Mullee missed 2011 after receiving Tommy John surgery and was set to slip back into his role as a flamethrower coming out of the bullpen with Staten Island in 2012. Six appearances into the season and he was headed for yet another Tommy John surgery.
Seven months later, he had a third surgery when his elbow wasn't feeling quite right. Now, he's poised to make his latest comeback.
"[I'm] just trying to not get too low – staying confident that I can come back and working hard. Obviously at times it was pretty frustrating having to go through all the rehab. But it's good to be back and I'm excited to be here," Mullee said.
After the Staten Island Yankees' opening night game was rained out, Mullee appeared in the team's first game at Brooklyn where he registered 1.2 innings out of the bullpen. Of the five outs he recorded, three were via the strikeout.
"The ball was coming out of his hand really nice," Staten Island manager Mario Garza said. "He threw all three pitches with good command. His fastball was getting swings and misses, his changeup was nasty – guys weren't taking very good swings off him and that's what you want to see.
"I've had the talk with him 'you're writing a great story, just keep plugging away, keep pushing.' I know he's had some setbacks and frustrations along the way but right now he's doing a heck of a job – he's working really hard.
"And his stuff is coming out of his hand really nice. I mean his stuff is playing maybe not quite what it used to be but it's really close – he's getting there, he's heading in the right direction."
Despite the three surgeries in two years, Mullee said he has not had to change his mechanics. The only part of his throwing motion that he's paying more attention to now is staying back to keep his arm from dragging, which should prevent added stress to his elbow.
While his mechanics and action on his pitches may be the same, his velocity has taken a bit of a hit.
"Before surgery, I was 94, 96, touching 97. After my first surgery I was working back, I was getting it up to 94, 95. And then now I'm anywhere from 89 to 91, I'm touching 92 but I'm definitely down a little," Mullee said.
It could take him some time to get stretched out given his long layoff and maybe even some more time to gain some confidence that he can throw harder. He's not the fireball pitcher he once was but he's working as hard as ever to get back to that point.
"My velocity is not quite where it was after being out the last two years," he admitted. "But it's slowly gotten stronger and I've progressed with each inning. So, not quite where I want it but I'm happy where it's at right now."
Mullee is part of an excellent pitching staff on the Staten Island Yankees – and their bullpen may be their biggest strength on the team. With such an effective group of pitchers, it can afford Mullee the time he needs to fully recover and reinstate himself as a dominant reliever without having to be relied on too often.
For reference, the Yankees bullpen struck out 25 batters in three games against the Brooklyn Cyclones.
"I thought, coming in, our pitching would be one of our strengths – if not our biggest strength – and our bullpen is doing a heck of a job. Oh my goodness gracious, there's guys," Garza said, "one after another, who are just coming in and doing their job."
Among those "doing their job" is Mullee who, in addition to his three strikeouts, allowed no hits and didn't walk a batter in his lone appearance opening weekend.
Getting back out onto the mound was just a small step in his full return but Mullee couldn't understate how pleased he was to finally be pitching again.
"It was awesome," he said with a huge smile. "It was awesome that the Yankees still believe in me to give me another chance. But to be back out there and – all the work I've put in, all the work Yankees, the staff, and the rehab guys put in – it was really great to be back out there."
While he looks to take things slow after returning from three elbow surgeries, he keeps motivating himself to be a better pitcher and to keep his head high throughout the entire process.
Surgeries like this, for a young player, can often derail a career but Mullee has something special going on, and he's confident with his work ethic he can become, once again, the player the Yankees had drafted in 2010.
"Just being back out there was awesome," Mullee said. "[I'm] having fun with that and [I'll] just roll with it until I can't anymore."
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STATEN ISLAND, NY -- After missing both 2011 and 2013 due to injury, right-handed reliever Conor Mullee has returned to the mound and is ready to prove that the Yankees' belief in him is not unfounded.
Conor Mullee hasn't been able to stay healthy but he's back once again showing good stuff.