Mariners Welcome Back Prodigy-Turned-Comeback Kid, Denny Stark

Seattle SportsnetCorrespondent IMay 3, 2009

PEORIA, AZ - FEBRUARY 20: Denny Stark #20 of the Seattle Mariners poses during photo day at the Mariners spring training complex on February 20, 2009 in Peoria, Arizona.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

If you remember Denny Stark’s last appearance in a Mariners uniform, go ahead and pat yourself on the back. Congratulations, you’re a true M’s fan.

Stark is a wonderful feel-good story for a team that, so far, has been a feel-good story themselves.

The 34-year-old right-handed relief pitcher was called up from Tacoma on Saturday when Seattle placed closer Brandon Morrow on the 15-day disabled list.

Stark’s last appearance as a Mariner came way back in 2001. His most recent appearance in the major leagues would come just three years after that, in 2004.

At one time, Stark was considered a top prospect in the Mariners’ minor league system. A fourth-round pick in the 1996 June amateur draft, Stark was raised on the M’s farm along with the likes of Ryan Anderson, Gil Meche, Matt Thornton, and a host of other flamethrowers who were supposed to comprise the future of the team’s rotation.

As we all know now, things didn’t go exactly as planned.

Anderson fizzled out completely due to injury and is now a chef.

Thornton became a reliever who never could quite find the strike zone in Seattle. The left-hander is now a hard-throwing setup man for the Chicago White Sox.

Meche had his ups and downs as a Mariner, before parlaying mild success into a five-year, $55 million contract with the Kansas City Royals two years ago.

And Stark, as some of you may recall, was traded in the ‘01-’02 offseason to Colorado. Along with left-hander Brian Fuentes (now the Angels’ closer) and righty Jose Paniagua (out of baseball), Stark helped net the Mariners a replacement for David Bell at third base in the form of Jeff Cirillo. Yeah, I know.

After making 33 starts with the Rockies across the ‘02 and ‘03 seasons, Stark found that his right arm wasn’t up to the task of tossing baseballs anymore. He made six starts in 2004, posting an 0-5 record with a miserable 11.42 ERA before succumbing to injury.

That injury would lead to not one, but two separate instances of Tommy John surgery. Stark was all but done with baseball.

According to baseballreference.com, Stark’s last contractual move came back in 2005 when he was released by the Rockies (who had given him a shot after releasing him in 2004). That is, until the Mariners decided to give him one last shot in Spring Training this year.

He pitched well enough in Peoria to warrant a minor league deal with Triple-A Tacoma. At Tacoma, he made seven relief appearances in the season’s first month, recording no wins or losses, a 3.97 ERA, and one save.

And now, having come full circle, Stark is back in a Mariners uniform again, poised to pitch in the very same stadium he once called home.

Manager Don Wakamatsu says Stark will be used almost exclusively between the fifth and seventh innings of ballgames. No matter. At this point in his career, having overcome so many obstacles, you have to figure that a warrior like Denny Stark is just happy to be on a big league mound once again.

It feels good to be a Mariner fan.