SURPRISE, Ariz. (AP) — Texas Rangers manager Jeff Banister remembers the first time he saw Bartolo Colon pitch was in Class A ball in 1995.
“He was young and throwing a million it seemed like,” Banister said. “Hitters didn’t really enjoy getting into the batter’s box.”
Colon is no longer throwing a mid-90s fastball, but at age 44 he is still throwing and retiring hitters. He is in the Rangers camp on a minor league contract with a fastball that averaged 87.8 mph last season.
In his spring training debut Thursday, Colon threw 23 of 32 pitches for strikes in two innings against the San Diego Padres. He struck out Chase Headley looking, walked none and yielded a solo homer by Wil Myers and a double by Luis Urias. His fastball worked mostly in the mid-80s range.
“I think Bartolo has really a good small window percentage, putting pitches where he wants to put them,” Banister said. “He was most efficient at small-window targets.”
Colon went a combined 7-14 with a 6.48 ERA in 28 starts last season with Atlanta and Minnesota. One victory was a complete-game on Aug. 4 against the Rangers. At age 44 years and 72 days, Colon was the oldest pitcher to throw a complete-game victory since Nolan Ryan, who was 45 years, 155 days, on July 4, 1992.
“He’s got deception, a great feel for a pitch and commanding the fastball and puts it where he wants to,” Banister said. “Day one, he walks out here for live BP and young, fresh hitters walk away scratching their heads. They don’t see it.”
Colon won the 2005 American League Cy Young Award with the Angels. If he makes the Rangers, it would be his eighth American League club and he would get a $1.75 million, one-year contract and the chance to earn $1.3 million in performance bonuses based on innings.
“It’s phenomenal, to want to do it at that age,” Banister said. “Hey, just to want to do it at that age and then be good enough to continue to do it, it’s incredible.”
Colon, who was the oldest player in the majors last year, has 240 victories, which is second only to Hall of Famer Juan Marichal’s 243 for a pitcher born in the Dominican Republic. He needs five more to match Nicaraguan Dennis Martinez for most victories by a native of Latin American. He acknowledged surpassing those two are a reason he is still pitching.
“I have personal goals I want to achieve and hopefully the team will allow me to reach those,” Colon said through a translator.
He threw seven first-pitch strikes to the eight batters he faced.
“I feel well and I’m throwing strikes,” he said. “I’m happy with the way I feel. All I need to do is keep working hard and then it’s up to them.”
While with the New York Mets on May 26, 2016, Colon became the oldest player to hit his first major league home run at 42 years, 349 days. Signing with an American League club, Colon will not get many chances to pick up the bat.
“The American League is where I want to be because I don’t have to hit or run,” the portly pitcher said, laughing.
Colon is listed at 5-foot-11 and 280 pounds, not the type of body one would associate to a long baseball career.
“There are a lot of Christmas and birthday presents you unwrap that maybe the packaging doesn’t look great, but inside there’s a tremendous gift that is waiting to be open,” Banister said.
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