Feeling better than he has in years, Penny wants to show he still can get big leaguers out
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Brad Penny won 119 games through 13 seasons in the big leagues. He was a two-time All-Star. And he won two World Series rings, though he says he won’t claim the second with the San Francisco Giants because he was hurt most of that year.
So why would Penny, at age 35, come out of mothballs and sign a minor league deal with the Royals?
The quick answer: Baseball is still in his blood.
After appearing in just 22 games in 2012 with the Giants and posting a 6.11 ERA, Penny decided he needed some time away from the game, mostly just to let his aching body heal.
"Last year was the first summer I had to myself since high school," Penny said Friday at Kauffman Stadium. "It was fun, but your mind drifts back to baseball. You miss the competition. You really do.
"I knew if I waited any longer, I’d never do it."
So, a few months ago, Penny began to work himself back into shape, right here in Kansas City, where he recently moved with his wife, Kaci, a Hays, Kan., native.
And then, suddenly, he realized he might be able to make a comeback.
"I just started throwing this off-season and wasn’t sure if I was going to play or not," he said. "I was just going to take it day by day. I worked out for the Royals and threw for them, and it went well."
For the first time in a long time, Penny said, he was pain free.
"In 2012 with San Francisco, I was just beat up," he said. "My back was hurting. It all was hurting. I needed a break. I haven’t had a break from throwing since I was 5 (years old). It was good for me."
There wasn’t any specific structural damage to his arm, Penny said.
"It was just tired. It was dead," he said. "If I had tried to come back last year, I knew I was going to be in the same position (as in 2012). So I decided to take a year off."
And at that time, Penny thought he might be retiring for good.
"I wasn’t sure, but I was prepared for it," he said. "I thought it might be it. For me, I don’t want to go out there and be 60 percent. That’s what I felt I was doing (in 2012). …
"Every off-season you kind of wonder how you’re going to get through it, just because of the pain (after a season). But now, this is the first time it’s gone really smooth for me. Gradually, it’s gotten better every day."
Penny reports that his velocity is around 88-90 mph but vows that it will go up come spring training.
"I’m not going to try and go out and throw 95 right away," he said. "I’ll gradually work into it. And I’ve actually been throwing a lot lately so I need to back off a little and be ready for spring."
Penny, who will compete for a spot at the back end of the Royals’ rotation, surprised some observers by agreeing to a minor league deal. The terms of the deal call for him to make $1 million this season if he makes the major league roster.
"If I’m healthy, I should be able to make the team," he said.
Under contract terms, he can be granted a release if he doesn’t make the big league roster by April 2. But Penny indicated he would not be opposed to pitching at Triple-A Omaha if he’s not quite ready by Opening Day.
"Omaha is not that far from here," he said.
Penny and his wife, a former Oklahoma City Thunder dancer, are expecting their first child this spring.
"That’s another reason (signing with the Royals) makes sense for us," he said.
But, Penny said, he has a very simple goal with his comeback attempt.
"I need to prove to myself that I can get big league hitters out," he said. "If I can’t, I’m not going to play."
You can follow Jeffrey Flanagan on Twitter at @jflanagankc or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.