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MLB comeback trail: 30 revival stories to track

By The Sports Xchange   |   Feb. 26, 2016 at 12:31 PM
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One year after the New York Yankees witnessed the resurrection of Alex Rodriguez's career, the team hopes to see the revival of another decorated veteran.

CC Sabathia struggled through the 2014 and 2015 seasons, then checked himself in for alcohol rehab just as the Yankees were set to enter the postseason.

A return to form by the 35-year-old left-hander would go a long way toward keeping the Yankees afloat in the always challenging American League East.

St. Louis Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright, who missed almost all of last season due to a torn Achilles tendon, is another star pitcher looking to get back on track this season.

Sabathia and Wainwright headline the list of players seeking a bounce-back year. Here is a look at the most notable player on the comeback trail for each team, as compiled by The Sports Xchange's national network of baseball writers.

NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS

Wesley Wright has had some quality major league seasons, and he could emerge as a candidate to become a second (or third) left-hander in the bullpen if the Diamondbacks choose to go that deep. Andrew Chafin is assured of one spot, and Matt Reynolds pitched well in last September after missing time because of Tommy John surgery. Wright pitched only 11 games in the majors last season because of a shoulder injury, but he had a 3.38 ERA in 205 games as a setup man with the Astros, Ray and Cubs from 2012-14. Lefties have hit .237 against him in 606 plate appearances.

COLORADO ROCKIES

LHP Tyler Matzek hopes to rebound from a disastrous 2015 after undergoing therapy for performance anxiety. He came into spring training looking to build on his final six starts in 2014, when he went 4-2 with a 1.55 ERA and 14 walks and 38 strikeouts in 40 2/3 innings. Matzek, 25, was in the Rockies' Opening Day rotation last year but was optioned to Triple-A after going 2-1 in five starts with a 4.09 ERA. The 11th overall pick in the 2009 draft, Matzek will compete in spring training for a spot in the rotation, but mostly he needs to show he can be a competitive pitcher again.

LOS ANGELES DODGERS

LHP Hyun-Jin Ryu missed the 2015 season after undergoing labrum surgery on his pitching shoulder. The Dodgers are taking a cautious approach to his return, hedging their bets by building depth in the rotation so they aren't dependent on Ryu being ready to take a regular turn in the rotation right from the start of the season. However, the 28-year-old Korean has had no setbacks in his recovery and should be ready to pitch in a game at some point during the preseason schedule. He went a combined 28-15 with a 3.17 ERA for the Dodgers in 2013 and 2014.

SAN DIEGO PADRES

The Padres signed versatile Skip Schumaker to a minor league contact with an invitation to spring training. Schumaker, 35, hit .242 in 131 games with Cincinnati last season and is a career .278 hitter over 11 seasons. Schumaker can play second and all three outfield positions. Were he able to play some shortstop, which he never has, he would be an almost shoo-in to make the Padres. Schumaker will be battling Alexi Amarista for the infield-outfield spot on the Padres' bench. The Padres likely favor Schumaker over Amarista but can't keep him until they also identify a backup shortstop. Both Schumaker and Amarista are left-handed hitters.

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS

2B Joe Panik made the National League All-Star team last season, hitting .312/.378/.455 with eight homers and 37 RBIs in 382 at-bats overall. However, he missed 56 of the final 59 games with a sore lower back, which makes him at least a bit of a question mark for this season. No surgery was required, so the Giants have to hope treatment and rest will get their 25-year-old back to where he was a year ago. Given that it was a back ailment, they have their fingers crossed.

NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL

CHICAGO CUBS

LHP Jon Lester (11-12, 3.34 ERA in 32 starts last year) won't have a delayed start to spring training this year, and his presence through camp might be a springboard to a more consistent start and season. He started 0-2 and then had a run of six straight losses between June 3 and July 11. Lester still closed with 207 strikeouts this season, his fourth career 200 strikeout season, while walking 47. He set a Cubs season record for strikeouts by a left-hander, eclipsing Ken Holtzman's 202 in 1970.

CINCINNATI REDS

SS Zack Cozart tore the anterior cruciate and lateral collateral ligaments and biceps tendon in his right knee on June 10, abruptly ended what had been a career year to that point. When he got hurt, Cozart ranked ninth among National League shortstops in hitting, second in homers and fourth in RBIs. Now, with his heir apparent, Eugenio Suarez, likely moving to third base, Cozart is expected return as the Reds' starting shortstop. Something to watch during spring training is whether Cozart's Gold Glove-caliber defense and improving bat are back in form.

