02/15/11 4:12 PM EST
Rejuvenated Palmer has redesigned delivery
By Lyle Spencer / MLB.com
His movement no longer is restricted to his darting two-seam fastball. He feels it in his core, in a more flexible lower body and a redesigned delivery that is providing more arm extension and leg thrust.
"This is the best I've felt in a long time," Palmer said upon arrival at the Angels' Spring Training camp. "I'm ready to go."
Serendipity, in the form of disguised good fortune, came to the Angels' veteran right-hander during a frustrating and painful 2010 season that followed a remarkable, career-changing 2009 campaign with the American League West champions.
Shut down last May with an injured clavicle after nine appearances before returning in September to finish strong, he settled into his winter home in Queen Creek, Ariz., at season's end to rehab the right shoulder.
When he began working out, going through standard conditioning exercises, he discovered some swelling in his right knee.
Next thing he knew, he was undergoing surgery on Oct. 12 to clean out the knee. Two months later, he was back on the mound with new-found range of motion and mobility, enabling him to drop lower in his delivery and get fuller arm extension.
The new flexibility in his core took him back a half-dozen years to when he was a prospect in the Giants' organization alongside such familiar names as Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez and Brian Wilson.
Palmer was "thrilled" to watch his old buddies claim a World Series title last fall. Now he wants to experience that sensation with an Angels outfit looking to rebound from a dismal 2010.
"Matt's an important guy on our staff," manager Mike Scioscia said. "He's able to do a lot of things, deepening our staff with his versatility. This guy can pitch."
Palmer is on the depth chart as a starter and a reliever. His ability to handle any role with relish -- nobody values a Major League uniform more than this guy -- enhances his chances of making a staff loaded with quality arms.
"I'm going to compete," Palmer said. "I'm ready to do anything and everything they want me to do. Whatever they have in mind, I'm good with it.
"I'm just excited because my hip and back aren't tight anymore. My release point is there. I'm not trying to throw 100 miles an hour anymore, or 95, but I'll let my fastball run and use what I've got."
When he's on his game -- as when he won his first six starts in 2009 en route to an 11-2 record and 3.93 ERA -- Palmer gets exceptional movement on his fastball, complemented by a sweeping curveball and changeup.
"The biggest thing for me is controlling my lower half, to get the balance I need," Palmer said. "It was what my body wanted to do but wasn't allowed to do because of restrictions in my lower back and hip area.
"With this delivery, it's more natural. It allows me to stay back longer and come through with my leg drive and extension. The past five or six years, with a back injury I had, I was going across my body. It wouldn't let me do it the natural way."
Working with Angels pitching coach Mike Butcher -- an area resident who is recovering from surgery to remove a cancerous nodule in his thyroid gland -- Palmer initially struggled to find a comfort zone with his altered delivery.
"It was a pretty big change," he said. "I felt like my whole body was opening up. I'd been so closed up for so long, it didn't feel right. But once it came to me, I really felt the difference.
"I threw on flat ground for three weeks, starting around Dec. 10, and then progressed to throwing bullpens. I've done seven coming into camp, and I'm up to 50-, 60-pitch bullpens now."
Last year, the shoulder made everything difficult for the big man from Missouri State University.
He was rocked in three of his nine appearances, going to the disabled list with a 6.26 ERA. He shaved it to 4.54 by yielding just one earned run in five appearances in September, finishing 1-2 in 14 appearances. He is 12-6 in 57 career games, 17 as a starter.
"When my clavicle was hurt, my strike percentages were way down," Palmer said. "When I came back in September, I was able to get my extension back and throw strikes again.
"Now, with the new delivery, if I'm throwing 50 pitches, I'm missing three or four times. It's nice and easy. It's helped my changeup and curve. I'm feeling more like I did in my younger days, when I had more leg drive and my body was going toward home plate.
"It's good to get that feeling back."
When Matt blows out his birthday candles on March 21, Michelle Palmer should place 26 on the cake, not 32.
That's how old her hubby feels.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.