Moylan pushing 40, still a bullpen workhorse and clubhouse comedian

When you pitched in as many games as anyone in the major leagues the previous season, it’s easier to laugh about your relatively advanced age. And if you’re Peter Moylan, self-deprecating humor has long been part of your wide-ranging popularity anyway.

So here was Moylan, a 39-year-old Aussie reliever and one of the more beloved Braves of the past couple of decades despite lack of star-caliber credentials, upon returning for a third stint with the Braves and suiting up Tuesday in the same Champion Stadium clubhouse where he first joined the Braves in 2006.

“My first locker was actually over there by the toilets,” Moylan said. “Me and Stocky (former Braves reliever Phil Stockman) were right next to each other over there, 57 and 58, right by the toilets. Easy access.”

Asked if it were pretty cool to be back with the Braves, Moylan said. “It is -- not pretty cool, really cool. Not much has changed inside except for the players. It’s obviously kids in here that are (young) enough to be my kids. But yeah, the whole place feels great. It feels normal.”

The right-handed sidearmer, after coming back from two Tommy John surgeries to revive his career with the Royals in 2016, posted a 3.49 ERA and .189 opponents’ average last season with Kansas City in 79 appearances – tied for the major league lead – and had 46 strikeouts in 59-1/3 innings. His 1.096 WHIP (walks-plus-hits per inning pitched) was his lowest in a full season since 2007, when Moylan had a 1.067 WHIP as a 28-year-old Braves rookie.

Nevertheless, he waited all winter for a major league contract offer from the Braves, Royals or anyone else.

“I was kind of just seeing how it all played out,” he said. “As we all know, it kind of played out slowly. Unfortunately the game’s trending younger, and I’m trending the other way. But I’m excited -- really, really excited – to be here.”

Not until last week did talks advance with the Braves, and the two sides finalized a non-guaranteed major league deal with a $575,000 salary and an escalator that bumps that amount to $1.25 million if Moylan makes the opening-day roster. In other words, if he’s not on the disabled list.

It’s not a guaranteed deal and the salary is for barely more than the major league minimum before the escalator clause. But at least it’s a major league contract, after Moylan had to settle for minor league deals each of the previous three years and force his way onto the roster. And he’s back with the Braves, which had been his desire all along.

“There was a point where I didn’t know if I was going to get a job at all,” Moylan said. “But towards the end, last week, it started to speed up a little bit. When I started looking at minor league jobs instead of roster jobs, which was unfortunate. But I was able to get the non-guaranteed roster job here, which was huge for me.

“But yes, there was a plan to come to Atlanta. I didn’t know if I was going to be playing or coaching or front office, whatever it was going to be. But I still make my home in Atlanta, and this has always been the organization I want to finish my career with.”

They are glad to have him, particularly those were around for Moylan’s previous stints with the Braves in 2006-12 and in 2015, when he signed a unique minor league deal to serve as a player-coach while rehabbing from his second Tommy John surgery.

“It’s good to have him back,” said Braves reliever Dan Winkler, who was rehabbing from his own Tommy John surgery in 2015 when Moylan coached pitchers in the first half of the season at Braves minor league headquarters in Florida. “It was awesome rehabbing with him, man. That was a great time.

“He’ll make you laugh -- I mean all day, every day. He’s always got something witty to say. He keeps your mind off of it, and I think that’s the best part about Moylo. He keeps things loose. Plus he brings a lot of years of experience. The guy’s got how many appearances in the league? I think he had, like, 90 appearances one year.”

Moylan has a 3.00 ERA in 460 appearances in parts of 11 major league seasons, including 80 appearances with a 1.80 ERA in 90 innings in his first full season with the Braves in 2007 and a career-high 87 appearances in 2009 after missing most of 2008 recovering from his first Tommy John surgery.

“I had him his first year in ’06,” said Braves manager Brian Snitker, who was the Triple-A Richmond Braves manager in 2006 when Moylan began his Braves career. “I told him, man, we’ve come full circle here. It’s good. He feels good, had a really good year last year. It’s nice to have a guy like that down there. He’s been getting ground balls for a long time.”

And making people smile for longer. “I told everybody, if you don’t know him, he’ll liven that room up,” Snitker said. “He has a good time playing.”

As much as Moylan keeps things loose in the clubhouse and the bullpen room, he also sets an example the Braves hope others will follow.

“For some of these relievers, shame on them if they don’t tap (him for information),” Snitker said. “Here’s a guy that all he’s ever done is answer the phone (to the bullpen) and he’s ready to go, he’s ready to pitch. He’s been through about every physical ailment I think that you can. About the time that you think he’s done, he goes out and leads the league in appearances. It’s good to have him.”

Winkler has come back from two elbow surgeries and said Moylan’s perseverance was inspiring.

“He’s gone through the highest workload, and then coming off surgeries and everything like that,” Winkler said. “You’ve got (A.J.) Minter, me, some of the guys who’ve gone through the surgeries. And he’s gone through it a bunch of times. Just overcoming adversity after adversity. And especially overcoming being a player-coach to getting back to the big leagues, and now he’s gotten contract after contract. Just bringing in a guy like that is awesome.”

Moylan said he feels great physically, and knows that when he did the past two seasons would’ve been enough to draw multiple major league offers for a typical reliever, but not for one approaching 40 and with his medical history.

“If I was 32, it might be a little different,” Moylan said. “But I’m not. I’m 39, man. And as much as I feel great, it’s a risk for a team to sign a 39-year-old old. It doesn’t matter what you did last year.”

And that’s fine, he said. “I’m happy to prove myself over and over again. It’s good -- I’ve been proving people wrong most of my career.”

The Moylan medical file includes the two Tommy John elbow surgeries, plus shoulder surgery and three back surgeries -- two of those non-baseball related in 2001 and 2003, during his years selling medical supplies and pharmaceuticals back home in Australia.

“When I was selling lift chairs to old people, trying to lift (the chairs) out of the truck,” said Moylan, demonstrating how he hurt his back on that job. He did that work for quite a while after his two years in the Twins organization (1996-1997) when he never made it out of rookie ball, and his return to organized pro ball in 2006 with the Braves, who signed him after scouting the sidearmer pitching for Australia that spring in the World Baseball Classic.

When he looks at what he’s been through, the father of three feels fortunate and told his wife any pitch he threw after his 2014 second Tommy John surgery was a “godsend.” And so, having what is usually a rather routine team X-Ray become a three-hour exercise as Moylan’s was Monday seemed only a minor inconvenience.

“They wanted to make sure that I wasn’t going to fall over tomorrow,” he said, laughing. “Three hours of poking and prodding. MRI. Three X-Rays. Yeah, it was good. At least I know. Hey, I’d do the same thing.”

But he passed. And the contract was finalized. And 12 hours later, Moylan was being fitted for his new Braves gear and suiting up for a workout on familiar grounds, albeit with only a few familiar faces, such as Snitker and first baseman Freddie Freeman. Nevertheless, he’s eager to get to know his teammates and help any of the young ones who want his advice.

“It was a bit like that in Kansas City last year with a few of the younger guys,” he said. “There’s a lot more younger guys here, so I’m open and willing to answer all questions that these kids have -- and if they don’t have questions, great. But I’m excited to be around a bunch of younger guys. It makes you feel younger. It can make you feel older, too, when they’re running sprints, and you’re just sort of looking at them pass you by.

“But it’s a great club to be with. I’ve always loved the Braves, as you guys know. And it’s a great time to be here, I think.”