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League tries to find rhythm on comeback trail

March 17, 2017

PHOENIX -- Brandon League spent the morning shagging batting-practice flies on a backfield at the Royals' Spring Training camp Friday. It's a place few people believed the former All-Star would be in 2017. He is trying to make a comeback a year and a half after his release from the

PHOENIX -- Brandon League spent the morning shagging batting-practice flies on a backfield at the Royals' Spring Training camp Friday. It's a place few people believed the former All-Star would be in 2017. He is trying to make a comeback a year and a half after his release from the Dodgers, and his subsequent shoulder surgery that kept him out of action until this spring.
"I'm still working on some things, trying to get in the groove, find a rhythm," League said the day after his fifth Cactus League appearance. "I've been out of the game for a long time, so it's a lot different than just pitching bullpens. In the past, I've been using Spring Training to get ready for the first week of April. Now it's just kind of getting my feet wet again, and get back in the swing of things."
League signed a Minor League contract with the Royals in January, and has pitched well enough to raise eyebrows with a 3.60 ERA. He's allowed two runs on three hits and four walks while striking out two over five innings.
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"My last pitch in the big leagues was October of '14 in the playoffs with the Dodgers," League recalled. "Then I got hurt in Spring Training of '15, and was on the rehab program the whole year until I got released in July, and ended up getting surgery. It's been a long road. It's ups and downs. I tried to make a comeback last year. My window was July, and my shoulder just wasn't ready yet."
The 34-year-old right-hander has played parts of 11 seasons for the Blue Jays, Mariners and Dodgers. He saved 37 games for the Mariners in '11, and saved 14 games for the Dodgers in '13. He posted a 2.57 ERA over 63 games spanning 63 innings in '14 for the Dodgers.
"We bring guys in like League hoping to find somebody that could help us," manager Ned Yost said. "They're kind of low-risk, high-reward guys. We hit two years ago with two of them, [Ryan] Madson and [Joe] Blanton, both guys who were out of the game. They sat a year and came back. Both guys are still going really strong."
Madson pitched 63 1/3 innings for the Royals in their World Series Championship campaign in '15, posting a 2.13 ERA and logging three saves while walking 14 and striking out 58. He saved 30 games for Oakland last season. Blanton pitched 41 2/3 innings for the Royals in '15, posting a 3.89 ERA with two saves, 40 strikeouts, and just seven walks before being sold to Pittsburgh on July 29. He threw 80 innings with the Dodgers in '16.
"I had to learn my shoulder all over again," League said of his comeback effort. "It's just different now. The weightlifting and maintenance and everything that it comes with just to pick up a ball has been different. It's kind of trial and error to see how my arm reacts. It's been a definite learning process along the way."
It's stiff competition for a spot in the Royals bullpen, and as things stand now, there doesn't appear to be room for League. But March and April are full of surprises, and League is well-situated to fill an unanticipated need with the Royals or to attract attention from other teams.
"I'm feeling pretty good," League said. "Everything else is out of my hands. The only thing I can control is how I prepare and what I'm doing on the mound, so we'll see."

Owen Perkins is a contributor to MLB.com.