Mets pitcher Michael Tonkin participates during a spring training workout...

Mets pitcher Michael Tonkin participates during a spring training workout on Feb. 17 in Port St. Lucie, Fla. Credit: AP/Jeff Roberson

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Michael Tonkin, new Mets reliever, is a journeyman — emphasis on the journey.

Before re-breaking in with Atlanta last year, Tonkin had gone more than five years between appearances in the majors, from the end of 2017 to the beginning of 2023.

He traveled the world trying to revive his career in that span, playing for teams in Japan, Texas, Nevada, Suffolk County, the Dominican Republic, Mexico and Georgia, searching and waiting and finally receiving another way into The Show.

In camp with the Mets on a split, non-guaranteed contract, Tonkin is among those competing for a couple of spots in the bullpen. He has a decent shot at an Opening Day job but is not promised one, which, well, he’ll take those odds, given his odyssey.

“It was a little bit all over the place,” Tonkin said before tossing a scoreless inning in a 7-1 exhibition win against the Marlins on Tuesday. “At times, it was frustrating. You feel like you’re waiting.”

Did he ever think it might not happen?

“The whole time,” he said.


For Tonkin, a 34-year-old righthander, the lowest point came in 2020, when the pandemic shut down baseball and so much of the rest of the word.

He already tried the Asia route. Three major-league clubs released him in a little over a year. After he signed up to play in the Dominican, that team bailed, too, citing its COVID-related budget cuts.

“Well, I guess I’m done,” Tonkin thought.

But Christmastime brought the gift of renewed professional survival. The Dominican team, Aguilas Cibaenas, called back. It needed an arm and wanted him to fly down on Dec. 26 for a playoff run. In Tonkin’s first appearance, he threw 96 mph for the first time in several years.

Along the way, Tonkin had been overhauling his mechanics and arm-strength regimen, trying to correct bad habits he had formed and regain — despite getting older — the velocity he had lost.

Suddenly, he had proof it was working.

“I was like, I can’t stop playing baseball right now,” Tonkin said. “There’s still an opportunity to play.”

That led to his second go-around with the Long Island Ducks of the independent Atlantic League. Returning to his 2019 team, he had a 0.53 ERA in 16 appearances in 2021.

“Without [the Ducks], I wouldn’t be standing here right now,” Tonkin said. “There really weren’t any other opportunities out there. It was fun to go out there and play baseball. It was a good opportunity to try to figure things out for me and experiment with things and see how am I going to throw harder? How am I going to get better results?”

Atlanta called in early 2022. It was a good thing, too. Tonkin and his wife had just had their second child. Life was getting real. He couldn’t stay at it forever.

“I was throwing as good as I had thrown my entire career as far as stuff. Felt great,” he said. “I went to Tijuana, threw really good there. Then I went to the D.R. and had a good winter. I was there from mid-November until the end of January, and at some point in January the Braves called. Finally. They were the only team that gave me a shot.

“The Braves came at the right time. I don’t know how much longer I could’ve continued to do that.”

On the Mets, Tonkin would fit as a multi-inning reliever. He did well in that mostly low-leverage job last year for Atlanta, throwing 80 innings across 45 appearances. He had one save, two holds and a 4.28 ERA.

It isn’t a sexy gig, but it is an important one.

“He was a pretty valuable piece for the Braves last year,” manager Carlos Mendoza said. “A guy who can give you multiple innings, is going to throw strikes and keep you in games.”

Tonkin was just happy to be there. And here.

“Having a role in the big leagues on a good team,” he said, “is good.”

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