Shades of Old

When the Yankees signed Bartolo Colon, most Yankee fans thought, “Here we go again. Just another loser who can mop up messes as a long reliever at the back end of the bullpen.”

Like everyone else, I had the same sentiments. I saw Colon as a pitcher at the end of his rope even though he had the chance to catch on with the Yanks. I also thought he was destined for mopping duty, if he even made the team out of camp.

Considering all the variables – him not pitching in an MLB game since 2009 and his weak numbers since 2005 – Yankee fans had no choice but to feel that way. Bench Coach Tony Pena had coached him in winter ball and he was instrumental in bringing Colon to New York.

“What in the world was he thinking?” all Yankee fans wondered. “How could we let this guy on our team? He hasn’t done anything of value since 2005!”

But then Spring Training came and Colon dazzled; his fastball was up around 90-95 mph and his pitches were dancing all over the strike zone. He answered his critics by going 1-0 in Spring Training competition with a 2.25 ERA.

He started four games in the spring and appeared in five, even recording a save. In 16 innings he allowed 10 hits and just four earned runs. With his renewed, moving fastball, he struck out 17 batters and demonstrated control by only walking one batter. Opponents hit a meager .182 against him.

The Yankees had no choice but to give Colon a roster spot. How could they not after a spring like that?

Colon began this season in the bullpen but on April 8 in Boston he showed what a valuable commodity he can be, cleaning up a mess left for him by Phil Hughes. Inheriting a three-run deficit, Colon shut the Red Sox down for two innings, allowing the Yanks to play catch-up.

Unfortunately Boston gained momentum and were able to scrape two runs off Colon, although only one of them was earned. The Red Sox won 9-6 despite Colon’s effort.

When Hughes was placed on the disabled list with a tired arm, the Yankees needed someone to replace him in the rotation. Colon was the obvious choice, having pitched 11 1/3 innings out of the ‘pen and recording 13 strikeouts with no walks.

He made his first start of the season against Toronto on April 20, pitching 6 2/3 innings and striking out seven on the way to a 6-2 Yankee win over the Blue Jays. It marked Colon’s first win of the year.

In his following start on April 27 against the White Sox, Colon once again proved his worth, tossing eight innings and only allowing one earned run on seven hits. He walked just one batter and struck out six.

Colon had two subpar outings –on May 7 in Texas and May 13 at home vs. Boston – but followed with a start in Baltimore that could have easily been a complete game shutout. He puzzled the Orioles for eight innings on May 18, not allowing any runs on just three hits. He only walked one batter and struck out seven.

With only 87 pitches on his ledger after eight innings, Manager Joe Girardi pulled Colon from the game and brought in Mariano Rivera. In not-so-Rivera-like fashion, the normally automatic closer gave up a run, blowing the win for Colon. The Yankees however were able to pull out a win – a 4-1 victory that took 15 innings to complete.

Some think Colon was robbed out of the complete game shutout in Baltimore, but he got his moment in the sun yesterday, a 5-0 win in Oakland. Colon, in a stroke of brilliance, tossed nine innings and did not allow a run to the A’s. He gave up just four hits, yet again showed off his control by not walking a batter, and struck out six. He did it with 103 pitches.

 Colon’s masterful performances this year have him looking like his old self; the Colon who won 21 games in 2005, which won him the Cy Young Award. Right now he looks like the Colon who won 20 in 2002 with the Cleveland Indians and Montreal Expos; the Colon who was a two-time All-Star.

But his rejuvenation doesn’t come without a price. It has many experts wondering.

Colon’s resurrected career is the result of a procedure done by a doctor in the Dominican Republic last year. Dr. Joseph Purita used stem cells and fatty tissue from Colon’s bone marrow in order to repair tears in his elbow and rotator cuff.

This procedure is not routine and MLB has said they will investigate it, mainly for one reason: Purita has come out and mentioned that he has done this procedure several times – and in it has used HGH, a substance banned by Major League Baseball.

He did go on the record and say however that in Colon’s case he did not use HGH and that he never uses HGH when tending to professional athletes. Still, MLB wants to make sure he didn’t use the illegal drug on Colon because if he had, Colon would have violated MLB’s banned substance policy.

There hasn’t been any official word yet on the investigation.

In the meantime, Colon has been dominant and looking like a force that will help the Yankees throughout the year. Each time he takes the mound the Yanks look as though they are playing with a lot of confidence and poise.

For Colon, it’s like the old days. The good old days.

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