7 July, 2005

Will third time be the charm for Mets pitcher?

Elbow injury has Sauls back on Cape

For a college pitcher hoping to be drafted by a major league team, an elbow injury can be disastrous, but for Mark Sauls it might just have been a blessing in disguise.

Sauls, from Florida State University, came to the Cape Cod Baseball League two years ago and played for the Hyannis Mets after his freshman year and again last year after his sophomore year.

Last year Sauls had a 6-4 record at Florida State and went 3-1 for the Mets and was named to the Cape League All Star team.

He returns this summer for his third season with the Mets. It is somewhat unusual for a player to put in three seasons with the Cape League, but sometimes things don't always go as planned.

"This year I didn't expect to come back. I was hoping to get drafted, but I got hurt," says Sauls.

The righthander developed tendinitis in his pitching elbow.

"I didn't throw a baseball for a whole month," Sauls says.

And when he did start to throw he found he had lost quite a bit of strength and speed.

Before his injury Sauls threw consistently at 88 to 90 miles per hour and was clocked at up to 92.

After the injury, he was throwing at around 83 to 84 mph.

"The scouts told me and my parents that I needed to throw hard again," says Sauls. "That's the reason I came back: to throw against hitters. I had a choice. I could stay home and just throw in a bullpen or I could come here and throw against hitters. It's always better to throw against hitters."

While he was unable to pitch, he worked to rehabilitate his arm by doing light weightlifting and some work with the medicine ball.

Sauls says the rehab work went great. "It's a matter of getting it all back. I can't do anything about it [the injury]. I just hope it will come back."

Despite the disappointment and frustration, Sauls has kept a positive attitude toward his rehabilitation, explaining that his injury has actually improved his pitching.

When he was throwing at 83 and 84 mph, he had to work to improve his control.

"I had to throw to spots. Once my velocity came back, the spots stayed with me," he says.

Though Sauls is mostly a fastball pitcher, he was also able to work on developing his changeup, curve and slider.

Mets field manager Greg King says he always thought Sauls was a control pitcher. "He is always around the plate. He has three pitches he can throw for strikes," says King. "He's trying to get his velocity up to where he was before, around 92, 93. Because of the injury he didn't get to show the scouts what he could do."

While he didn't get drafted, another positive aspect of his experience, aside from further developing his pitching skills, was he got to come back to Cape Cod.

"I like the whole atmosphere," says Sauls. "I like the small towns; they're not too big, like in Florida. And I can go to the beach whenever I want. I kind of like Craigville Beach. The people I live with live right on the beach, so I go in the mornings."

Sauls also says his experience living with Tino and Terri Giovanni has been one of the best parts about coming back to Cape Cod.

"It's worked out great. I love to come up here. After three years these people are almost like second parents. I definitely plan to come back and visit them again over the years," Sauls says. "It's been a blessing."

It has also worked out for the Mets, who have been struggling all season.

Sauls is on the roster as a temporary player. Hyannis didn't protect him because it expected him to be drafted and not return to the Cape this summer, King is happy to have him back.

"He has a great attitude about pitching. He always wants the ball. Mark is our 'one more guy,' he always wants to go one more inning or one more batter, says King. "When he's on the mound, we always feel we have an opportunity to win."

Sauls is 0-1 so far with the Mets this summer losing to the Harwich Mariners on Martha's Vineyard Saturday.

"He's a great competitor and he doesn't let things bother him," King says.

King saw this quality in the game at the Vineyard. There was a short fence and the wind was blowing hard and Sauls got tagged for a "wind blown" home run in the first inning. "He didn't get down and he didn't make excuses," says King.

The Mets field manager also likes Sauls' aggressiveness on the mound. "He always challenges the hitter. He's not afraid to go at them. He won't back down."

Sauls points out he is playing against the best competition around every day. "Look at the rosters. They're the best players from the best teams in the nation. Every team you play is like an All Star team," he says.

"This is as close to pro ball as it gets right now. They don't have to worry about school or classes. They can just focus on baseball. There are games every day, with one day off, but if there is a rainout you make that game up on the day off. So you can go 20 days without a day off, "says King.

"It's a little different experience,' says Sauls. "But I always get to come to the park."

By George Kostinas