Free agent pitcher Ben Sheets didn’t feel obligated to show off fastballs approaching 100 miles per hour Tuesday afternoon when he took the mound.
After missing the entire 2009 season recovering from arm surgery, Sheets had something simpler in mind for the scouts and coaches who came to watch him.
“I don’t think they want me to reprove myself,” Sheets said. “They just really wanted to see health.”
With approximately 20 major league representatives crowded around the infield at the University of Louisiana at Monroe’s Warhawk Field, Sheets delivered 55 throws, with breaks in between to simulate innings. The buzz was that Sheets looked good overall, throwing free and easy as he touched 91 a few times. He also hit the high 60s to low 70s while bending a few of his trademark curve.
“It’s January, but I think I did what I needed to do,” said Sheets, who wore a St. Amant Gators shirt (his high school) and a ULM cap (his college). “I think I showed scouts that I’m ready and I’m healthy. I’m where I need to be right now, and I’m excited about that.”
Sheets, who once struck out 20 Louisiana Tech batters off the same mound, joked that he saw nothing but poker faces from the assembly -- who will use the information to decide on potential offers to the ace.
But one scout who has seen Sheets pitch many times said: “He looked good. Better than I expected really.”
The MLB Network was on hand to film a segment on Sheets. Among the faces in the crowd were Texas Rangers pitching coach Mike Maddux, who was with Sheets in Milwaukee. Maddux stood behind the mound when Sheets threw.
“I know how I felt and I know how I threw,” Sheets said. “The way I feel and the way I threw, they all liked what they saw.”
Sheets, the National League All-Star starting pitcher in 2008 while with the Brewers, is willing to listen to all suitors at this point. When he filed for free agency after spending his entire eight-year career in Milwaukee, Sheets indicated a preference for pitching in the South.
“My track record and what I’ve done in the big leagues will be what gets me a job,” Sheets said. “Not what I do now. You can get any college or high school pitcher to come out and do exactly what I did today. But they know I can get outs in the big leagues, and that’s what excites them the most.”
Sheets has only thrown off a mound four times since his surgery to repair a torn flexor tendon in his pitching elbow. He has conducted much of his rehab on his home campus with ULM athletic trainer Phil Shaw.
“There was definitely a moment in the rehab process that was a leap of faith like, ‘Hear it goes,’” Sheets said. “That was a couple of weeks ago. Ever since then, it’s been official that I did that.”
Sheets said he would continue to throw as he awaits an offer.
“I’ll amp it down a little bit,” Sheets said. “You’re getting ready for the spring. Today was a big day, obviously. But it’s not the season and it’s not the spring.”