Bergesen: ‘It’s a confidence issue’

Orioles pitcher, sent to minors, says struggles mostly mental

April 21, 2010|By Jeff Zrebiec, The Baltimore Sun

SEATTLE — — It wasn't just his results that prompted the Orioles on Tuesday to option their best starter last season, Brad Bergesen, to Triple-A Norfolk, though that certainly factored into the equation.

Bergesen was 0-2 with a 12.19 ERA this year, and he failed to get through five innings, which he did in 18 of his 19 outings last year, in any of his three starts.

But perhaps even more concerning to the club was that his body language — the glances at the dugout during starts, the constant tugs at his cap, the circling of the mound — suggested that the 24-year-old pitcher had lost some confidence and it was no longer prudent to send him out every five days to face big league hitters.

In a phone interview Tuesday, Bergesen acknowledged as much, saying that his problems were more mental than physical or mechanical.

"Obviously, I don't feel right right now, but it's not a health issue," said Bergesen, who acknowledged he was surprised to be demoted after three starts but said he didn't blame the Orioles for the decision. "It's a confidence issue. I'm putting too many thoughts in my head right now. I just want to get back to being mentally strong. It's been extremely tough. You come off a good rookie season and you're looked at as one of the guys. That's added pressure, but I wanted it so bad. It just hasn't happened for me right now."

With their first day off of the season Thursday and another Monday, the Orioles won't need a fifth starter again until May 1. Therefore, they opted to replace Bergesen on the roster by summoning Triple-A left-handed reliever Alberto Castillo, who will give the Orioles an eight-man bullpen during a stretch in which the club plays 12 straight games against the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees.

"It probably has as much to do with the schedule as it does with Bergy's struggles," Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail said. "We really don't need a fifth starter until May 1. Rather than him work sporadically or work out of the bullpen, he is better served to go to Triple-A, get a start under his belt and spend some time working on his mechanics where he can get his sinker back to where it was last year."

It's obviously too early to determine who will join the rotation in time to make the May 1 start against Boston at Camden Yards, but the candidates include long men Jason Berken and Mark Hendrickson and pitching prospect Jake Arrieta, who has a 0.50 ERA after three starts for Norfolk. MacPhail also said Bergesen will get consideration for that start.

"We'll see how he does," MacPhail said. "Clearly, if he can make some of the adjustments we're asking him to make, he's as viable of a candidate as anybody else."

Bergesen said that's the furthest thing from his mind.

"I'm not looking too far ahead," he said. "I've been doing that too much lately. I'm staying positive. I'm going to go down there and work my butt off and try to get back up."

The final straw for Bergesen came in Monday's 8-2 loss to the Seattle Mariners, in which Bergesen allowed seven runs (four earned), six hits and three walks over 22/3 innings. A command pitcher, Bergesen threw only 27 of his 54 pitches for strikes, and his meltdown in the Mariners' seven-run third inning included back-to-back walks.

While he could have gotten out of the inning with just one run allowed had third baseman Ty Wigginton not booted a potential inning-ending double-play ball, Bergesen allowed an RBI single to Franklin Gutierrez, a two-run single to Ken Griffey Jr., an RBI double to Milton Bradley and a two-run homer to Casey Kotchman.

Bergesen, who looked fidgety and uncomfortable throughout the abbreviated outing, called the inning "the story of my season so far," and acknowledged that he's "trying everything right now."

In the days before Monday's start, he watched video of some of his better performances last season, trying to determine whether there was any mechanical flaw that was preventing him from getting the movement on his go-to pitch, a sinking fastball.

He detected some minor things and determined that his problems were a result of not having as much "conviction" behind his pitches as he did last year, when he went 7-5 with a 3.43 ERA and had seven quality starts to conclude his season.

But that conviction was again lacking during Monday's start, in which Bergesen abandoned his sinker at times and became more of a "slider-breaking ball guy," according to manager Dave Trembley.

"He's gotten away from his strengths," Trembley said. "I believe it was mechanical. He was close [Monday] night, and once we kicked the double-play ball, he tried to do it all himself, threw way too many breaking pitches. He'll go down and get it figured out, and he'll get back here."

Both Bergesen and the Orioles insist the pitcher's struggles are not injury-related. He missed the last two months of last season after he was drilled in the left shin by a come-backer off the bat of the Kansas City Royals' Billy Butler. Then he reported to spring training behind the other pitchers as a result of a shoulder strain he suffered while filming a commercial for the club in early December.

However, Bergesen said again Tuesday that while it obviously didn't help that he couldn't throw his first bullpen session until March, he feels fine and won't use the injuries as an excuse. The Orioles said they have no reason to believe the right-hander is injured.

"The velocity is there," MacPhail said. "His stuff is just flat. He's not getting the downward movement that he had a year ago. It's an opportunity for him to go work on his mechanics and to get himself back here."

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