Forgive Kyle Lohse if he doesn’t seem to look too enthusiastic about spring training, 2014. After all, he’s been making trips to such camps for nearly two decades.
Selected out of high school by the Chicago Cubs in the summer of 1996 as a "draft-and-follow" prospect, he went to Butte College in California for a year before finishing 1997 in rookie ball as an 18-year-old. His first full spring training was in 1998 with the Cubs organization.
Now 35, the right-hander is beginning his 14th major league season, and he’s experienced a bit of a renaissance as pitcher over the last three years, posting a 3.19 earned run average over 598 innings while going 41-21.
He’s figured some things out, clearly, and knows all about preparation, about what spring training can mean for a player.
And, after signing with the Brewers a week before Opening Day last year – and missing spring training – he found out what it no longer means for someone doing it as long as he has – at least physically.
"(My workouts) didn’t change last year, I just had to do it on my own," he said. "I was throwing against college kids and doing the things I had to do once spring training started. I’ve been doing it for a while so I know what I need to be doing. Nothing’s changed this year (either)."
There were some physical aspects about the spring he didn't miss.
"I kind of liked last year as far as not doing the PFP’s (pitchers fielding practice) and all the running around (and) extra work that we do," he said with a smile.
There were some other elements he did.
"I missed the other little things that you do just being around the team and getting to know the guys," he said. "I didn’t have that chance last year so it was kind of like get to know your teammates on the fly last year during the season. This year it will be a lot smoother and more like I’m accustomed to."
If anything, this spring is more about getting in the right frame of mind than getting his body right.
"It’s been a little more relaxing offseason as far as that goes," he said. "It’s nice knowing where I’m going. This is a lot better than sitting at home and twiddling your thumbs and hoping somebody calls."
The only discernible ill effect from his delayed start to the season was irritation in his throwing elbow that flared up in early May. He tried to pitch through it, but eventually missed a started at the end of the month.
It was the worst stretch of the season for Lohse as he gave up 20 earned runs in 27 2/3 innings, going 0-4 as opponents hit .345 off of him.
"Health wise, just the lack of some of the extra throwing you do – I was doing my bullpens and long toss – but there’s a lot of extra throwing we do that I wasn’t able to simulate and I think that kind of caught up to me in May," he admitted. "Other than that I felt like last year was pretty strong."
In his other 27 starts he went 11-6, giving up 54 runs over 171 innings for a 2.84 ERA.
"It was pretty good if you took out May," he said. "I had some issues going on that I was stubborn and keep going out there and couldn’t finish certain pitches the way I normally would and once we got that straightened out the rest of the year, personal wise, went pretty good. But I’m more concerned about team-wise and we didn’t do what we were supposed to do."
He added a benefit to that was seeing a crop of young pitchers get their first taste of major league experience, such as Johnny Hellweg, Jimmy Nelson, Rob Wooten, Donovan Hand, Hiram Burgos and Michael Blazek. Tyler Thornburg and Mike Fiers also spent some more time with the club after making their debuts a year earlier.
For a veteran like Lohse, spring training provides more of an opportunity to get in the ear of players like that – guys who may not necessarily make the club out of Arizona, but will likely share clubhouse space at some point between Opening Day and the end of the season.
"I was in their shoes, too," he said. "When I was young I thought hey, I’ll just go out there and throw the ball hard and try and get outs and it wasn’t until later in my career that I figured out what pitching really was and anything that I can help with them as far as their mentality or preparation or the way to handle yourself, thoughts you can let in your head, all these things that I’ve learned as time has gone on by, I try to pass on and try to make them better and figure things out maybe before I did.
"I was 27, 28 before I actually figured out certain things about me that made me successful and if I can help them that will be great."
Jim Owczarski is an award-winning sports journalist and comes to Milwaukee by way of the Chicago Sun-Times Media Network.
A three-year Wisconsin resident who has considered Milwaukee a second home for the better part of seven years, he brings to the market experience covering nearly all major and college sports.
To this point in his career, he has been awarded six national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, breaking news and projects. He is also a four-time nominee for the prestigious Peter J. Lisagor Awards for Exemplary Journalism, presented by the Chicago Headline Club, and is a two-time winner for Best Sports Story. He has also won numerous other Illinois Press Association, Illinois Associated Press and Northern Illinois Newspaper Association awards.
Jim's career started in earnest as a North Central College (Naperville, Ill.) senior in 2002 when he received a Richter Fellowship to cover the Chicago White Sox in spring training. He was hired by the Naperville Sun in 2003 and moved on to the Aurora Beacon News in 2007 before joining OnMilwaukee.com.
In that time, he has covered the events, news and personalities that make up the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, NCAA football, baseball and men's and women's basketball as well as boxing, mixed martial arts and various U.S. Olympic teams.
Golf aficionados who venture into Illinois have also read Jim in GOLF Chicago Magazine as well as the Chicago District Golfer and Illinois Golfer magazines.