Tom Gorzelanny had no time to think, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
One of the newer faces to the Milwaukee Brewers bullpen, the starter-turned-reliever was called upon in the bottom of the seventh inning of Tuesday night’s game against San Diego, splitting an infield full of Padres after starter Yovani Gallardo walked the bases loaded after getting the first two outs of the inning.
The left-handed Gorzelanny was to face Yonder Alonso, and wasted no time. There would be no setting him up for a future at-bat, no picking at the black of home plate. Three pitches, three swings, third out.
The threat was eliminated, and the bullpen did its job yet again in a 6-3 Brewers victory – the team's ninth straight.
"The perk of being a reliever is you don’t have to worry about the next couple of at-bats ," Gorzelanny said before the team took off on its latest road trip.
"You just get this guy right now, right here. It’s a different mentality. It did take me a little bit to adjust to from being a starter. I’d always be used to just trying to get a strike, get ahead in the count with a strike, but late in the game guys aren’t waiting to give up a strike, they’re going to swing. You have to make good pitches right away."
That attack dog style has become the signature of the Brewers bullpen over the last nine games. Since the start of the streak, back on April 14 in St. Louis, the eight relievers who have been called upon have allowed just four runs in 29 2/3 innings of work for a 1.23 earned run average.
Since April 14, John Axford, Burke Badenhop, Mike Gonzalez and Brandon Kintzler have not allowed a run. Current closer Jim Henderson, Alfredo Figaro and Gorzelanny have allowed just one run each.
"You can’t do more than you’re capable of," Kintzler said of their individual attitudes in the bullpen. "I’m not going to come in and strike out the side if Axford strikes out the side. I can’t try to do that. I can try to set them down with some ground balls and I’ll try to do the best I can."
A perfect example came at the very start of the streak, when Kintzler was called upon to start the ninth inning against the Cardinals. He breezed through that ninth inning, but then walked leadoff man David Freese to start the 10th after getting ahead with two quick strikes.
"I got a little excited that last inning," Kintzler said. "I get 0-2 and now I’m getting excited and I’m trying to make the nastiest pitch when I reality I just need to make a normal pitch. That’s why I was so mad about walking the leadoff guy, because I got out of my comfort zone."
He retired John Jay on a sacrifice bunt, before giving way to Gonzalez and Badenhop, who picked him up by ending the inning.
There is inherent self-confidence with being a professional athlete, but that almost has to be taken to another level if you’re in the bullpen of a major league team. A game can literally be won or lost based on the location of your pitches.
It’s why each pitcher looks inside first and foremost. There is little thinking, little planning – just throwing.
"I always find that if I do what I do, usually I’ll have success," Badenhop said. "I’m not trying to fool guys. I locate the ball, but my location is usually down. I’ll take tidbits here in terms of a little bit of a scouting report type stuff but I’m not really keying too much on that. I’m more worried about me and controlling myself and if I control myself, I’ve usually got pretty good control of the game."
"It’s really all about learning who you are and what your strengths are," he said. "If I wanted I could throw 95 or 96 but that’s not my strength. My strength is to come in and throw sinkers at 92, 93. If it’s Jim or Ax their strength is to blow it by you. If you get out of your comfort zone, that’s when you start getting into trouble because it’s not who you are. A lot of guys, when they get here, they know who they are and what they can do, but now they’ve got to learn how to do it at this level. That’s the adjustment when guys actually stay and are successful. They yell at me a lot when I try to get out of my comfort zone so I always try to keep calm."
Perhaps the biggest example of knowing yourself and keeping calm has been the turnaround of Axford. He lost the closer’s role after a horrific first four games in which he blew a save and picked up two losses while allowing nine runs, along with four homers, in just 3 1/3 innings.
It was something he went through just a year ago, and recovered from.
Of course, winning nine straight games helps the cause as well.
"If you’re winning everyone feels great whether you threw bad or not - forget it, we won," Kintzler said.
"Then if you lose the game or if we let them down then I feel like, as a whole bullpen, we let everyone down. Each and every time it’s going to be one of us out there that’s going to let someone down or win the game for us, so as a collection you’ve got to feel for the guy, whether you’re going good or bad. If you’re winning everyone feels great. I think winning makes everyone feel good."
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.