- Ramona Shelburne, ESPN Senior Writer
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ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Jonathan Broxton has always had a great poker face. Win or lose, hero or goat, the former Los Angeles Dodgers closer's face never gave much of anything away. He was as stoic and silent as he was strong.
Until, it seems, he actually plays poker.
Broxton wasn't just smiling as he played cards in the Kansas City Royals' clubhouse Tuesday afternoon before their game against the Los Angeles Angels, he was laughing. At what, it's hard to say. A big hand? A bluff? Or maybe just the place he has pitched himself back into with a solid season as the Royals closer?
The Dodgers cut ties with Broxton, 28, last winter after a frustrating season of arm trouble, but aside from a high 1.40 WHIP (he has given up 36 hits and 14 walks in his 35 innings], Broxton has been one of the more pleasant surprises in baseball this season.
Broxton, who signed a one-year deal with the Royals last winter, has converted 23 of 27 saves and posted a 2.27 ERA in 35 appearances this year.
He has pitched so well, he has even been the subject of trade rumors recently.
"People had their own opinions, but I knew I still had it in me," said Broxton, who closed out the Royals' 4-1 win over the Angels on Tuesday. "All I had to do was get another chance. Kansas City gave me a chance, they've been great to me. They basically took a shot in the dark."
Broxton got his chance because small-market teams like the Royals have to take chances on guys like him every once in a while. But he's right about the shot-in-the-dark thing.
After numerous setbacks recovering from a bone bruise in his right pitching elbow, Broxton had surgery in September to remove two bone spurs and three bone chips in the elbow. He didn't begin throwing again until early January. So when the Royals signed him in early December, it was sight unseen.
"We have to do some of that here," Royals pitching coach Dave Eiland said. "But with Jonathan Broxton and his track record, I don't think it was too big of a shot in the dark.
"It wasn't like it was a Tommy John thing where we were pushing it in 7-8 months. It was chips where we knew if we took our time with it he could come back."
The Royals signed Broxton to set up for Joakim Soria, but their plans changed quickly when Soria was lost for the season because of a torn elbow ligament that required Tommy John surgery.
"He's been huge for us," Eiland said of Broxton. "He was throwing in the low 90s when he first came in, now he's more in the mid-90s and he occasionally touches 98-99 again."
When Broxton was at his best with the Dodgers from 2006 to '09, that's exactly where his velocity was.
According to pitch Fx charts, Broxton's fastball averaged 96.1 mph in 2007. In 2008, it was 96.7. By 2009, the first year he was selected to the All-Star team, he was throwing his fastball at an average of 97.5 mph.
But in 2010 his velocity dipped to 95.3. And in limited action in 2011, it was down to just 94.
Dodgers trainer Stan Conte said last season that Broxton's struggles had all the signs of overuse.
"He had a bone bruise in his elbow and that means overuse," Conte said during an interview with ESPNLosAngeles.com last season. "One bone is grinding into another bone and putting pressure on it. That causes a stress reaction. The definition of that is: an abnormal increase in training or performance and the bone can't keep up with the pounding."
In 2006-09, Broxton made 49 appearances of more than one inning. He pitched on no days rest 95 times. He averaged 72 appearances a season, not including the playoffs.
During the same period, only three pitchers took the ball to close out a game more often than Broxton. None of them ended the 2011 season on an active roster.
Broxton did not want to address the end of his Dodgers career or the circumstances behind his injury Tuesday. He's on to the next stage of his career and has turned the page.
He did, however, say this:
"You see it all the time," he said. "Guys go out there and bust their tail for a team and it doesn't end out the way they would like it, but you turn the page and go to another team and they somehow find themselves again."
Last season, when asked whether he'd pitched too much or too often during those four seasons, Broxton told ESPNLA.com:
"I was raised and brought up to go out and give it everything you have every day. I never wanted days off. I always wanted the ball.
"There were days when I was sore, I was tired, I didn't need to be pitching, but I just sucked it up and took the ball.
"That could be one of the reasons why I'm hurting right now. I went five and a half years like that. Getting abused, going two innings, throwing 50 pitches ... whatever it took."
Broxton says he has learned from the experience and knows what his body can and can't do much better now.
He gave himself an extra month this winter before he started throwing. He built his arm back up slowly, he took extra days in spring training to make sure it was right, and he's not too proud to say something if he doesn't feel good enough to pitch.
"It's close and it's going to get back to normal," Broxton said. "I don't know if I'll every put up those '09 numbers again, but it's back close to it.
"[Royals manager Ned Yost] has done a real good job of protecting me, not burning me out. I'm having a lot of fun over here. It's been good to have different scenery. I'm back throwing the ball good and I feel healthy."