"Some days, I go out there and pitch great," said Joe Andrzejewski, relaxing in the clubhouse at Ainsworth Stadium in Erie, Pa. He sounded upbeat, but the tone was deceiving.
"Other days, I go up there and I'll constantly be behind the hitters, and they won't really hit me hard. I'll just walk a lot of people. I commit suicide out there."
A 1988 graduate of Chesapeake High, Andrzejewski is fighting for his professional baseball life in the lower depths of the Milwaukee Brewers' farm system.
So far, he's engaging in a losing battle.
Working middle relief for the Erie Sailors, a Class A co-op team comprised of players from various organizations, the tall right-hander faces a daily crisis just getting the ball over the plate.
Going into Friday night's game against Hamilton, Ontario, Andrzejewski had worked 37 2/3 innings and was 1-4 with a 5.73 ERA. He's appeared in 14 games, including six starts, and issued 52 walks.
In addition, he'shit five batters and thrown nine wild pitches.
No one questions his velocity -- his fastball has reached 90 mph -- and scouts marvel at his "live arm." But a propensity for being wild has stalled his career.
"The only thing that holds me back is not always having control over my fastball," he said. "Once that comes along, I'll move right up the ladder. It just takes time."
At age 20, Andrzejewski seemingly has plenty of time to find his niche -- or at least the strike zone. But he isn't so sure.
"I think next year will be a make-or-break season for me," he said. "Right now, (the Brewers) just want me to be successful and have results, but it's been an up-and-down season all year long."
Since being drafted in the third round out of Chesapeake, Andrzejewski has been the model of inconsistency -- and notalways of his own doing.
His senior season at Chesapeake was a gem -- a 7-1 record, 1.25 ERA and 96 strikeouts. But he fell victim to the first in a series of nagging injuries later that year playing forthe Brewers' rookie league team in Helena, Mont.
After working only one inning, a playful push out of an elevator resulted in torn knee cartilage that required arthroscopic surgery.
Setback No. 1.
He made his way back to Helena the following year and went 3-2, earning a promotion to Class A Beloit, Wis. He continued to pitch effectively the first half of last season and was named to the Midwest All-Star team, only to be struck in the head by a line drive.
The April issue of National Geographic contains a feature entitled "A Season Inthe Minors." Andrzejewski is shown standing in profile, an imprint of the baseball's stitches below his earlobe. His teammates began calling him Frankenstein.
Setback No. 2.
"Right after that happened, I wanted to prove to myself and to other people that being hit didn't bother me," he said. "It made me bear down even harder and try to pitch better."
Perhaps it was this bravado that led to a strained right elbow later in the season -- a case of overthrowing, he said. He finished 6-9 with a 5.61 ERA, and walked 97 in his 24 games (19 starts).
"The second half was terrible," he said.
Setback No. 3.
Still unable to escape misfortune, Andrzejewski developed tendinitis in his right shoulder while in Phoenix, Ariz., for extended spring training this year and was assigned to Erie in June.
Setback No. 4.
"Last year, I was on a real big upswing," he said. "I had control of my fastball, my curve and my changeup. But I hurt my elbow and it's been an up-and-down battle emotionally. I'm just trying to find my place again."
His place, at least for now, is in the Erie bullpen. And in a "home" stadium where colorful advertisements litter the outfield wall. And in a modest house in Erie that he shares with five other teammates.
Of his removal from the starting rotation, he said, "The coaches wanted to put me in a situation where I had to throw strikes. I guess it's best for me and the team. I'd prefer to start, but it's working out well.
"At the beginning of the year, I started off really well, but after the first four games, I went into a slump and lost my concentration."
Not helping his state of mind were two no-decisions when Erie relievers failed to preserve 6-3 and 9-3 leads.
"Right now, we're working on his ability to concentrate and focus on the mound," said Erie pitching coach Ray Korn. "We've also altered his delivery from straight over the top to three-quarters. In the last month, he's thrown a higher percentage of strikes and he's feeling much more comfortable. I think it's only a matter of time."
His first victory came late last month, when he threw two-thirds of an inning to beat the Auburn Astros, 10-5. But he walked five in 2 2/3innings in a later stretch.
A popular theory behind Andrzejewski's recent control trouble is the lasting psychological effect of beinghit by a line drive. His former coach at Chesapeake, Larry Schillenberg, speculates that he inadvertently might be shying away from throwing strikes.