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took the NYSEG Stadium mound on Sunday, April 29 in 60-degree weather, some of the best conditions the oft-rained- and sometimes-snowed-out Binghamton Mets had seen yet.
And Mulvey's performance—six innings of three-hit ball, seven strikeouts and one run allowed—was the best to date in a professional career that began just last August. He started the first six Altoona batters he faced with strike one and retired the first nine in a row. He ran a three-ball count only twice and walked none.
"This what happens when you pitch good?" the nearly-22-year-old joked with the small crowd of reporters surrounding his locker after the 6-4 win.
It's not that the Mets' No. 1 draft pick last season had been pitching poorly—he'd gone exactly five innings his previous three starts (limited then by the organization-wide 75-pitch, five-inning limit which gradually increases over the season), giving up one run twice and two runs once. But he started Sunday with an ERA over 6, having let in seven runs on four hits and four walks in 1.1 innings in his first outing of the year—also the B-Mets' season opener—which had been pushed back four days due to snow and cold.
"That's definitely an added bonus, being able to throw in nice weather," Mulvey said after the win, which brought his record to 2-3. "Hopefully it stays like this."
Pitchers are creatures of routine, and for Mulvey, who is entering his first full year of professional, pitch-every-five-days baseball, the 10 cancellations in the season's first two weeks were no help—he pitched back-to-back games at one point as all the games between his starts were washed way.
"We've been able to throw some indoors but it's not the same, they need to face the hitters and be in game-type situations," said pitching coach Ricky Bones.
"I think with every outing [Mulvey's] getting better," said manager Mako Oliveras. "We're going to see the best of guys, especially pitchers, their fourth, fifth, sixth starts."
Now Mulvey's rhythm is starting to settle in, and his numbers to settle down—not that they always matter.
"I don't get caught up in looking at statistics," said a National League scout who watched Mulvey that afternoon. "I don't know if he's gotten off to a good start or a bad start, I just look at what I'm seeing, and I see a kid who's got a repeatable delivery, who delivers the ball effortlessly."
Working from the left side of the rubber, the right-handed Mulvey has a paced delivery that begins with an exhale, the glovehand tucked under the left shoulder, and the right arm loose at his side. The hands come up to (but not above) his face in the windup, followed by a leg kick and a release that, in contrast with the rest of the motion, almost surprises with its suddenness.
At least it seemed to baffle the Curve hitters. Some combination of fastballs, curveballs, sliders and changeups added up to 56 strikes in 78 pitches.
"He's got so much ability, he's got four pitches that he can throw for a strike that are all quality pitches," said catcher Mike Nickeas
. But for as good as Mulvey showed he can be Sunday, he's still in Double-A to learn.
"I think with him he's got to really have faith in his fastball, that he can get guys out with his two-seamer and then maybe later in the game kind of expand what he wants to do by throwing his slider, his curveball and his changeup," Nickeas continued.
"There will be peaks and valleys, every outing's not going to be like that," acknowledged Mulvey. "But I'm just trying to get better."
The Mets, having lost their first round pick to Philadelphia in compensation for signing Billy Wagner
the previous winter, made Villanova University-graduate Mulvey their No. 1 selection with their second round choice in the 2006 draft, at No. 62 overall. After agreeing to a signing bonus of over half a million dollars in August, he made one start in rookie ball, three in Binghamton and five for Mesa in the Arizona Fall League.
On the Solar Sox, Mulvey tried to take over the inside corner: "It's still a work in progress," he said. "I'm still working on that, and that definitely needs to improve still even more."
The AFL had the NL East's future rivalries on display as Mulvey faced Florida third base prospect Gaby Sanchez
and Atlanta catching prospect Jarrod Saltamacchia ("He's good, he's definitely good," Mulvey said). After a brief break from throwing, Mulvey went to his first spring training and enjoyed the moment he called the best of his Met career thus far, a strikeout of Albert Pujols
. That was before the real work began with Bones and pitching coordinator Rick Waits.
"Instead of him focusing on 'Ok, do I get a chance to go to Triple-A, do I get a chance to go the big leagues?' I think the thing we want him to focus on is learn this routine of every five days," Waits said of his work with Mulvey. "That's something he didn't do in college … getting his routine down, what is your routine? What's his routine tomorrow? What's his routine on Tuesday? He throws a bullpen. What's his pre-game routine? Getting used to every five days—that gives you consistency."
Mulvey flew as far below the radar this spring as any New York pitching prospect can, thanks largely to the presence and hype of the No. 1 picks of 2004 and 2005, fellow starting pitching prospects Philip Humber
and Mike Pelfrey
"They have a couple years on me, but that's you guys, you guys write that. I'm only going out there and playing," Mulvey said. "They're both good guys, both willing and open to talk to about what they went through."
All the Mets around Tradition Field were welcoming and willing to talk shop, but being around one was particularly enlightening.
"It was a great experience being able to be around guys with that much experience in the big leagues, especially Tom Glavine
—future hall-of-famer, hopefully future 300-game winner—that's pretty sweet," Mulvey said. "If you watch those guys, when they pitch in intrasquad games and bullpens, they're not worried about how much movement they have or how hard they're throwing the ball, they're trying to locate it in the zone, down, below the knees, in the strike zone."
Coming out of spring training, relief pitcher Joe Smith
—whom the Mets drafted with their next pick after Mulvey in the third round—broke camp with the big league team and has been crucial to the Mets' bullpen, something which does not irk Mulvey.
"It's up to the Mets whether they want to move me, when they want to move me. I have no say in that other than how I perform," Mulvey said. "I'm excited for Joe to be up there, Joe's a good guy. I even enjoy his success he's lights out right now, he's pitching the way that I need to pitch."
And how exactly does Mulvey need to pitch?
"He needs to control his emotions, he's a typical young kid, sometimes he tries a little bit too much. That's why he's here, to get better," Oliveras said.
"He needs to improve his command with his secondary pitches, his slider and his changeup," said the NL scout, who also warned Mulvey might be dropping his arm slot out of the stretch.
"Pitch down in the zone, make quality pitches, get ahead of batters, don't walk anybody, get ground balls," suggested the man himself.
But ultimately, he needs to remember what 60 degrees feels like on an April Sunday in Binghamton.
The start to the 2007 season has been rocky for the 22-year-old right hander. The more confidence and composure he gains, the more his game will improve. Inside Pitch met up with the former second round pick following his best start of the year on Sunday night versus Altoona.