2006 NEWS

2006 News > 1/23/06

AHEAD OF THE CURVE: GLAVINE PUMPED ABOUT NEW PITCHING STRATEGY

Anthony McCarron, NY Daily News

With the way Tom Glavine was getting knocked around, something had to change. The Mets' lefty was miserable in the early part of last season the pitches and plans he had used to win so many games and build a reputation as one of baseball's toughest pitchers were failing him, and the inevitable thoughts that creep into the minds of 39-year-old athletes started to invade his:

Can I still do this? At this level?

Glavine wanted the answers to be yes, so he tweaked his pitching style and enjoyed a terrific second half while silencing some critics who thought his career was in a tailspin. Now, with spring training only about three weeks away, he feels a rookie's eagerness for the start of camp, in what could be his final season with the Mets. And, he said he's more optimistic than ever about getting the 25 wins he needs to reach 300.

"I have a better feeling this winter and a much better anticipation of the upcoming season," said Glavine, who will be in New York this week to be honored for his charity work at the Baseball Assistance Team dinner. "It's like, 'Hey, all right, I have a new bag of tricks,' so to speak. I had it working for half a year and, boy, I'd like to do that for a whole year. You couple that with the changes we've made as a club and it's an exciting time."

Glavine, a 19-year veteran who will be 40 in March, had a 2.22 ERA after the All-Star break last season, third among starters in the majors, behind Johan Santana (1.59) and Andy Pettitte (1.69). He went 7-6 to even his record at 13-13 and threw a two-hit shutout in his final start.

The difference, he said, was pitching inside more and using more breaking balls to set up the pitch that made him famous his changeup on the outside corner of the plate. For years, Glavine did not regularly pitch inside because he didn't need to; his changeup was enough.

But when he started 1-4 last year, he felt his predictability was killing him. "As much as things weren't going well and that's not a good feeling in New York, I tried not to panic about it," Glavine said. "I tried to address what I had to do."

He and Mets pitching coach Rick Peterson talked during bullpen sessions about what to do. Peterson recalled Glavine throwing nasty breaking balls when warming up and then not using them enough in games. "Why don't you use it?" Peterson asked. "He said, 'I don't know, I just never have.'"

At one point in their discussions, Peterson delved into golf analogies to make a point. Glavine had once played golf with Tiger Woods, Peterson said, so he was asking Glavine questions about what Woods was like. Then he reminded Glavine that Woods, at the time already the world's best player, had altered his swing. Maybe a five-time 20-game winner with two Cy Young Awards needed change, too.

"It's a lot easier to make changes when you're unsuccessful, but to have the courage to make them when you're as successful a pitcher as Tom Glavine has been, that's not as easy," Peterson said. "He rewrote his recipe."

Glavine got completely comfortable with his new plan by the second half of the season and Peterson recalled how some frustrated hitters scowled after making outs when Glavine had fooled them.

"It was nice," Glavine said, "to disrupt the scouting reports."

The new strategy, Glavine said, should make his quest for 300 easier. "I'd be lying if I said it wasn't a goal," Glavine said. "And I certainly feel a whole lot better about my chances than I did last April or May.

"But it's not something that's so important to me that I would play another seven or eight years, winning four games a year, to get it. I want to pitch at a certain level. I want to do it in two years and, physically, I think I should have no problem pitching two years unless something crazy happens."

Glavine will be a free agent after the season, which means he could be getting No. 300 in another uniform. He said he does not think about his contract status. "The best thing I can do is pitch well and create as much opportunity as I can to pitch somewhere next year, in New York or somewhere else.

"Personally, I've enjoyed it here. I know there are some people who will look at what I've done and say I'm a bust, I wasn't worth it. In many ways, I think I've pitched well. The first year (when he was 9-14) wasn't too good, but the last two (when he was a combined 24-27) could've been really good with a little luck.

"There's nobody in that city who wishes I won more games than I do. That's the kind of thing that drives me for the upcoming year."