The last time Brad Penny stepped off a major-league mound, it was Sept. 29, 2012 in San Diego, and he pitched the fifth inning for the Giants in a 7-3 loss.
Penny, who was a two-time All-Star as a starter with the Dodgers in 2006-07, had been dealing with injuries the last few years of what has been a 13-year major-league career. Those ranged from a lat injury with the Cardinals in 2010 to a sore back with the Giants in 2012.
So sitting out in 2013 seemed like a good idea.
I never really had time to properly heal, Penny said in a phone interview. Since I was 5, Ive been throwing. I just decided to take the year off and concentrate on getting everything feeling good. Nothing was really hurting bad, I was just tired.
Nevertheless, 2013 still proved to be an important year in his life, because Penny married a woman who grew up in Hays, Kan., and the couple settled in the Kansas City area in July. In September, he began working with Joe Potts at TopSpeed Strength and Conditioning in Lenexa.
Im definitely in better shape than last year or the last year I played baseball, Penny said.
Penny, 35, had planned to throw for teams in the hopes of signing with a major-league team. Before that happened, he talked with the Royals (now officially his hometown team) and they watched him throw a couple of weeks ago.
The Royals and Penny have agreed on a minor-league deal with an invitation to spring training, where he will try and make the team as a back-of-the rotation starter.
Because he had been working out to audition for teams, Penny said he is in good shape.
Ive never been this far along in January, Penny said. Ive always tried to get ready by the middle of February, but I knew I was going to have to throw for teams, so I had to get ready a little faster.
Penny made his major-league debut with the Marlins in 2000, and won two games for them in their 2003 World Series victory over the Yankees. He has also pitched for the Dodgers, Red Sox, Giants, Cardinals and Tigers.
He has only pitched two full seasons in the American League, but is not concerned.
Theres obviously better hitting in the American League, its a longer game, theres going to be more run support, Penny said. I think in the National League, you get that break with the pitcher that youre not going to get in the American League. For the most part, you make pitches, you get outs.
Penny said his wife and her whole family are Royals fans, and he was at Kauffman Stadium last September when the Royals beat the Rangers 2-1. (Alcides Escobar drew a bases-loaded walk to break a tie in the eighth inning).
It was different. It was definitely a different perspective, Penny said. I got to enjoy it with my wife. It was fun. The stadiums nice. The fans are great.
But, obviously, Penny is hoping that when he returns, it will be with the Royals and hell get his usual perspective: from the mound.
Sitting out a year, it was fun, Penny said, but it was kind of tough not doing what you've done your whole life.