This is a 2012 photo of Jason Bulger of the Minnesota Twins baseball team. This image reflects the Twins active roster as of Monday, Feb. 27, 2012, when this image was taken. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
When this past offseason hit, Jason Bulger was a free agent with a bum shoulder.
He rested the injury as much as he could, but by late December and early January he returned to the pitcher's mound for a few bullpen sessions, well aware that he needed to throw for any professional teams interested in signing him.
Those workouts didn't go well.
"There was nothing behind (the pitches)," the Brookwood grad said. "For someone who was known as a power pitcher, there was nothing. It was low 80s, max."
At that point, Bulger took the only available option --February surgery that would wipe out the 2013 baseball season. The shoulder bothered him for several seasons, beginning with a 2006 trip to the disabled list, but he pitched through the pain with the help of rehabilitation and visits to the DL, including one last season that cost him a chance to pitch back home against the Gwinnett Braves.
Bulger bounced back from 2003 Tommy John surgery on his elbow without any issues and he hopes the latest procedure also is a success. The former Arizona Diamondbacks first-round pick plans to give pro baseball one more shot for the 2014 season, when he will be 35.
"I have a much better percentage of playing again than when they did my first MRI," Bulger said. "After the first MRI, they gave me a 40 to 50 percent chance of coming back (and playing again). After the procedure and they saw my shoulder, they raised it to a 60 to 70 percent chance of coming back.
"There have been guys with much worse injuries than I had who came back and pitched for five to seven years. But there have been guys with less injury than I had who still had pain and never came back."
Bulger spends his days now in Chandler, Ariz., where he bought a house five years ago, and in nearby Tempe, where he goes Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays for rehab from 7 a.m. to noon. As his shoulder gains strength, and weight lifting is added to his regimen, he will go to rehab six days a week at Physiotherapy Associates, where athletes such as Brian Urlacher and Kerry Wood also have rehabilitated.
"It's a good program," Bulger said. "They've had a lot of success with this program. I have a lot of confidence in it."
When he isn't in rehab these days, Bulger is in a "Mr. Mom" role as he calls it. He spends the bulk of his time with his wife Janice, who works part-time, and their two young children, 2-year-old son Brendan and 7-month-old daughter Madison.
The recently expanded family nearly led to retirement during the offseason.
"I'm not going to lie, I thought about (retirement)," Bulger said. "I will be 35 when the season starts next year. Obviously, this season's a wash for me. But I've already got my (business management) degree (from Valdosta State) and when I'm done with this game, I feel like I'll be able to continue my career in whatever I choose to do.
"So after talking with my family, I decided to give it one last shot. Hopefully I'll be healthy and live the dream again of getting back to the big leagues. If it works out, great. If not, it's still OK."
Bulger pitched parts of seven seasons in the majors, six with the Angels. His best season came in 2009 when he made 64 appearances, had a 3.56 ERA and pitched in four playoff games, earning a victory in an American League Division Series game against Boston.
The 6-foot-4, 215-pound right-hander pitched in Class AAA last season, and likely will have to start at the level in 2014 if he makes a recovery.
"Tentatively, and this could change because the shoulder's a funny joint, but it's tentatively seven months before I can fully go back into games," Bulger said. "I may play winter ball just to show teams I'm healthy. We'll see how that goes."