Boyer enthusiastically takes the ball
Young reliever refuses to blame recent struggles on overuse
NEW YORK -- Entering Tuesday's series opener against the Mets at Shea, nobody in the Majors had made more appearances than Blaine Boyer, and many, including Braves manager Bobby Cox, have blamed his recent struggles on fatigue.
But Boyer, who is in his first full Major League season, isn't using his 66 appearances as a crutch. Coming back from a shoulder injury that sidelined him in 2006 and forced him to spend most of last season with Triple-A Richmond, he's simply attempting to learn from the frustrations he's encountered.
"This is uncharted territory for me," Boyer said. "This whole season has been a learning experience for me. I've been really good, and I've been really bad. I've got to narrow the gaps between the really good and really bad."
Boyer appeared to be at his best during a 19-game stretch from April 30-June 6. During that time, he posted a 1.35 ERA and limited opponents to a .288 on-base percentage. In the 33 appearances that have followed, he has posted a 6.83 ERA and seen opponents produce a .336 on-base percentage.
"His stuff is really good," Cox said. "He should be great next year."
While posting a 1.82 ERA and limiting opponents to a .183 batting average during his first 36 career appearances in 2005, Boyer established himself as one of the game's top young relievers. But then the shoulder problems started and caused him to enter this season feeling like a rookie again.
Boyer has been maddened by the fact that he has been a few pitches away from having a pretty good season. Four of the seven homers he's allowed have come with two strikes, including two that came after he gained a 1-2 count. With two outs this year, hitters are batting .294 with a .400 on-base percentage off him.
"I feel like I've got what I need," Boyer said. "It's making the pitches at the right time. ... I might be around the plate too much. There's a fine line between being aggressive and making smart pitches. I've got to find that."
Boyer, who has posted a 12.00 ERA and allowed opponents a .351 batting average in his past 12 appearances, has developed a slider that he's displayed in some recent games. He's hoping the pitch will give opponents at least something else to look for when he gains the advantage of a two-strike count.
Even though their bullpen has struggled recently, the Braves believe that they could build a formidable relief corps next season. Boyer figures to be in the mix and hopes that he'll be able to utilize some of the learning experiences he gained this year.
"It's been a crazy year," Boyer said. "But I swear everyone is going to get better for it. ... We're going out there and busting our butts every day."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.