Resilient Hinckley turns career around
After battling injuries, lefty given chance to win bullpen job
WASHINGTON -- If there were awards for players resurrecting their professional careers, Nationals left-hander Mike Hinckley would get one of the top prizes.
Going into the 2005 season, Hinckley, 27, was the Nationals' top pitching prospect. By the time Spring Training started in '08, he wasn't on the team's radar screen. There was a good possibility he would become a Minor League free agent after this year.
It turned out that shoulder problems were the reason Hinckley had a tough time in the Minor Leagues. Once he was healthy, the team decided to put him in the bullpen and changed his delivery. It worked wonders. Hinckley's fastball is back in the low 90s and he was getting hitters out by the time he went to Triple-A Columbus. Before being called up to the big leagues Monday, Hinckley had appeared in 23 games and posted a 3.16 ERA.
"Since I've been here, Mike Hinckley has never performed," general manager Jim Bowden said. "Prior to me being here, he was the one guy I couldn't trade. All of sudden, I got a call three weeks ago that said he is now throwing 90 to 93 miles per hour.
"We sent four guys to see him at different times. All four came back with the same [statements]. This guy can be a lefty out of the bullpen. He has a good curveball and his stuff has come back. We have to see it [at the big league level] because we have to make a decision on the 40-man roster [after the season]."
Hinckley will now audition for a role in the bullpen. He will join Charlie Manning as one of the lefty specialists. Hinckley said he is grateful that he can let the ball go without feeling any pain.
"I went through a lot of injuries and things that were out of my control," he said. "I was trying to get back. It's great to be here, get out there and help my team win. It's great to know that you have a little extra -- you could blow it by the guy if you need to."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.