SARASOTA, Fla. — Mark Hendrickson is trying to reinvent himself at the age of 38.
The Orioles, especially Manager Buck Showalter, believe he can.
The 6-foot-9 left-hander — a veteran of five major league organizations, including a stint with the Orioles from 2009-2011 — didn’t pitch professionally last season. No teams were interested in his services. His phone went unanswered. So, instead, he pitched in a semi pro league in York, Pa., the same way he first charted a path to the big leagues.
In December, Hendrickson decided to try a suggestion Showalter gave him two years ago — to lower his arm slot to increase the deception in his arms-and-legs delivery.
He called Showalter and told him, and during the Orioles’ minicamp last month, he showed the team his new sidearm delivery. It earned him a minor league contract and an invite to spring training. On Thursday, he threw sidearm off a mound for just the seventh time. It has caught on. Hendrickson has turned his curveball into a slider that comes out with strong movement from his arm new angle. He said that throwing overhand now seems foreign to him.
“To be honest, I’m a completely different pitcher than anybody’s ever seen,” Hendrickson said. “Down there, you can kind of mess with some grips and see how it comes out. Slower, firmer.”
Hendrickson, who has mostly pitched in relief in the big leagues since 2010, is a long shot to make the team out of spring training. His delivery is a work in progress, and Showalter said Hendrickson could continue to lower his arm angle with the help of pitching coach Rick Adair, who has a reputation for successfully working with unconventional arm slots.
He could remain in extended spring training to continue refining the delivery, or he could be assigned to one of the team’s minor league affiliates. Hendrickson said he’s open to working his way back. Most important to him is opportunity.
“There’s probably not a person more excited [about] being here than Mark,” Showalter said. “It’s not that he missed it, but you can tell that he enjoys it. It’s like he’s got a new toy. It’s kind of like R.A. Dickey.”
While with the Texas Rangers, Showalter was instrumental in convincing Dickey to try his hand as a knuckleballer. Dickey became so effective with the pitch that he won the National League Cy Young Award last season with the New York Mets, pitching at age 37.
This offseason, Hendrickson realized his old way of pitching wasn’t working. He owned a 4.80 ERA in his previous stint with the Orioles and a 5.03 career mark. His big league career seemed over, unless he chose to adapt.
“You’ve got to have failure,” Showalter added. “It’s got to be, ‘I can no longer do it.’ He knew after a year away that it was over, conventionally the way he was doing it, but he knows that this isn’t a one or two-week tryout. This is something that takes time, and he’s willing to do whatever it takes.”
Hendrickson appears dedicated to the change. Before reporting to Florida, he pitched to college batters and sought feedback on his delivery.
“I just threw to some hitters just to get some feedback. Just to ask, ‘Hey, what are you seeing, what is the deception? What does it look like?’ ” Hendrickson said. “I got some feedback from some lefties, and obviously some righties as well. That’s important just to have me take it all in and learn.”
Hendrickson said the new delivery has also alleviated stress from his arm.
“It’s a lot easier,” he said. “There were times where it would take me a little while to get loose. It’s just a different angle and there’s different soreness that I’m going through, but I think it’s a lot easier. It’s just more fluid.”
The manager is intrigued.
“When he gets it right, he’s going to be throwing it from the second baseman,” Showalter said. “He’s going to be able to create quite a unique angle.”
— Baltimore Sun