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08/24/09 10:24 PM ET
Affeldt continues growth as pitcher
Reliable Giants left-hander enjoying career year in bullpen
By Owen Perkins / Special to MLB.com
DENVER -- Jeremy Affeldt's four-day weekend in Colorado has been something of a grounding experience for the left-handed reliever, coming back to the place where his career started to take off after a 2006 trade to the Rockies from the Kansas City Royals. "When I got traded, it was kind of a fresh start for me," Affeldt said before Monday's series finale. "I don't know if I was just burned out or what. Before the '07 season, I sat down with a pitching coach that I had in Kansas City named Mike Mason. I flew out to his house in Minnesota before the season, and I said, 'Look, man, this is my free agency year, and I know that I haven't had the best years, so I have to figure it out. Something's not right." Affeldt spent a week and a half with Mason, breaking down his mechanics, studying video, learning more about his body when it came to pitching, and entering the season with a new understanding of his ability. He delivered his best season up to that point in his career and helped pitch the Rockies to the World Series. "I learned what it took to win, had success, confidence," Affeldt said. "And then in Cincinnati last year, I played with David Weathers, and he showed me a lot how to pitch out of the 'pen. He showed me a couple pitches to throw to keep some movement on the ball. He showed me how to think more out of a bullpen role, because I was kind of a starter/reliever most of my career, I wasn't really one thing. I had a great last year in Cincinnati in a pretty tough ballpark. This year, it's carried over and I'm having a lot of fun this year and some success this year." Affeldt's '09 season has been his best by far, posting a 1.91 ERA, leading Major League relievers with 16 double-play balls induced, standing second in the National League with 26 holds and boasting the third-best ERA among NL relievers. "He's not typical of a left-hander where he's a specialist. He's more; he's a pitcher," pitching coach Dave Righetti said of the 30-year-old southpaw. "He's somebody you can run out there quite a bit and face different hitters and different styles of hitters and not worry about the matchup at all. So he's an advantage for any ballclub that has him. The last three years with Colorado and Cincinnati and us, he's really matured as a Major Leaguer. You see that a lot, guys in those years, that 27-32 range, that they've got a good arm and good stuff and it seems to come together during those years. Jeremy's no different." As the Giants' only left-handed arm in the 'pen, Affeldt has a certain amount of pressure to be ready every day and therefore not to be overused in any given game. But he has been unusual as a lefty who hasn't always fared well against left-handed hitters, while the Giants have right-handers that manage to keep left-handers to a .230 or lower average. "I've done better with pitching arm-side," Affeldt said of his success in San Francisco. "It's just a matter of focusing on certain things, knowing that the lefties were hitting really good off me. They were hitting about 7 million off me the first month of the season. My fastball's away, my curveball's away, so they try to lean, and if I try to come in, sometimes my ball would cut back to the middle of the plate, so I was kind of a little gun-shy in, because I thought I would catch too much of the plate with it. But now I've been able to hit the inside corner to a lefty better and away to a righty a little bit better, which I think has helped me." Righetti sees Affeldt as a pitcher hitting his prime and believes he's got the stuff to take it up another notch and earn a key role at the back of the bullpen. "You would like to see him graduate to a point where that stuff carries him into a part-time closer role or a closer," Righetti said. "I think he can handle it, and I think that's the next step for him as a pitcher. He's been awesome. He's resilient, too. That should be No. 1. Everyday guy, if you wanted to. We've been pretty prudent on how we used him, because we knew in the end we were going to have to come get him a lot. He probably wanted to pitch more, but he is pretty resilient."
Owen Perkins is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.