SURPRISE, Ariz. - Ryan Madson says he watched Phillies footage from 2007 to 2009 and witnessed the mechanics that eluded him in the next two seasons. Even when Madson was an integral part of the Phillies bullpen in 2010 and 2011, his pitching motion relied too much on his arm and not enough on his legs.
Success obscured the problems. He pitched on borrowed time.
The right arm that made him one of baseball's top relievers finally failed him after he left Philadelphia, causing three years of rehab and restarts. He has not pitched in a non-spring training game since Game 5 of the 2011 National League division series.
"I didn't realize I had gotten away from that," Madson, 34, said of his pitching motion last week. "When you have success, you just keep going."
After one year out of baseball, Madson is back with the Kansas City Royals. He rebuilt his body, adding 30 pounds and strengthening his legs to reduce the burden on the elbow.
Although Madson was a non-roster invitee, a healthy spring has made him a potential option to help the defending American League champions. His comeback could be complete if he sticks with the Royals organization after spring training. Except Madson does not want to call this spring a "comeback."
"It's not how I wanted to leave the game," Madson said of the last three seasons.
As a 30-year-old in 2011, Madson saved 32 games and posted a 2.37 ERA, helping the Phillies to a league-best 102 wins. After the season, Madson discussed the parameters of a four-year, $44 million contract to stay with the Phillies. The club instead chose to sign Jonathan Papelbon to a $50 million deal.
Madson settled for a one-year, $8.5 million contract with the Reds. He never pitched a game for Cincinnati, with elbow soreness turning into a torn ligament that required Tommy John surgery. The Los Angeles Angels took a chance on him in 2013, but Madson could never get healthy.
"That was insanity - doing the same thing over and over, expecting a different result and not getting it," Madson said. "They put a lot of hours into my elbow trying to get it back."
He said he was burned out from trying to rehab to no avail. He needed time away, returning to his Southern California home.
Madson stayed in touch with Jim Fregosi Jr., who signed him out of high school for the Phillies and is now a special assistant to Royals general manager Dayton Moore.
Fregosi recommended a high school prospect for Madson to tutor, according to several accounts, which reignited Madson's interest in returning to baseball.
With the help of Evo UltraFit, a training program in Phoenix, Madson reworked his mechanics. When he started, he could not throw the ball 60 feet. After three months, he reminded himself of a major-leaguer. The key was in his legs.
Madson, who is 6-foot-6, usually pitched at about 200 pounds in Philadelphia. He's now at 230 and he reminds himself of the player he was from 2007 to 2009. He showed enough that the Royals offered him a minor-league contract.
"In '13, when I was trying to come back, it was a lot of arm," Madson said. "Maybe in '10, and '11, I had the mechanics falling off, wasn't using my legs as much."
He has treated it differently than in previous springs. He's no longer one of the young players. Trainers must pay more attention to him. There's a credibility that comes with what he has accomplished in his career but a fragility that comes from the previous three years.
With velocity nearing pre-injury levels, Madson is working on locating his pitches. In eight innings this spring, he has a 3.38 ERA with five strikeouts and no walks. He has a May 1 opt-out in his contract, according to the Kansas City Star, so Madson could continue his return with triple-A Omaha if he doesn't make the big-league club this week.
"I'm definitely happy from where I was at to now," Madson said. "But I'm kind of a perfectionist, so I'd like to be where I was when I left [the Phillies]."
It might seem hard to believe that can happen, but Erik Kratz thinks he's close. Kratz, a Royals catcher who played with Madson in Philadelphia, has been impressed with this version of Madson.
"Stuff-wise, he looks pretty good," Kratz said. "His [velocity] is up to 94, his change-up is great. Now he's actually doing some other stuff that happens when you get older: You learn to pitch."
Time away gave Madson perspective. He appreciates that Phillies run more in hindsight than when he lived it. Madson realized that a day in a clubhouse is better than a day out of one. He missed being a ballplayer, and he's enjoying what could be his last chance to experience it again.