Joe Mays went from the All-Star team in 2001 to Tommy John surgery in '03. He's still hopeful the struggling lefty will recover.
Joe and Mindy Mays were Floridians through and through. He made his mark as a pitcher with the Twins. The attempt to fully recover from elbow surgery ended last summer in Class AAA.
Joe and Mindy so much enjoyed their baseball seasons in Minnesota that they decided to try year-round living here. They moved into their Eden Prairie townhouse with the two children: daughter Schae, 7, and son Joe, 11.
Mays was in his vehicle when he answered his cell phone Friday. He was asked how he was enjoying another lovely spring afternoon in the Twin Cities.
"We gave it a shot, but we can't handle it,'' Mays said. "Back to Bradenton [Fla.] at the end of summer. We're done.''
Mays was a minor leaguer when he came to the Twins organization in October 1997 as the player to be named in a trade of outfielder Roberto Kelly to Seattle.
He broke in with the Twins as a spot starter and long reliever in 1999. He was a starter in 2000. His combined record in those two seasons was 13-28 with an ERA of 5.12.
"I was sent back to the minor leagues in 2000,'' he said. "As soon as they gave me the news, I jumped on a plane. I was going to get down there and do what I had to do to get back.
"That would be my advice to Francisco [Liriano]. He doesn't need to go to the minor leagues and dwell on his failures. He needs to get down there and start throwing strike one.''
Mays was a different pitcher when he showed up in 2001 spring training. He had refined his sinking fastball to the point that manager Tom Kelly was offering superlatives before the first exhibition game was played.
Mays made the All-Star team. He finished 17-13 with a 3.16 ERA. Terry Ryan, the usually cautious general manager, took the plunge and gave Mays a four-year, $20 million contract.
Mays went five innings in his third start of 2002 on April 14. He complained of a sore elbow. It was the start of an odyssey that led to Tommy John surgery in September 2003.
He missed the 2004 season. He was 6-10 for the Twins in 2005. He wasn't re-signed and wound up pitching in 13 more big-league games (without a victory) for Kansas City and Cincinnati in 2006.
"I was pitching for the Dodgers organization in Las Vegas last year,'' he said. "I pitched about a month and a half and invoked an out-clause in my contract. I waited 10 days and didn't hear from another team.
"And I said, 'OK, I'm going to turn the page, enjoy the kids and family.'"
Once the elbow problem started in April 2002, Mays was 18-26 over the length of that four-year contract with the Twins.
"My arm was nice and loose in '01, and I had that good movement,'' he said. "I had that power sinker that was boring into the back foot of a righty.
"They wound those muscles real tight in the surgery, and my sinker became more of a running fastball. Instead of boring into righties, it was running out over the plate. The hitters at this level ... they aren't [going] to let you get away with pitches like that.''
Liriano was a phenomenon for the Twins in the summer of 2006, then ran into elbow problems in August. He underwent Tommy John surgery in November.
On Friday, his first comeback with the Twins became an official failure when he was sent back to Class AAA Rochester after three lousy starts.
Does Mays see a comparison?
"We're completely different kind of pitchers,'' he said. "I didn't need velocity to pitch. I wasn't trying to throw it past people to get outs.
"There are power pitchers who have come back from this surgery throwing as hard as ever. They have a nice, new, strong arm. Liriano was my pick to click for the Twins this year. I really expected he would be back throwing 95 [miles per hour] this spring.
"That fastball isn't there yet. They have smoothed out his delivery, and I'm not sure that's the best thing. For one thing, he's lost his deception.''
Mays remains hopeful that Liriano can do something that Joe was unable to do: defeat Tommy John surgery.
"To me, he looks depressed,'' Mays said. "When you've had the success he had two years ago, it's a big shock when you can't get hitters out. It's tough to swallow.
"I watch him and think, 'Try some stretching.' He has to get loose, get that arm free-flowing. When that happens, he'll be an outstanding pitcher again.''
Patrick Reusse can be heard weekdays on AM-1500 KSTP at 6:45 and 7:45 a.m. and 4:40 p.m. • firstname.lastname@example.org