MILWAUKEE BREWERS

LHP Chris Capuano has been through a Milwaukee rebuilding project before. The 37-year-old returns to Milwaukee, where he spent five seasons after being shipped from Arizona in a six-player deal that also included current Brewers manager Craig Counsell. The 11-year veteran bounced back and forth between the Yankees and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre last season, going 0-4 with a 7.97 ERA in 22 major league appearances, including four starts. For his career, which includes stints with six teams, he is 76-91 with a 4.39 ERA in 300 games (225 starts).

PITTSBURGH PIRATES

Eric O'Flaherty, who struggled to an 8.10 ERA in a combined 30 innings with the Oakland Athletics and New York Mets last season in his first year back from Tommy John surgery, has an open path to the job as the second left-hander in the bullpen. The 31-year-old had a 1.99 ERA in a five-season span, covering 249 1/3 innings, with the Atlanta Braves from 2009-13. The Pirates love sinkerball pitchers, and O'Flaherty has induced groundballs at a 58.3 percent rate during his 10-year career that has seen him pitch for four major league teams.

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS

RHP Adam Wainwright missed five months last year after tearing an Achilles tendon while coming out of the batter's box in a late-April game. Wainwright returned for the regular season's last week and the NL Division Series as a reliever, but he will resume his normal role as No. 1 starter this year, starting on Opening Day, April 3 in Pittsburgh. Lost in the wake of the NLDS loss to the Cubs was that Wainwright fanned the side in the eighth inning of Game 2, less than six months after an injury that normally knocks a player out for almost a calendar year.

NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST

ATLANTA BRAVES

RHP Kyle Kendrick may have the best chance to win a starting spot from among the veterans signed to minor league deals with spring training invitations to the Braves' camp. Kendrick, 31, was 7-13 with a 6.32 ERA in 27 starts for the Rockies last year, but he didn't pitch badly away from Colorado and is 5-1 with a 2.86 ERA lifetime in Atlanta. He has made 212 major league starts and has an 81-81 career record. Before last year, he spent eight seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies.

MIAMI MARLINS

A non-roster player breaking camp with the big-league team is always a long shot, but it could happen if injuries occur. Effective left-handed relievers are always at a premium, which could give Chris Narveson a chance. He went 3-1 with a 4.45 ERA in 15 appearances for the Marlins last season, including two starts. Injuries limited him to a total of four major league appearances from 2012-14, but Narveson, 34, was an effective starting pitcher for the Brewers in 2010 and 2011.

NEW YORK METS

3B David Wright doesn't have to play another game to go down as one of the great position players in Mets history. However, the 12-year veteran aims to prove he can remain a quality everyday player while battling spinal stenosis, an ailment that shortened the careers of Don Mattingly and Lenny Dykstra. The Mets have a lot of money -- $87 million through 2020 -- riding on the answer. Wright was limited to 38 games in 2014, when he hit .289.379/.434 with five homers and 17 RBIs. He batted .185 with one homer and seven RBIs in 14 postseason games.

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES

RHP Edward Mujica is in a camp as a non-roster player but has a good chance of making the Opening Day bullpen and could even wind up as the closer. The Phillies signed RHP David Hernandez as a free agent in the offseason, and he enters camp as the presumptive closer despite having just 19 saves in six seasons. Mujica has 50 saves in his 10-year career, including 37 for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2013. Mujica, 31, had a rough 2015, as he was a combined 3-5 with one save and a 4.75 ERA in 49 games with the Boston Red Sox and Oakland Athletics.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS

RHP Bronson Arroyo, 38, comes to camp with a shot at making the rotation. Arroyo, who had Tommy John surgery in July 2014, pitched in Cincinnati from 2006 to 2013, spending part of that time with current Washington manager Dusty Baker. Arroyo last pitched in the majors with the Diamondbacks in 2014, going 7-4 with a 4.08 ERA in 14 starts before he tore his ulnar collateral ligament. "I feel good," Arroyo told reporters at the start of spring training. "The question is can you take the pounding of 110 pitches per start."

AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST

HOUSTON ASTROS

LHP Wandy Rodriguez is back where his career began as a 26-year-old rookie in 2005, having re-signed with the Astros as a non-roster invitee seeking a job in a bullpen bereft of left-handed depth. LHP Tony Sipp proved himself worthy of facing both righties and lefties in relief last season, meaning the Astros could use a specialist to complement their right-handed-heavy collection of relievers. The lone lefty reliever besides Sipp on the 40-man roster is Kevin Chapman, so Rodriguez isn't facing extraordinary odds entering spring training.

