Timlin aims to get it more than half right

Year's first half usually unkind to O's closer

March 25, 2000|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

JUPITER, Fla. -- When Orioles closer Mike Timlin enters a game, he's already convinced himself that it's over. It's part of his thought process, taught to him by former teammate Jamie Moyer in Seattle as a way to remain positive and keep adversity at bay.

It's also an attitude Timlin intends to carry into the regular season. And unlike past summers, he doesn't want its first-half meaning to be good news for the opponent.

When games were over before the All-Star break the past two seasons, they didn't usually favor Timlin. He blew eight of 17 save opportunities last year, losing eight times and constructing a 5.06 ERA that tested the patience of former manager Ray Miller. This wasn't exactly uncharted territory for Timlin, who had gone 1-for-5 during the first half in 1998 while with the Mariners.

In both seasons, however, he regained his footing and converted 18 of 19 during the second half. A pattern had been set. A need for change had been established.

For Timlin, the solution is all in his head.

He's always been physically ready to begin a season. What pitching coach Sammy Ellis has noticed veers in another direction.

"I think he's made some decisions, some in-roads with that," Ellis said of Timlin's first-half implosions. "Never being around him before, I don't know what his approach was in the past. But right now he's probably the most focused guy in this clubhouse. He's on a mission. He doesn't have to tell you he's on one for you to see it because he's very, very focused in everything he's doing. He's mentally prepared to pitch every time he goes out there right now."

Ellis isn't taking credit for this, just appreciating it.

"I think he's done some things on his own to get himself to that point," Ellis said. "I feel very good about the way he's going about his business right now. It's nothing I've done, it's something he's done.

"I'm sure he's aware of what he's done in the past in the first half of the year, so he's done some things to try to avoid that. We'll see. But I know he's going about it the right way."

So far, the results have been just as positive as Timlin's thinking. His scoreless inning yesterday against the St. Louis Cardinals in Jupiter, Fla., lowered his ERA to 0.90. He's given up one run and seven hits, including an infield single yesterday, in 10 innings. Included on the ledger are no walks and six strikeouts.

"He's been outstanding," Ellis said. "He's looked great. He's kept the ball down with good stuff."

His enthusiasm has been equally low, at least where his statistics are concerned. Timlin looks at the calendar and keeps them in perspective.

"Spring training numbers don't mean crud. If you're throwing strikes and getting guys to hit the ball on the ground, or into situations you want them to hit into, you're doing your job," he said.

"You're here to get in shape and learn the system that's been put into place and learn your teammates. Obviously, the results don't matter."

But attitude does. Timlin agreed with Ellis' observations, saying his mind-set was in place before arriving in Fort Lauderdale last month. Getting into the playoffs and winning a championship never have consumed him with such fervor. He also has a specific goal in mind for himself, one he's keeping private.

"Things that come along during the season, lows and highs, I'll deal with them when they get there. But right now I've got my goal set up in front of me and that's where I'm going," he said.

"It's a conscious thought process where you picture what you want to get done and how you want to get there. You don't just take off and go driving. You have no idea how to drive to Des Moines, Iowa, right now, but what you're going to do is lay out a plan so you'll know how to get there. You'll know which turns you have to take. That's basically all I've done. I've got my road map out there, and I'm following it."

It has taken Timlin into his 10th professional season to begin making the journey. Why so long?

"There are things I want that I never realized I wanted. Now's the time I want them," he said.

"I've seen other people pitch well and get stuff. I'm just as good as they are, so why can't I do that? I've seen guys come into the league and just take off and go. They know what they want and they get it. Maybe it's all a matter of timing. I don't know. I couldn't explain it."

The seasons have flown by for Timlin. Seven with the Toronto Blue Jays. Two with the Mariners. One with the Orioles, who signed him to a four-year contract in November 1998. He can do the math, but he can't always believe the figures.

"It's amazing how fast it's gone," he said. "I'll be talking to some of the guys on the team and they'll say, `Well, you're the veteran of the club.' And I'm like, `Am I the veteran?' I guess I am. You don't realize it. You turn around and you've got five or six years in the league. Then you turn around again and you've been around two more years.

"People just kind of fall off. It's amazing. That's why this time in a uniform is so short. You don't want to lose it."

He'll protect it like a ninth-inning lead. In the first or second half of the season.

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