GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Even before he was cut loose by the Brewers after last season, Reds left-hander Manny Parra knew it would take more than a change of scenery to make him better.
Parra spent his recent years in Milwaukee beating himself up when success didn't come as easy as it had in earlier seasons. During that time, he went from a promising young starter to a reliever who was part of one of the Majors' worst bullpens in 2012.
Something had to change, besides his location or uniform.
"I did a lot of work on the mental side of the game," Parra said. "It's made a big difference in how I'm seeing everything. Combine that with a fresh start, and it feels like a totally new beginning."
Looking for a second southpaw to complement Sean Marshall in their bullpen, the Reds signed Parra to a one-year, $1 million contract on Feb. 1. Last season, he was 2-3 with a 5.06 ERA in a career-high 62 appearances. His ERA was a respectable 3.51 through the end of the May before the struggles took over.
In his final 10 appearances, Parra walked nine batters in eight innings. Eligible for arbitration, he was non-tendered by the Brewers.
"Manny has shown at times that he's had the quality. You know it's in there," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "It's our job to bring it out of him, which is what we do."
As the Reds try to bring out the talent, the 30-year-old Parra has worked to have his mind be an equal to that talent. He spent the winter working with a sports psychologist, whom he initially hired while still with the Brewers.
Once away from the rigors of the Major League schedule, Parra felt he could build a new mental foundation with psychologist Dave Austin. How much changed for Parra, mentally, in one offseason?
"It turned out it was a lot," he said. "You're not supposed to beat yourself up, and I heard that many times. People would try to tell me in the past that you're not supposed to dwell on things and that it's not beneficial. But I didn't buy into it. I would relive the bad moments to try to learn from them. It sounds honorable, and it sounds great, but it really does nothing after a certain point. I learned to have a little bit of peace with who I am. Therefore, things that maybe affected me in the past won't affect me now."
The hype for Parra in Milwaukee came on the heels of a perfect game he threw at the Triple-A level in 2007. His first full season in the big leagues, 2008, was his best one as he was 10-8 with a 4.39 ERA in 32 games, including 29 starts. He was an 11-game winner in 2009, but also an 11-game loser with a 6.36 ERA in 27 starts.
Parra was 3-10 with a 5.02 ERA in 2010, a year that saw his switch from starter to reliever. The 2011 season was a complete loss because of a sprained elbow ligament and back issues.
While the recent years haven't been kind to Parra, he realized he wasn't helping himself.
"You're brought up being told that you have to make the weakest link in your chain the strongest," Parra said. "That kind of mindset sounds good for someone who knows how to be positive about everything. But when you come at it from a place of need and want and sometimes fear, it's not a good place to be coming from. When you work on that part of your game that needs to be better, it needs to come from a point of enjoyment. That's important to me."
Assuming he makes the team, Parra would be joining the bullpen that had the lowest ERA in the Majors last season. It's also a team that is looking to plug what few holes it had while winning 97 games and the National League Central before coming up short in the postseason.
Parra, who threw two perfect innings of relief with two strikeouts vs. the Indians in his debut on Sunday, feels he's had no trouble fitting in.
"It's been awesome," Parra said. "The communication has been great. The focus has been pretty impressive. Right from the start, the focus is on the World Series. You hear what guys are saying, and that's all anyone sees here. It's great. The work we're doing out there has intensity, but it is fun at the same time. It's a sign of the respect the players have for Dusty."
Baker was also pleased to have Parra, who was one of the final offseason acquisitions made less than two weeks before Reds camp opened. Lefty hitters batted .229 against Parra last season, compared to .296 for right-handers. His presence would be an added left-handed bullet for the manager, especially against teams that are left-handed heavy in the lineup.
"He's young. As long as he's healthy, he's got a chance," Baker said. "I told him to stick with Marshall. Marshall can help him. Almost everybody was where he is now, when you're trying to figure out something. Once you get it, you usually keep it for a long time and that's when your career spirals upwards."