury to just straight ineffectiveness, a drop in velocity or loss of control. Either way, something has changed the mind of these four veterans who are attempting a comeback in 2015.
Joe Blanton, RHP
The latest in this line of comeback pitchers is Joe Blanton. Blanton began his career with the Oakland Athletics and later won a World Series with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2008.
He was shipped to the Los Angeles Dodgers during the 2012 season and signed as a free agent with the Los Angeles Angels after the season. The Angels released Blanton in 2014 and the A’s took another chance on the big right-hander. After a couple of starts at the Triple-A Sacramento he was released by the A’s. He last pitched in the Major Leagues in 2013.
Blanton’s numbers have been lackluster his entire career. He was a back-end of the rotation starter at best for almost a decade of playing the game, compiling a career ERA of 4.51. In his last season with the Angels his ERA was 6.04.
On Wednesday Blanton, who’s now 34, announced that he’s been working out and is ready to make his big return to baseball. According to Tim Dierks of MLB Trade Rumors, Blanton will be holding a workout and bullpen session for teams on February 4.
Dontrelle Willis, LHP
Dontrelle Willis hasn’t pitched in the Major Leagues since 2011 with the Cincinnati Reds. A two-time All-Star, Rookie of the Year and World Series Champion with the Florida Marlins in 2003, Willis struggled with control problems for seven of his nine big league seasons.
He led the league in hit batters with 19 in 2006 and earned runs in 2007. He posted a 9.38 ERA in 2008 and was put on the disabled list for an anxiety disorder in 2009.
Willis bounced around and was released by a number of teams post 2011 but was continually released. He did recently have some success in the Atlantic League, however, and he’s decided it is time to try his hand at pitching in the big leagues again.
Willis, 33, recently signed a minor league deal with an invite to Major League spring training with the Milwaukee Brewers.
Johan Santana, LHP
Unlike Blanton and Willis, Santana was a superstar pitcher. He’s a four-time All-Star and two-time Cy Young Award winner.
The years he didn’t win the Cy Young? He finished in the top ten for the Award voting four times. He was a Cy Young caliber pitcher during six of his 12 big league seasons and a good one for the other six.
Injuries started to derail his career in 2010. He had shoulder capsule surgery and missed the 2011 season.
In 2012 he went 6-9 with a 4.85 ERA in 21 starts but he still pitched two complete game shutouts that season. He was shutdown in August and had surgery again in 2013.
The 35-year-old left-hander now wants to “go out on his own terms” according to his agent.
He had a stellar first start in the Venezuelan Winter League, however, he’s already suffered a shoulder injury that has set him back. Santana’s still garnering interest from teams and believes he will be ready in time for spring training.
Mark Mulder, LHP
Mark Mulder was once one of the elite pitchers in the game but his glory was short-lived, cut short by injury. Drafted second overall by the Oakland Athletics in 1998.
Mulder fell just short of winning the Cy Young Award in 2001 and was a two-time All-Star. Yet, after being traded to the St. Louis Cardinals in 2005, things slowly started to fall apart for the then 27-year-old.
He had two shoulder surgeries in 2006 and 2007 after which he maintained that his shoulder never felt the same. He pitched his final game on July 9, 2008.
In 2013 Mulder discovered a way to change his delivery so that it put less stress on his shoulder. He signed a minor league deal with the Los Angeles Angels for the 2014 season but tore his Achilles tendon on the first day of spring training.
Now 37 years old but with a healed Achilles tendon, Mulder is mulling over a second comeback attempt.
How any of these comeback attempts will go, can only be speculated on. It would seem that each pitcher has their own issue to overcome, but like Santana they all want to leave out of the game on their own terms. It’s definitely seems to be starting to become a trend in 2015.