SURPRISE, Ariz. (AP) — Jonathan Broxton isn’t sure his right arm will ever deal another 100 mph fastball.
The longtime closer for the Los Angeles Dodgers is certain, though, that he won’t be trying to reach triple digits in his first spring training with the Kansas City Royals.
Broxton was once among the most feared closers in baseball, but injuries derailed his career. He didn’t pitch in a game after May 3, the day before he went on the disabled list with bone spurs in his right elbow. Arthroscopic surgery followed last September.
Broxton hopes to rediscover his overpowering stuff with the Royals, who signed him to an incentive-laden $4 million deal to pitch the eighth inning ahead of closer Joakim Soria.
“I’m just trying to stay healthy. I don’t need any setbacks,” Broxton said. “I’m just going to try to ease into it. There ain’t no sense of going out and trying to throw 95 right now.
“I’ve got a month and a half. I don’t need to be ready for spring training. You don’t see spring training stats on the back of a baseball card. I’ve got to be ready for April 6.”
The Royals’ bullpen is shaping up to be a crowded affair this spring.
Greg Holland and Louis Coleman emerged as shut-down relievers last year, and Aaron Crow — who is getting a look at the rotation — was an All-Star out of the bullpen. Blake Wood, Jose Mijares, Tim Collins and Everett Teaford join Kelvin Herrera in the battle for big league jobs.
None of those guys has quite the panache that Broxton had with the Dodgers.
The 6-foot-4, 300-pound right-hander has registered 102 mph on the radar gun. That power led him to striking out 398 in 303 1-3 innings from 2006-09, when he was in his prime. He was an All-Star in 2009 and 2010, and he used the heat to save the showcase game in ‘10.
“It’s very exciting because you can get the crowd into it big time,” Broxton said. “It’s a lot easier when you can throw strikes with it. You get guys in a defensive mode soon as they step into the box. You basically just try to use it to your advantage.”
The problem is that fastball may never have the same kind of zip, which led Broxton’s agent B.B. Abbott to acknowledge that Broxton may have to reinvent himself.
“You never know,” Broxton said. “I could come out this year and throw 100 or come back and throw 95. You never know what your velocity is going to be. You just can’t pitch off your velocity. You’ve got to hit spots and be able to set up guys. I know if you can throw hard, you can get away with a lot more, but you’ve still got to get it over the plate.”
Broxton said he has no medical restrictions as spring training begins and has already thrown seven bullpen sessions. But he is being smart about his return to the mound.
“I haven’t really let any go,” he said.
Broxton is working on a curve ball, a pitch he hasn’t used since the minors, and said he is “trying to get away” from throwing a split-finger fastball, which can be taxing on the elbow.
Roughly 10 teams showed interest in Broxton as a free agent, but he decided to go with the Royals, who haven’t been to the playoffs in nearly three decades. The idea is that by signing a one-year deal and proving he’s back, Broxton could be in line for a big deal next season.
“Kansas City was first,” he said. “I weighed my options and I thought this was the best fit for me, going to a setup role, trying to take some pressure off my elbow and stuff.”
Broxton will be tasked with taking some pressure off Soria, too. The two-time All-Star closer blew a career-worst seven saves in 35 opportunities last year, his 4.03 ERA a career high. Soria also lost five games and surrendered seven homers, both career highs, while his 60 strikeouts were a career-low in five big league seasons.
Soria was even removed from the closer’s job for a brief time after a rocky May, when he blew four saves in five chances, and missed the final 2½ weeks of the season with a pulled hamstring.
Royals manager Ned Yost insists that Soria is still the closer, but Broxton represents a good Plan B. And if both are healthy, the Royals should have a solid finishing punch.
The Royals’ first real workout for pitchers and catchers is scheduled for Tuesday. Position players report Friday with the first full-squad workout scheduled for Saturday, all leading into their spring opener against Texas on March 4.