His first pitch popped the mitt at 94 mph.
Then came another 94 mph fastball, followed by a 95, and consecutive four-seamers each registering 96.
It had been two years since Adam Conley last touched 96 mph with one of his pitches, two years of disappointment and soul searching as a pitcher who once figured prominently in the Marlins’ starting rotation tried to re-discover his past.
“Honestly, I had the worst year of my life on a baseball field,” Conley said of his 2017 downfall. “It’s not even close.”
Conley returned to the mound for the Marlins on Monday, coming out of the bullpen to work an inning of scoreless relief.
Afterward, Conley and the Marlins saw his little 16-pitch outing as a sign of a rebirth.
“I only threw an inning,” Conley said. “I still have work to do. I’m by no means a finished product. But I’m really encouraged by my outing. I want to keep this going as long as I can.”
Conley knew something had to be done after suffering through a disastrous 2017 season in which the left-hander lost his spot in the rotation and finished with an ERA of 6.17 — the second-highest ERA ever posted by a Marlins pitcher making at least 20 starts.
In 36 combined starts the two previous years, he had gone 12-7 with a 3.80 ERA.
Conley in 2017 clearly wasn’t the same pitcher. His average fastball velocity declined by 2 1/2 mph — a significant dip.
“It seemed like the harder I would try to fix the problem, the worse it would get,” Conley said. “I ended up being lousy the whole year.”
Conley decided this past offseason to go rogue. He worked out new delivery mechanics, kept to a strict training regimen, began throwing exclusively out of the stretch instead of a full windup, and crossed his fingers.
“Either I was going to go down in flames trying to do it this way, or it was going to work out and I was going to throw the ball better,” said Conley, who will turn 28 on Thursday. “Basically, this offseason was a rebuild for me. Many of the (changes) were going back to things I had done in the past.”
Conley was still a work in progress during spring training, and the results showed. He wasn’t very effective. And his first few starts at Triple A New Orleans were nothing to brag about, either.
“There was so much work that still needed to be done,” Conley said.
Eventually, though, Conley found his old groove.
After posting a 19.64 ERA over his first three starts with New Orleans, he went 2-2 with a 1.93 ERA over the next five, prompting the Marlins to call him up last week.
Manager Don Mattingly said Conley’s improved velocity on Monday was not an illusion, the product of throwing harder in relief than he might have starting.
He said the reports he had been receiving from New Orleans were that Conley was hitting 96 mph consistently in his starts, from the first inning to his last.
For now, Conley remains in the bullpen. But he gives the Marlins another rotation option if the need arises.
“I pretty much rebuilt the (pitching) mechanics from the ground up,” Conley said. “When you have a year like I had — if you’re going to decide after that to continue on trying to be a baseball player — then I wasn’t really willing to continue doing it the same way.”