LOS ANGELES ANGELS

RHP Javy Guerra seeks to rebuild his career after serving a 50-game suspension last year for drug abuse. The punishment followed a second positive drug test and ended an already frustrating season for the veteran reliever. Guerra did not permit a run in three games covering 1 2/3 innings for the White Sox before an inflamed right shoulder put him on the disabled list. Then after allowing seven earned runs in 3 2/3 innings during a minor league rehab assignment, Guerra drew his release in May, two months before he was suspended. Guerra saved 21 games in 2011 as a rookie with the Dodgers.

OAKLAND ATHLETICS

RHP Jarrod Parker has had two major surgeries on his pitching elbow and zero major league appearances over the past two seasons, but he is feeling good and is optimistic that he will be able to return to the big leagues this year. After undergoing his second career Tommy John surgery in March 2014, Parker appeared to be on track for a return to the A's last season. However, during a minor league rehab stint, Parker fractured his right elbow. He underwent season-ending surgery 11 days later to repair the fracture, but the good news for Parker, 27, was that he did not need a third Tommy John surgery.

SEATTLE MARINERS

C Mike Zunino was a cornerstone of the franchise heading into last season, but the former No. 3 overall draft pick struck out at an incredible rate and ended the season at Triple-A Tacoma. Now Zunino will have to prove himself all over again. Once handed the keys to the catching position with very little minor league experience, Zunino is basically starting over at age 24. He still has a lot of future in front of him, but Zunino has a lot of work to do if he wants to spend it with the Mariners.

TEXAS RANGERS

RHP A.J. Griffin was a workhorse for Oakland in 2013, making 32 starts and winning 14 games in his first full season in the majors. Unfortunately for Griffin, since then, he has had shoulder issues and Tommy John surgery, keeping him out of the majors the past two years. However, he is just 28, and with Texas needing at least one more starter in its projected rotation until RHP Yu Darvish returns, Griffin will have a chance. His top competition for the No. 5 spot will come from RHPs Nick Martinez and Chi Chi Gonzalez.

AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL

CHICAGO WHITE SOX

RHP Jacob Turner, 24, hopes to beat out RHP Mat Latos and RHP Erik Johnson for the fifth spot in the rotation. If he doesn't, there is a chance he could earn a role as a long reliever. Turner was acquired off waivers from the crosstown rival Cubs and spent the 2015 season rehabbing from a flexor tendon strain in his right elbow. Turner pitched for the Cubs and Miami Marlins in 2014, going 6-11 with a 6.13 ERA in 28 appearances (18 starts). In four major league seasons, he has an 11-25 record with a 4.97 ERA in 61 games (51 starts).

CLEVELAND INDIANS

RHP Joba Chamberlain threw his first major league pitch for the Yankees in 2007 at age 21. He is now 30, and the Indians are his fourth team in four years. In a combined 15 relief appearances for the Tigers and Royals last year, he was 0-2 with a 4.88 ERA. The Indians have three openings in their bullpen, and one or two of the spots could go to non-roster pitchers, of which 10 are in camp. The veterans in that group besides Chamberlain are RHP Craig Stammen and LHPs Tom Gorzelanny, Ross Detwiler and Joe Thatcher.

DETROIT TIGERS

RHP Bobby Parnell, 31, missed 2014 following Tommy John surgery, then struggled to a 6.38 ERA with a 2-4 record and one save in 30 games for the New York Mets last year. Parnell featured a 100 mph fastball prior to his surgery and was in the mid-90s last season but had control problems, especially with his secondary pitches. He will have a good chance to grab a roster spot with Detroit if can come close to his form of 2013, when he had a 2.16 ERA and 22 saves in 41 games.

KANSAS CITY ROYALS

RHP Dillon Gee, who turns 30 in April, was the Mets' 2014 Opening Day starter, but he went 0-3 with a 5.90 ERA in eight games, including seven starts, last season. He spent time on the disabled list and in the minors and opted to become a free agent, signing a minor league contract with the Royals. Before last year, Gee was 40-34 with a 3.91 ERA over his first five major league seasons. The Royals are looking for rotation depth and a long man for the bullpen, roles Gee could fill.

