Just less than three months shy of his 41st birthday, free-agent right-handed pitcher Brett Tomko hopes for one last chance to get back to the major leagues.
Tomko will throw for the Orioles on Friday morning in Orange County, Calif. He aims to impress the club enough to earn a minor-league deal with an invitation to major league spring training.
Tomko hasn’t pitched in the major leagues since 2011. He spent most of last season pitching for the York Revolution of the independent Atlantic League while hoping to join a Triple-A team, an opportunity that never came. He ended the 2013 baseball season attending a player development scouting camp with the Kansas City Royals to prepare for life after pitching.
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But Tomko wants one final opportunity to get back to the majors, and the Orioles -- a club that has signed pitchers like Jamie Moyer, Dontrelle Willis and Freddy Garcia to second-life minor league offers over the past two years -- will take a hard look at Tomko.
“I’m just trying to get into a camp,” Tomko said by phone Wednesday night. “I’ve been telling everybody I just want a shot. I’ll either win a job or lose a job. If somebody brings me in and they don’t like what I show, they can send me packing. But I feel like if I get a shot, I can help somebody and I can get a team to think, ‘Hey we can use this guy in some capacity.’ ... I’m passionate about playing, and I’m putting it all out there. I’m kind of an open book when it comes to that. I believe that I can get people out, and that’s why I’m doing this. I see guys like [40-year-old Bartolo] Colon and [39-year-old] Jamey Wright, guys who I came up with, still getting guys out, and I think, ‘Why can’t I do that?’ ”
How serious is Tomko, who is 100-103 with a 4.65 ERA over 14 major league seasons, about a comeback? He pitched in winter ball for the first time in his career, hoping that a stint in the Dominican Republic would put him back on the radar. He was 1-1 with a 6.75 ERA in four starts for Escogido, but finished with a solid six-inning, two-run, four-hit outing in his last start.
“That was something to kind of gauge myself a little bit because I was facing big league hitters and guys who have more currently been in the big leagues,” Tomko said. “After I went to the Dominican, I started getting a lot of interest. There were a lot of teams down there. I talked to a lot of people down there. I’ve never been down there, so I never knew it, but you talk to the scouts there. They stay in the same hotels as everybody.
“I told everybody the same thing,” he added. “I just want a shot. I just am hoping that somebody will bring me into camp and get some eyes on me. The big thing is I’m 40 years old. But I know a lot of guys who have thrown at 40, 41, 42, 43. I keep telling people, the number doesn’t matter. I’ve got the stuff. I think my stuff plays and I’m getting guys out and that’s all that matters.”
Tomko remains confident in his stuff. He said his fastball reached the low 90s in winter ball. He feels like he's in the best shape he has been in years, saying he has dropped 20-25 pounds since last November by eating better and taking better care of his body. He says he's a smarter pitcher than he was when he was younger. Most importantly, he feels he’s healthy.
Tomko battled back from a scary pinched-nerve in his throwing arm in 2009 while pitching with the Oakland Athletics, an injury that ended his season and could have ended his career. The injury caused Tomko pain and numbness in his arm from his bicep down to his thumb.
Tomko started the 2012 season pitching for the Cincinnati Reds’ Triple-A club in Louisville and had a 3.07 ERA over his first 10 starts before he suffered a freak injury when he dislocated his right shoulder falling off a wet mound.
The Reds released him and he rehabbed the injury with the Arizona Diamondbacks, but no major league organization wanted him and he went unsigned in 2013, prompting him to go to independent ball, where he went 4-8 with a 4.98 ERA in 124 2/3 innings for York.
Tomko isn’t asking for much. He said he’d be willing to pitch in Triple-A and wait for an opportunity. He’s willing to work as a starter, swingman or long reliever.
“The goal is to pitch in the big leagues, of course, but I’m willing to do whatever they need me to do to help the young kids develop if they send me to Triple-A,” Tomko said. “That’s what I did in 2012 in Cincinnati. I was their insurance guy. I pitched in Triple-A for them, and if something happened at the big league level, they had a guy with 12-plus years of experience.
“I played with some guys coming up where there were some old guys and they were just miserable. I always said I was not going to be that guy,” he added. “I was going go there and bust my [butt] and be there if you guys needed me. That’s kind of where I’m at now. I still think I can pitch in the big leagues. I still think I can win a big league job. If a team says, ‘Here’s the situation. We need your help and we need you as insurance, I’m open to that, too.’”
Tomko’s winter ball performance in the Dominican Republic drew varying levels of interest from about 10 teams, he said. He has already thrown for the San Diego Padres and plans to hold an open workout for other interested teams in Southern California.
“A lot of teams wouldn’t pick up a guy who is 40 or even put in him Triple-A,” Tomko said. “But I feel like if that’s the opportunity I have, it’s just one phone call to the big leagues. I love competing. I love pitching. ... If you give me the opportunity, I’m going to take full advantage of it. I’ve told myself, if I’m going to do this, I’m putting it all out there. If nothing happens, I walk away. But if someone brings me in, I’m going to fight my [butt] off for a job.”