Frasor moving forward
Veteran reliever takes lessons out of difficult 2006 season
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- There were times at the beginning of last season when Jason Frasor was easy to spot. It wasn't uncommon to find the Blue Jays pitcher sitting in front of his locker, head down, beating himself up inside.
The soft-spoken Frasor isn't one for many words, but that doesn't stop his mind from racing, especially after a poor performance. Being able to shake off an off night on the mound is an important trait for any reliever. It just wasn't his best attribute a year ago.
"We all take this pretty seriously, but it consumes me," Frasor said on Tuesday at Knology Park. "It's tough to sleep at night sometimes after a bad outing. The best thing is having a short memory. I'm still learning how to do that, but I'm getting better at it."
Last season, as horribly wrong as it went for Frasor in the early months, tested the pitcher's confidence, and kept his thoughts focused on everything that was going wrong. It was a campaign that led Frasor to retool his pitching philosophy -- a change that now has him convinced that better things are in store this year.
Frasor was sick and tired of watching hitters' eyes widen every time he threw his curveball. The right-hander lost consistent command of the pitch and his struggles out of Toronto's bullpen led to two separate demotions to Triple-A Syracuse.
"It was a whole month where I was getting my brains knocked in," said Frasor, who had a 10.24 ERA when he was first sent to the Minors in late April. "It's still pretty vivid in my mind. It's scary going out there with just a fastball. I was getting beat so many times and I could only take so much."
So, when Frasor went down to Syracuse for a second time in July, he decided it was time for a change. The 29-year-old reliever told SkyChiefs pitching coach Rick Langford that he was going to abandon his curveball. Nothing was going to change his mind.
"As soon as I got down there, I said, 'Rick, I don't ever want to throw another curveball again for the rest of my life,'" Frasor recalled. "It was pretty clear that the change had to be made. If I didn't do it, I'd still be [in the Minors]."
Langford obliged and began working with Frasor on honing his slider, which has become his primary breaking pitch. Frasor had thrown sliders in the past, but he relied more on his curve over the previous two seasons with the Blue Jays.
Before last year, there was no reason to think Frasor would need to alter his pitch arsenal. In 2005, the righty had a career year, posting a 3.25 ERA in 67 games for Toronto. A year before that, Frasor led the Jays with 17 saves.
"He started going to his hook a little bit more and I really liked the breaking ball," Toronto pitching coach Brad Arnsberg said. "But then he started losing command of it, so we thought, 'Why not try to go back to the slider?'"
Frasor finished the year with a 4.32 ERA and 51 strikeouts in 50 innings. He did so by using the slider, effectively mixing in his splitter, and successfully painting the corners of the plate with his fastball.
"Boy, when he came back that second time, he really looked like a different kid," Arnsberg said with a smile. "It was a great adjustment in a tough year for him."
Frasor felt like a different pitcher, too.
"At the end of last year, that was as strong as I had ever been in my whole life," Frasor said. "Now, I look forward to going out there, knowing I have three pitches I can work with."
Frasor lacked that kind of confidence at the start of last season, when he dreaded his next trip to the hill. Frasor's attitude is different this spring, and that's good news for the Blue Jays. With reliever Brandon League slowly coming back from injury, Frasor could be counted on in the eighth inning early this season.
Toronto needs to find a way to bridge the gap to All-Star closer B.J. Ryan, and Frasor has late-inning experience in his career. He's excited about the opportunity to help fill the setup role until League rejoins the relief corps.
"If you get the ball to B.J., you're probably winning and you're probably going to win," Frasor said. "That's an honor, man. The eighth inning? That's a big-time role. Some of the best pitchers in baseball pitch the eighth inning.
"I think I'm ready for it. I'm more ready now than I was last year."
That's because Frasor is now more confident in his ability to bounce back from a poor outing. It's still an obstacle that he's learning to overcome, but the nightmare that was last season helped Frasor realize some necessary steps he had to take.
"You've got to really put the last one behind you," Frasor said. "You can talk about it all you want, but it's still tough. I don't know if I'm good at it yet. It really bothers me to have a bad outing, especially if you blow a game.
"I'm still learning how to tell myself, 'That was yesterday. This is today.'"
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.