Braves reliever Moylan not content just being back in majors

The original plan had Peter Moylan coaching pitchers on the Braves’ rookie-league Danville team this summer as he worked his way back from a second Tommy John elbow surgery toward a hoped-for return to the major leagues in 2016.

And so, the fact that the 36-year-old sidearmer never made it to Danville and has instead spent a little over a month pitching for the big-league Braves is an unmitigated success story for Moylan, even if it’s come amid perhaps the lousiest half-season of baseball in franchise history.

“It’s a double-edged sword,” said the gregarious Aussie said, taking a break from a game of video golf with Freddie Freeman on the large monitor Moylan has set up inside his locker stall. “I’m just so pumped by the fact that I’m still here, that I’ve been given an opportunity again, and I feel like I’ve been throwing the ball as well as I have since probably 2011.

“I got a cup of coffee with L.A. in 2013, but I wasn’t ever really comfortable with how I was throwing, I felt something was missing. Coming back here, it’s sort of given me a chance to look at video of what I was doing back in the day, and go back to that. Now hopefully I can continue that, maintain that and then roll through next year.”

As for the other edge of the figurative sword, Moylan said, “It’s no fun to lose every day. But, I mean, where else would I want to be?”

Moylan, who missed the entire 2014 season recovering from his second TJ surgery, had a 4.50 ERA in 16 relief appearances for the Braves before Friday, with nine hits, four runs, no walks and six strikeouts in eight innings. He’s regained at least some semblance of his early career form in recent weeks, posting a 2.45 ERA and .214 opponents’ average in his past seven appearances before Friday, with three hits, one run four strikeouts in 3 2/3 innings.

“It’s been 18 months (since surgery) and I’m really happy with where my velocity is and really excited about the movement I’m getting on the ball,” Moylan said. “Until the (double) I gave up in the ninth (inning Sunday) I hadn’t allowed a ball out of the infield in a few outings, which is perfect for me.

“I’ve obviously got a lot of work to do to maintain this, and the offseason’s coming up quick. So I’ll probably give myself a week off and go right back into it. If I hadn’t made it back to the Braves I was going to go play winter ball to go get some kind of competition at that level, so I could come into spring training knowing I could still do it. But the fact that I’ve been up six weeks here, it gives me the confident to know I can still compete at this level.”

Moylan signed a very unusual contract with the Braves during this past spring training. It was a two-year minor league deal that included a coaching position at Danville and an invitation to 2016 major league spring training.

The idea: Moylan could continue to work out every day while helping pitchers at Danville, and the second year of the contract would give him some security so that he wouldn’t feel pressured to overdo things trying to get back too soon.

He’s certainly not the dominant reliever he was in his first seasons with the Braves back in 2007 through 2010, but Moylan is once again showing that few pitchers have been able to beat long odds and craft an improbable career quite the way he has every step of the way.

This is the guy who became one of the most popular Braves while spending the first seven seasons of his major league career with the team, after they signed the then-bespectacled pharmaceutical salesman coming off his impressive showing in the 2006 World Baseball Classic. That was after Moylan had been out of American pro baseball nine years, following a brief minor league career with the Twins.

After dropping his arm angle to become a sidearmer while pitching in an Australian semi-pro league, Moylan gained 10 mph on his fastball, and drew much notice from scouts at the WBC. And before long, he became one of the best workhorse relievers in the major leagues, until his body began to break down.

He posted a 1.80 ERA in 80 appearances (90 innings) as a 28-year-old rookie in 2007, missed most of 2008 season recovering from his first Tommy John surgery, then posted a 2.90 ERA in 172 appearances during the 2009-2010 seasons. That total included a franchise-record 87 appearances in 2009 in his first season after TJ surgery.

Whenever the Braves wanted Moylan to pitch, he took the ball and pitched.

Now, after being limited to 35 appearances in a four-year span through last season, Moylan has made it back from fourth major surgery in five years, including operations on his back and shoulder. It only seems appropriate that he’s doing it back with the organization where his interesting and even inspiring journey began.

Not content to just make it back, Moylan is trying to hone a pitch like Orioles sidewarmer Darren O’Day throws, a pitch to help Moylan improve against left-handed batters. Lefties have hit .293 against him in his career, compared to .219 by right-handed batters. Lefties went 2-for-3 with a homer against him this season, and lately Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez has made sure Moylan faces only right-handed batters.

“O’Day throws a pitch, I wouldn’t call it a rise ball, but it’s a ball that stays on its plane rather than sinking,” Moylan said. “Because even if I try to throw the ball up, with my normal grip it’s going to come down. Call it a cutter or call it whatever you want, but instead of (sinking), it just stays on the same plane. O’Day throws it, it’s what makes him effective against lefties.

“Every time I play catch, every time I throw in the ‘pen, I work on it. I’m loving what I’m doing right now, come in and get a right-hander out. That’s great. But I think it’s easier on the coaching staff if they’re not having to play matchups because I’m an easy at-bat against left-handers. If I can be effective against left-handers and right-handers, then it makes it easy for them too.”