Mullee Still Working His Way Back

TAMPA, FL - The fact that right-handed reliever Conor Mullee is still even pitching after three Tommy John surgeries is in of itself quite the achievement. No longer rehabbing anymore and not really concerned about getting injured again, while he has been getting the job done on the field he says he's still working his way back to find his pre-injury form on the mound.

Conor Mullee has proven that he can be a lights out reliever when he is healthy. He owns a 1.60 ERA in parts of three seasons of minor league baseball [2015 will be his fourth] to go along with a .191 batting average against and a 0.98 WHIP ratio after being selected in the 24th round of the 2010 draft out of St. Peters College (NJ). A shortstop when drafted, the Yankees converted him into a reliever after his fastball topped out at 97 miles-per-hour.

Unfortunately, injuries have hit Mullee hard since 2010, causing him to miss the entire 2011 and 2013 seasons. He was able to pitch in 2012, but was limited to only six games and five total innings before injuries once again forced him to miss the rest of the season that season too. In total, Mullee has had three Tommy John surgeries and even though he can’t reach the 97 mph plateau that he once did, his fastball can still touch the low 90’s.

Tampa pitching coach Tommy Phelps, who is in his first year working with Mullee, believes that he can bring some of the power back to his fastball that he once had.

“He’s been out for a while so it’s a matter of him getting in games and building up arm speed in games as he’s getting going," Phelps said. "I expect around May he’ll start getting stronger”.

Phelps said that there weren’t any primary goals set for him in Spring Training necessarily but they wanted to work on “getting back in the game and competition, and tightening his slider up and working on his fastball and changeup”.

"I expect him to compete every night, pound the strike zone, attack hitters, get stronger and get some innings under his belt," Phelps added.

Manager Dave Bialas also shares in Phelps optimism about Mullee being able to finally come into a healthy season.

"I expect for him to improve in all phases of pitching," Bialas said, "having the consistency of throwing a fastball down in the strike zone and getting the breaking pitches over on a consistent basis."

"It’s different from a starter's role; a relief role has to have two pitches, a starter has to have three. It’s always a work in progress to have these guys throw down in the strike zone, be able to go both sides of the plate and go both up and down."

Bialas also agrees that Mullee can bring back the power on his fastball but doesn’t think that he looks all that rusty given all of the time that he has missed due to injuries.

Bialas and Phelps were both impressed by Mullee’s first outing of the season against Lakeland on April 9th where he went 1.1 innings, and got the save in a 2-1 win. Getting to that game on April 9th -- his first professional game ever in the month of April -- was the result of an offseason dedicated to work.

"I had an intense lifting regiment and tried to eat really well. I started throwing in the middle of January, built the arm strength up slowly, got out to 160 feet and was ready to go by Spring Training," Mullee said with a big smile as it was essentially his first ever offseason not spent rehabbing an injury.

His focus this offseason was to not worry about physical therapy [which he used to attend five days a week], but instead it was putting on some extra weight.

“For me it’s always been a struggle," he admitted. "I’m 6-foot-4, 185-190 [pounds] but I got up to 195 which is my peak strength.”

While Mullee wasn’t developing any new pitches over Spring Training, he was working on getting more consistent with his slider and being able to throw it more for strikes. He said that he got his slider back quicker than he thought he would.

“My slider is going to be a very important pitch for me going forward.”

Despite Phelps and Bialas being impressed with his debut against Lakeland, Mullee didn’t exactly share in their optimism.

“I think it could have been better," he said. "I came in with two outs in the 8th inning and got a first pitch groundout, which was the good side. Then in the 9th I gave a leadoff walk. You can’t have a four-pitch walk in a 2-1 game. But I settled down and got the double play ball. So it was good and bad, but not bad for a first outing.

“My fastball had a decent amount of run to it. Besides the one batter [I walked], I pounded the zone with my fastball and got three routine ground outs. My slider, I might have been trying to do too much but my fastball was working.”

He realizes it may take some time to rediscover his pre-injury stuff and command, and he's willing to put in the time and the work. No longer consumed by injury either sustained or perhaps forthcoming, he's just happy to be back working his way up the minor league ladder.

"I don’t have time to worry about getting injured," he said stoically. "Whatever happens, happens. I’m so happy to be in Tampa. My goal was to break with Tampa out of Spring Training camp. I couldn’t be more excited and I’m ready for a full healthy season."


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