Liz building confidence on the job
Baltimore starter hoping to improve mentally after rough start
MILWAUKEE -- One night after handing in the second-shortest start of his big league career, Radhames Liz continued his education. Baltimore's rookie starter had a long sit-down with pitching coach Rick Kranitz on Saturday and a brief tete-a-tete with manager Dave Trembley before the game in the hope of restoring his confidence before his next outing.
Liz was handed a big lead early in Friday night's game but was knocked out after just two-plus innings, and he subsequently admitted that he lost confidence on the mound. Kranitz and Trembley could tell that from the right-hander's body language, and they did their best to diffuse the situation before it becomes a full-blown crisis of confidence.
"As pitchers, those games are going to happen," said Kranitz. "They even happen to the great ones. But if you're not feeling good, you've still got to fake it. I thought a couple times that he showed a little bit of his frustration, and with a young pitcher, that's fine. But other teams come in and see that, and they'll feed off that. We talked a lot about that today."
"I think it's a natural thing that a young guy like himself goes through," added Trembley. "But what I just told him right there is that he's got to walk around today like he pitched a no-hitter yesterday. He's got to walk around today and get into the flow of the game and practice like nothing bothers him. The other guys on this club are looking at him."
Both Kranitz and Trembley have repeatedly said that Liz isn't auditioning for his job and that he'll likely get a long look in the rotation, but they both want to see him make some kind of forward progress. As far as Kranitz is concerned, that improvement can be made on the mental side of the game, which will make his potent fastball an even greater weapon.
Sometimes, said Kranitz, you have to bluff your opponents into thinking you're better than you actually are. It's one thing to feel like you're less than your best on the mound, but it's quite another thing to show it externally.
"It's like being a poker player," he said. "You can't give your hand up. If you try to throw it down-and-away and end up throwing it up-and-in and knocking the guy down, at some point you have to let them think that might have been on purpose.
"A lot of times, guys don't get tired physically before they get tired mentally. It is a grind, and if you let up, it's very hard to get it back mentally. You run not so much to be trained physically but to be trained mentally. When the mind goes, everybody says his legs are gone. But it's usually you letting down up there, and then the easy excuse is that he got tired."
Liz, for his part, said he understood what his coaches were trying to tell him. He said that it wasn't the first time that it's happened to him, but he also made sure to point out that Milwaukee starter Jeff Suppan had his own struggles on Friday. And Suppan is a veteran, which showed Liz that you can be in control of your emotions and still have a tough game.
"I think I didn't trust myself a little bit." Liz said. "I wasn't even throwing as hard as I can throw. It's hard to change when you've got something in your head already, and the game is more mental than it is physical. ... When things happen, they happen because you've got to learn. It's not going to be perfect every time. In my last start -- not yesterday, but the start before -- I was feeling tremendous. I was throwing a lot of strikes in every inning. And they still scored four runs."
"He responded well today," said Kranitz. "He understands, and it's part of the process. I remember Greg Maddux getting whacked around pretty good his first year, and I mean really getting hit hard. But he learned from it. If you pitch a great game, after that last pitch, you've got to start preparing for your next start. And last night, after that game was over, he's got to prepare for his next start. I'm not going to feel sorry for him, and he can't feel sorry for himself. The hitters certainly aren't going to feel sorry for him, and nobody on this club is going to feel sorry for him. It's a tough game, but you learn from it."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.