Meredith looking to regain '06 form
Padres reliever feels he was somewhat snakebit last year
PEORIA, Ariz. -- If there's one prevailing rationalization for Cla Meredith's struggles in 2007, it's that many of those same ground balls he turned into outs in 2006 instead found more grass than gloves last season.
Some feel Meredith, the reliever with the funky sidearm delivery, might have been more snakebit than bad in 2007, when his ERA rose from a scant 1.07 during his rookie year to 3.50 last season.
"He might have been a little unlucky," Padres manager Bud Black said.
Just don't count Padres' catcher Josh Bard among this group, though.
"Me saying that would mean saying he got lucky that first year," Bard said. "He beat people [in 2006]. But guys make adjustments in this league, and they obviously made a couple on him. But he's going to keep making adjustments himself."
Really, Meredith has no other choice. He learned that much last season when all of that good fortune he had in 2006 -- including that club-record span of 34 scoreless innings -- evaporated as he allowed 94 hits over 79 2/3 innings with opponents hitting 126 points higher against him in 2007.
"I took some lumps, but it never totally caved in on me. I'm proud of that," Meredith said. "Through all that, I learned a lot about dealing with adversity. ... I learned a lot of things about myself, about pitching."
One of the things Meredith learned was perseverance, though that wasn't always easy to handle, especially when, more often than not, he wasn't doing anything differently than he did in 2006 when he was seemingly invincible.
"Sometimes, you'll hear people say you're struggling," Meredith said. "But I was just struggling with ground balls not going into people's gloves. I lost three games on balls that didn't even leave the infield. That's kind of tough to swallow.
"In the back of your mind you know how if you keep making quality pitches, it's going to come back around. I wish I could have plea-bargained and had half of my good karma in '06 and half of it last year. Split the difference."
Meredith recovered from a porous May (7.50 ERA) and June (5.54) and was second on the team to Heath Bell in appearances (80), including 30 after Aug. 1 during the heat of the playoff race.
Along the way, at the urging of pitching coach Darren Balsley, Meredith tinkered with his mechanics some to help him get more movement on the ball, which is paramount to any pitcher's success, especially for Meredith, who doesn't hide the ball well because of his unique delivery.
"His struggles last year, for me, were a little bit of location. For a guy whose ball moves that much, it's tough to command the ball," Black said. "That's what makes [Greg] Maddux so special. He commands the movement. Cla isn't to that point yet."
"I think it was a combination of the ball moving but not getting to a good spot in those outings where he got hit a little bit. And I think there was a little bit of pitch selection [issues] in there that I think he'd tell you he can work on."
Meredith, for all of his success in his rookie season, never once considered himself to be a finished product. And he still doesn't, which is why he continues to tinker this spring with his mechanics to find something that clicks.
"It's getting to know my delivery and repeating that," Meredith said. "I have never been a big mechanical-type guy because my delivery is pretty simple. In order to have success throwing a sinker, you have to have movement. If I don't have movement then I'm dead. I throw 87 mph. That stuff gets crushed."
Meredith heads into his third Major League season a better pitcher for his experience of last season. He understands that he's not infallible and that balls will indeed find holes from time to time. That experience, really, only reinforced his confidence.
"It's about walking the line of being confident without being overconfident. Every player has to have that at this level or you'll be buried," he said. "You have to have a bulletproof mentality."
Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.