PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Some minutes after Johan Santana vacated a mound at the Mets' Spring Training complex Thursday morning, a more anonymous figure began throwing without quite so much fanfare. It has been seven years since C.J. Nitkowski pitched in a Major League uniform, and it's been more than a full year since he pitched for anyone at all.
After returning from a successful five-year stint in Asia, the 38-year-old reliever sat out last season as he plotted his next move. Working briefly with former Mets pitching coach Rick Peterson and modeling himself after Pedro Feliciano, Nitkowski reinvented himself as a left-handed sidearm specialist.
Nitkowski pitched for Cibao in the Dominican Winter League in January, then threw for scouts in Florida last week. But the Suffern, N.Y., native's ideal situation would be to close his career with the Mets, for whom he made five appearances back in 2001.
"This is my first choice," Nitkowski said.
It would hardly be unprecedented. The Mets signed Jason Isringhausen at age 38 last February after a similar tryout, then enjoyed the fruits of a relatively productive season. Just as he did with Isringhausen, Mets special assistant J.P. Ricciardi watched Nitkowski's bullpen session Thursday alongside pitching coach Dan Warthen, who knows Nitkowski from his days in Detroit. Those two and others will compare notes this week to discuss whether it is worth offering him a contract.
"They liked what they saw," Nitkowski said. "They seemed pleased. It's nice to come back into this atmosphere and to get feedback from people who know what they're talking about."
Nitkowski said he intended to convert to a sidearm delivery for years, but was unwilling to turn down guaranteed contracts as a conventional starting pitcher in Japan and Korea. He now wants one last shot at the Major Leagues, and he believes a drop-down look is the way to achieve it.
"Hopefully," Nitkowski said, "it gives me an opportunity to extend my career."