03/09/12 2:40 PM EST
Against all odds, Elarton gets shot with Phillies
Overweight and out of bigs since '08, righty now trim, optimistic
By Todd Zolecki / MLB.com
He had ballooned to 299 pounds.
"It almost became a point where I'm going to get to 300 pounds and see what it feels like," he said recently in front of his locker at Bright House Field in Clearwater. "I had always pitched at about 265 most of my career. But I got up to 299 and I thought, 'I can't put on one more pound.' I felt so miserable."
Elarton, 36, dropped nearly 70 pounds, making him look perfectly trim at 6-foot-7. He approached Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. at Coors Field in August, getting his take on his chances of a comeback.
"Have you seen Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon?" Amaro said, referring to two pitchers that made successful comebacks.
Amaro told Elarton, who pitches in a Grapefruit League game Saturday against the Orioles at Bright House Field, that somebody would watch him pitch when he got his arm in shape. Amaro happened to be in Denver in November, when Shane Victorino received the Branch Rickey Award. Amaro personally watched Elarton throw, sending iPhone video from Elarton's bullpen session to some of his scouts.
The Phillies later signed him to a Minor League contract with an invitation to Spring Training.
So, here he is.
"I'm optimistic, but I'm realistic," Elarton said. "But I'm real stubborn, too. I wouldn't be here unless I thought I could be successful. I don't have any reason to be back. I don't need the money. I don't live an outlandish lifestyle, and I was lucky enough to make enough money that I'll be comfortable for the rest of my life. So this was not about money. It gets in your blood, and there's not a better place than to be right here. I just want to be a part of it, and I really think I can be a contributor."
Elarton had been bothered for years with a stress fracture in his right foot. He finally had surgery in 2009, but the surgery made the foot feel worse. He could barely get from the bullpen to the mound in 2010, when he went 1-2 with an 8.24 ERA in 16 appearances for Triple-A Charlotte.
He considered his baseball career over, and started coaching baseball and basketball at Limon High School in Limon, Colo.
"I was throwing BP, and before I knew it my arm started feeling good again," Elarton said.
His foot felt better, too. So why not take a shot at a comeback?
"Are you serious?" his family responded.
"We had kind of gotten used to me being around all the time and not moving all the time and we'd gotten comfortable," Elarton said. "And then all of a sudden I just threw us right back in the uproar. But it's just what we've done for forever. We've just got to get used to it again."
Elarton still remembers the morning he threw for Amaro.
He felt the adrenaline again.
"Yeah, it felt like it was a start day, and I hadn't had that feeling for a long time," Elarton said. "I was definitely more nervous that day than I was [making his first Grapefruit League appearance for the Phillies]. I had been loosening up, and [Amaro] showed up. And it was like, bam, it hit me. I handled that adrenaline rush better that day than I handled it most of my career. It was just fun. You miss that rush. That's all it is. You just love the competition."
Elarton said he entered camp trying to compete for a spot on the Opening Day roster, but it would take the miracle of miracles for that to happen. Elarton is instead expected to open the season in Triple-A Lehigh Valley, where he will provide the Phillies starting pitching depth.
"He's thrown good," Amaro said Friday morning at Joker Marchant Stadium. "He's done fine. He hasn't hurt himself. His mechanics look a little cleaner than they had in the past. We'll see. We'll let him pitch."
Elarton just wanted an opportunity. He is grateful Amaro gave him one.
"I'm doing it right this time," Elarton said. "I played in an era that's gone. It's a different game. It's such a better game now. Guys take care of themselves so much better. It's a lot more enjoyable. ... I worked hard [in the past], but I didn't take care of my body the way I should have. I ran hard, on and off the field. I wouldn't change anything I've learned. Unfortunately, most guys learn that way. That's kind of life. I've grown up. It took me a long time."
But he is back, and he feels at home.
"It feels right," he said. "It's what I know."
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.