SARASOTA, Fla. – On the back fields of Ed Smith Stadium, a small group gathered to watch the Orioles’ newest sidearmer show his stuff.
Mark Hendrickson, out of baseball last season, has re-invented himself as a sidearm reliever. The 38-year-old left-hander, who pitched for the Orioles from 2009-11, is back.
For the first time he’s throwing sliders, and it’s a revelation.
“I'm a completely different pitcher than anybody's ever seen because I never threw the slider. I always threw the curveball. But down there, you can kind of mess with some grips and see how it comes out,” Hendrickson said.
Last year, Hendrickson pitched in an adult league in York, Pa. He called manager Buck Showalter in December and told him he wanted to try again. Now, he doesn’t have to think before he throws.
“For the seventh time on the mound, it feels very natural,” Hendrickson said.
“The key for me, too, is getting some games where it's just time to compete."
Showalter said that Hendrickson’s arm will drop down even lower once he gets more comfortable throwing.
“He’s going to be able to create quite a unique angle,” Showalter said.
He’ll be patient with Hendrickson. It’s unlikely that he’ll make the team out of spring training. A minor league stint may be mandatory.
“You can’t just all of a sudden just change your arm angle and think you’re going to get major league hitters out consistently. He might cut them up all spring, but I don’t see him pitching game one or two or three,” Showalter said.
“There’s probably not a person more excited being here than Mark. 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. You’ve got to have failure. 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.”
For Hendrickson, the excitement is evident. The 6-foot-9 man who played in both the NBA and the major leagues says the new sidearm action is fun.
“It's a lot easier. 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. I would say especially in the first five minutes of throwing,” Hendrickson said.