LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Mike Minor appears much more relaxed than he was when he arrived at Spring Training in 2011 with a chance to win the fifth spot in the Atlanta rotation. Now it is time for him to keep the rotation spot he earned courtesy of the tremendous improvement he made last year.
"I don't expect them to judge me on what I did last year and just give me a spot on the team," Minor said. "But hopefully my performance will carry itself over to this year and I'll pick up where I did last year. I've learned a lot."
Minor struggled to command his curveball through last year's Spring Training and looked lost when he made a spot start against the Brewers in early April. But when he returned to the Majors in late May, he had better command of his breaking ball and, more importantly, some of the confidence he had previously lacked.
Still Minor believes the turning point for him last year might have come when he allowed five earned runs and lasted just 4 1/3 innings against the Mets on June 16. Catcher Brian McCann told him during that outing that he had to start creating more consistent arm speed with his fastball and changeup.
Because he thought his changeup needed to consistently be 10 mph slower than his fastball, Minor was slowing his arm motion when he threw his changeup, and opposing batters were noticing. McCann told him the changeup would be more effective as long as he kept his changeup grip and made sure the arm speed mimicked that of his fastball.
"I was asking him 'How is the changeup, why is everybody hitting it so well,'" Minor said. "I wasn't trying to be cocky. But I was thinking, 'That's my best pitch, and if they're hitting that, then what do I got?'"
Minor limited the Blue Jays to one run over seven innings five days after that Mets start and then spent the next six weeks working on making the changes in the Minors. While posting a 3.83 ERA in the nine starts he combined to make in August and September, he started to show the promise the Braves envisioned when they took him with the seventh overall selection in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft.