TEMPE, Ariz. — Mark Mulder's comeback attempt from a five-year retirement went from heartwarming to heartbreaking Saturday when the Angels pitcher sustained a ruptured Achilles' tendon in his left foot. The 36-year-old left-hander will undergo surgery and is expected to miss the season.
Mulder, who hadn't pitched in the major leagues since 2008, was scheduled to throw his first bullpen session of the spring Saturday morning. He was injured doing a side-to-side agility drill and never made it to the mound.
"Today was going to be a fun day for him, to show everybody how far he had come, and it didn't quite get off the ground," said Angels General Manager Jerry Dipoto. "I'm crushed for him because I know how hard he worked to get to this point."
Mulder is expected to address his injury with reporters Sunday, but he already posted this message on his Twitter account: "I can handle this. But seeing my son in tears when he saw me in a boot and crutches and I told him I wasn't going to pitch, that was tough."
Mulder, a two-time All-Star whose career was derailed by a pair of shoulder surgeries in 2006 and 2007, was content in retirement. Then last October, as he watched the playoffs, he was intrigued by the way Dodgers reliever Paco Rodriguez separated his hands near the top of his delivery. Mulder mimicked the motion in his living room and was surprised how natural it felt.
He threw for scouts in November and December, showing a 92-mph fastball and command of several secondary pitches. Mulder signed a minor league deal with the Angels on Jan. 1.
Team officials were so encouraged by Mulder's recent throwing sessions, some of which passed the 100-pitch mark, they thought he had an excellent chance of making the opening-day rotation.
"All of us who played this game have probably dreamed of doing what Mark is doing in our post-playing careers, whether we were 36, 46 or 56," Dipoto said. "The idea of coming back to play … he still had the body, the athleticism and the physical ability to do it, and clearly, he still had the will."
The Angels are now expected to open the season with a rotation of Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, Garrett Richards, Hector Santiago and Tyler Skaggs, but they were counting on Mulder to add depth.
The team's best options if any of their starters gets injured are Joe Blanton, Wade LeBlanc and Matt Shoemaker. The Angels may add another pitcher or two on minor league deals, but they are not expected to pursue free agents Ervin Santana or Ubaldo Jimenez, who are both tied to draft-pick compensation.
Moreno, Tustin meet
Angels owner Arte Moreno met with officials from Tustin last week to discuss the possibility of building a new baseball stadium, a team spokesman confirmed.
The Angels' lease with Anaheim runs through 2029, but the team can exercise an out clause between October 2016 and October 2019 with 12 months notice. Negotiations on a new deal are said to be at a stalemate.
Change of pace
The cut-fastball experiment is over for Ernesto Frieri, the closer who spent much of last spring trying to perfect the pitch but never mastered it during the season. The right-hander's goal this spring is to upgrade his changeup so it's game-ready, giving him a secondary pitch to go with his lively 95-mph fastball.
"I think I've finally figured it out," said Frieri, who parlayed a 2013 season in which he had a 3.80 earned-run average and 37 saves in 67 appearances into a $3.8-million salary for 2014. "It's not just the grip, it's the mechanics.
"I was slowing down my arm a little bit when I was throwing it last year and showing it to hitters. I had the same problem with my cutter. You can't get anyone out like that. I have to make sure I throw it just like my fastball."