MINNESOTA TWINS

LHP Fernando Abad was far from poor with the Oakland A's in 2015. However, he wasn't good enough to earn a spot on a major league roster heading into this season. After posting a 1.57 ERA in 69 games with Oakland in 2014, Abad went 2-2 with a 4.15 ERA in 62 appearances in 2015. Opponents hit nearly 50 points higher on balls in play last season, and 17.2 percent of his fly balls resulted in home runs, the highest rate of his career. Even so, Abad will have a legitimate chance to earn a spot in the Minnesota bullpen.

AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST

BALTIMORE ORIOLES

INF Paul Janish turned a few heads during his brief stint with the Orioles late last season, and the 33-year old's strong defensive skills could give him a shot. Janish hit .286 with no homers and three RBIs in 14 games for Baltimore, but he is the kind of player manager Buck Showalter likes. Over seven major league seasons with the Cincinnati Reds, Atlanta Braves and Baltimore, Janish has an unimpressive .216/.284/.291 hitting line with seven homers and 84 RBIs in 445 games.

BOSTON RED SOX

The Red Sox had a late addition to spring training, inviting former Cubs RHP Carlos Marmol to camp for a look. If the move works out, the staff will only get deeper by adding a guy with 117 career saves. The 33-year-old veteran has a career 23-35 record with a 3.57 ERA with the Cubs, Dodgers and Marlins. He was an All-Star in 2008 while pitching for Chicago. He did not pitch in the majors last year, instead going 3-1 with a 2.03 ERA in 28 appearances for the Indians' Triple-A Columbus affiliate.

NEW YORK YANKEES

Last year, DH Alex Rodriguez was on the comeback trail following a one-year suspension for performance-enhancing drugs. This year, LHP CC Sabathia will be trying to regain some semblance of his previous form after getting treatment in an alcohol rehabilitation center last October. When he exited the Connecticut facility, Sabathia began getting into baseball shape in November. Even with the optimism about changes to personal habits, the Yankees need to see the results and not the pitcher who was a combined 9-14 over the last two years. In 29 starts in 2015, Sabathia was 6-10 with a 4.73 ERA.

TAMPA BAY RAYS

The Rays aren't likely to find much from their non-roster invitees this spring, but one to watch is LHP Dana Eveland, a 32-year-old who went 0-1 with a 5.40 ERA in 10 relief appearances for the Mets last year. He also pitched at Triple-A for three teams in 2015 and compiled a combined 1.95 ERA. His career major league ERA is 5.27, though, in stints with nine clubs. For him to stick on the 25-man roster, he would have to establish himself as a reliable lefty in the bullpen, beating out the likes of Xavier Cedeno or Enny Romero.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS

RHP Gavin Floyd had some good years in the majors with the White Sox, particularly in 2008, when he was 17-8 with a 3.84 ERA. Last season, elbow surgery limited him to seven relief appearances with the Indians. The year before, he was 2-2 with a 2.65 ERA in nine starts with the Braves. He is 72-72 with a 4.38 ERA in 215 major league games, including 196 starts. The 33-year-old provides some pitching depth. He likely would be swingman, making spot starts from the bullpen, if he earns a spot. He was signed to a major league deal for $1 million plus incentives.

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Topics: Tommy John, Wesley Wright, Alex Rodriguez, Skip Schumaker, Adam Wainwright, Bronson Arroyo, Eric O'Flaherty, Chris Narveson, Chris Capuano, Craig Counsell, Don Mattingly, Lenny Dykstra, David Hernandez, Dusty Baker, Wandy Rodriguez, Paul Janish, Carlos Marmol, Gavin Floyd, Dana Eveland, David Wright, Edward Mujica, Erik Johnson, Joba Chamberlain, Joe Thatcher, Jon Lester, Kyle Kendrick, Manager Dusty Baker, Mat Latos, Tampa Bay Rays, Texas Rangers, Tom Gorzelanny, Tony Sipp, Bobby Parnell, St. Louis Cardinals, Baltimore Orioles, Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, Toronto Blue Jays, Atlanta Braves, Miami Marlins, New York Mets, Philadelphia Phillies, Washington Nationals, Chicago White Sox, Cleveland Indians, Detroit Tigers, Kansas City Royals, Minnesota Twins, Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati Reds, Milwaukee Brewers, Pittsburgh Pirates, Houston Astros, Los Angeles Angels, Seattle Mariners, Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies, Los Angeles Dodgers, San Diego Padres, San Francisco Giants
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