LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- When asked numerous times about the possibility of sending Mike Minor back to the Minor League level last year, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez preached the need to remain patient.
Gonzalez's patience gave Minor a chance to spend the final three months of the 2012 season developing a sense of confidence that should continue to benefit him as he prepares for the upcoming season.
"It's nice to see a pitcher grow right in front of your eyes," Gonzalez said.
By the time the season concluded, it was hard to believe the Minor who flirted with a return to the Minors during the first three months was the same guy who posted the third-best ERA at the Major League level during the final three months.
After posting a 6.20 ERA in 15 starts through the end of June, Minor compiled a 2.21 ERA in 15 starts after the beginning of July. The only two starting pitchers with better ERAs during that stretch were Braves right-hander Kris Medlen (0.90) and reigning American League Cy Young Award winner David Price (2.20), who was Minor's teammate at Vanderbilt University.
"The way I think about is that I did have a good second half, but nobody cares," Minor said. "If you go into this season and struggle again, people are going to say, 'Well he had a good second half last year and this season he [stinks].' People don't care. They want to win."
While Minor might not be ready to rest on his laurels, he has returned to Spring Training with a level of confidence that was not necessarily present during his previous three experiences with big league camp. His first experience came in 2010 and was essentially just a contractual award after being selected with the seventh overall selection in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft.
When Minor returned in '11, he was nervous when doing something as simple as the team fielding bunt drills that require pitchers to do little more than come off the mound and potentially cover first base. Last year, he felt a little more comfortable as he pitched effectively and easily won a rotation spot to open the season.
But it's safe to say Minor has reported to Spring Training feeling much more relaxed than he did any of the previous three years. He will enter this season as the third or fourth starter in Atlanta's rotation.
"I'm not going to take anything for granted. But I'm not worrying about if I mess something up, I'm going to get cut or something," Minor said.
While allowing 18 home runs in an 11-start stretch that began on April 24, Minor steadily saw the need to make changes. He quickly saw the need to ditch the changeup -- a pitch that had provided him so much success at the collegiate and Minor League levels. Instead of throwing it approximately 20 times a game, it became a pitch he showed about five times simply to remind hitters he had it.
There was also simply a need for Minor to gain the natural development that could not be gained while he made just 41 Minor League starts. The 25-year-old left-hander had also made just 38 career Major League starts before things started turning around for him last year.
"It's just experience," Gonzalez said. "It's knowing that they can go out and navigate their way through lineups and minimize damage in certain situations. That's something that's preached in the Minor Leagues. But it's a little different story in the Major Leagues."
When Minor exited June last year, he posted a 5.37 ERA and allowed opponents to hit .285 against him in 38 career starts. Through the first 38 starts of his career, Tom Glavine posted a 4.99 ERA and allowed opponents to compile a .279 batting average.
Minor will enter this season having compiled a 4.39 ERA in 53 career starts. Through the first 53 starts of his Hall of Fame career, Glavine possessed a 4.41 ERA.
"During the second half last year, I just saw a pitcher with confidence out there," Braves veteran pitcher Tim Hudson said of Minor. "He believed he was going to go out there and get the job done and do it in a dominant way. It's fun to see big league pitchers take that step and believe that they are going to be successful. He's got the stuff to do it and he's finally believing he can do it."
Statistically, Minor's season turned around when the calendar turned to July. But he believes the turning point might have come when he pitched effectively against the Yankees in back-to-back starts on June 12 and June 18.
"It just felt like I was turning it around," Minor said. "Then I had to face them in my next start in New York. It wasn't a quality start, but it was a decent start and they had just seen me five days earlier.
"Those games stand out to me because it was the New York Yankees. I remember that David Price had struggled against them for a few years and he was the Cy Young [Award winner]. So I was thinking, 'If I can pitch against these guys, why can't I do it every time I go out there?'"
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.