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For Rays relievers, short-term memory a must


Published:   |   Updated: April 6, 2013 at 06:28 PM
ST. PETERSBURG -

Jake McGee had some questions he needed answered Tuesday after he was pulled from the Rays’ 7-4 loss to the Orioles.

Trusted with a one-run lead in the top of the seventh, the Rays left-hander gave up five runs. Two scored on a double by Adam Jones. Three scored on a home run by Chris Davis.

McGee, who was nearly as much of a sure thing in the Rays bullpen last season as closer Fernando Rodney, was troubled by the pitch to Jones — a two-out, 98-mph fastball on an 0-2 count that the Orioles center fielder quickly redirected toward left-center field. Had he retired Jones, the inning would have ended with him allowing two singles and zero runs. The Rays would still have the lead, so McGee would have done his job.

As he reached the dugout after being pulled from the game, McGee said he asked himself these questions: “Was it location? Was it the wrong pitch? Was it the right pitch, right location and he got a good hack at it?”

He decided it was the right pitch, since he blew a 98-mph fastball past Jones on the previous pitch. So, he determined the location could have been a little better.

“You have to process what happened, figure out why it happened, learn from it and move on,” McGee said. “As a reliever, at first it was hard for me to get past it right away. But this year I feel good about it. Last year I was getting even better about it and realizing why that happened instead of thinking, ‘Oh that shouldn’t have happened,’ and not figuring out why it happened.”

It was not exactly a welcome to the big leagues moment for McGee. That came in 2011 when McGee struggled after making the Opening Day roster and soon found himself back in Durham. But it was a reminder that he was in the bigs, and some big-league hitters can hit 98-mph fastballs.

The best way to avoid repeats of what happened Tuesday, in addition to better location, is to forget it as quickly as possible.

“Two things you cannot worry too much about as a reliever: ERA early in the season, and if you had a bad game you can’t bring that to the ballpark the next day,” Joel Peralta said. “You have to have short-term memory loss.”

McGee’s ERA was 67.50 after Tuesday’s game. He shaved 40.50 off that with a 1-2-3 inning Friday against the Indians.

“I can’t look at my ERA for the next month or two. I probably won’t look at it all year,” said McGee, who had a 1.95 ERA in 69 appearances last year.

By the time he returned to the clubhouse Wednesday afternoon, McGee said he was over what happened the previous night.

Rays manager Joe Maddon said he passed McGee’s locker after Tuesday’s game, couldn’t hear what he was saying but liked the look McGee wore on his face.

“He was fine,” Maddon said.

Peralta said he watched McGee warm up Wednesday and could tell the kid — McGee is only 26 — had moved on.

That’s easier said than done, Peralta said. And the only way to learn it, he added, is to live it.

So Peralta told the story of what happened to him June 20, 2005, against the Rangers in Arlington, Texas. A rookie with the Angels, Peralta began the year by allowing just one run in his first 11 outings.

“I had a 0.66 ERA,” he said.

He entered the June 20 game in the fifth inning with the Angels down 7-3. He was facing the Nos.?6, 7 and 8 hitters.

Peralta allowed a home run to Kevin Mench, the leadoff batter, then walked Laynce Nix. He got a fly ball out, then walked the next two to load the bases.

Then came a wild pitch that scored a run. Then an RBI groundout to second by Michael Young. Then a two-run homer to Mark Teixeira.

To recap: one inning pitched, three walks, two home runs, five runs allowed.

The Angels flew to Kansas City after the game, an 18-5 loss, and Peralta said he plopped into his seat and stewed.

“I’m frustrated, I don’t want to talk to anybody,” he said, “and guess who comes up to me? Mr. Joe Maddon.”

Maddon was the Angels bench coach. He was a big believer in Peralta, nicknamed him “El Campeon,” for the way Peralta would battle on the mound, never willing to give into the hitter.

Maddon told Peralta not to be too hard on himself, that it was OK he got rocked.

Peralta remembered asking Maddon, “What do you mean? You’re happy I gave up three walks, two homers and five runs?”

Maddon told Peralta he would soon understand.

“I’m like, this guy, what is he saying?” Peralta said. “He said some things that made me feel better. He said some things that made me feel bad right away but made me feel better later.”

Maddon, who doesn’t remember the conversation, said, “You got to live that moment, because it’s going to happen to everyone. It’s how you process it.”

Said Peralta, “The main thing to me is if you carry it with you, you’re going to be frustrated and your confidence won’t be there. So when you’re facing the same guy in the same situation, you’re remembering what happened the last time and you think, ‘He’s going to do it to me again.’ That’s the biggest reason why you have to forget about it.”


rmooney@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7227

Twitter: @RMooneyTBO

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