PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Scott Atchison counts days until the home opener, not years until retirement, an optimistic unit of measure for a man who is nine sunsets from his 37th birthday.
Even with gray in his hair and mileage on his arm, Atchison chooses to ignore the road signs that indicate his career is inching toward its conclusion.
“If I’m healthy,” Atchison said, “hopefully I have a lot more left in me.”
So far, the Mets agree. In late January, Atchison agreed to a minor league deal with the franchise. He has pitched in seven games this spring and his ERA is 2.35.
“I like him because he’s ahead in the count all the time,” manager Terry Collins said.
The big question is the health of his right arm. Atchison went 2-1 with a 1.58 in 42 appearances with the Boston Red Sox last season. But he missed a chunk in the middle of that season while recovering from a torn ligament in his pitching elbow.
There were moments when he wondered if this was the curtain falling on his career.
“Until I really got down to see (Dr. James) Andrews and kind of discussed all my options with him, I wasn’t really sure,” Atchison said. “So yeah, there was some stress, I guess, wondering.”
After deciding against surgery, Atchison did not pick up a ball for three weeks. He made it back in time to pitch five games for Boston last September.
He said he has no problems with his arm, no lingering issues from his rehab. “Everything feels normal,” he said.
On Monday afternoon, Collins turned to Atchison in the eighth inning of a 3-2 game. Atchison allowed a leadoff single to the first hitter he faced. He walked the third hitter he faced.
But with two on and one out, Atchison retired the next two hitters, wriggling free unscathed.
“(General manager) Sandy (Alderson) worked real hard this winter to try to bolster the bullpen,” Collins said. “And he’s brought in some good-quality veteran arms to see if we can get better.”
Two of those arms — Atchison and LaTroy Hawkins — have been around this game a long time. Hawkins is 40.
“It’s fun to watch him throw still and make it look easy at that age,” Atchison said.
“It seems to be working,” Atchison said. “I feel good. I feel strong.”
But does he worry about whether he’ll have a spot on the 25-man major league roster when the team breaks camp?
“Always,” Atchison said. “Until they tell you you’re on it, you wonder if you’re going to be on it.
“I feel like I’ve come in, I’ve shown them what I can do, I’ve shown them that I’m healthy,” he said. “The rest of it will take care of itself. It’s out of my hands after that.”