Q&A with Mark Pawelek

It's always said that how a player starts his season isn't what's important; it's how he finishes it up. Mark Pawelek, one of the Cubs' top pitching prospects, learned that lesson the hard way in 2006.

You've heard the story by now. The 20-year-old Cubs first-round pick from the 2005 draft reported to spring camp not in the best of physical shape and would be held over in Extended Spring Training until short-season A-ball began some time in mid-June at Boise.

After a shaky first two outings with the Northwest League team, in which he was moved to the bullpen for a select few appearances, Pawelek returned to the Hawks' rotation in mid-July and proceeded to go on a tear. He would make 10 consecutive starts, never allowing more than two earned runs in any of those outings to close with a 2.51 ERA (fifth best among all starters in the league). The left-hander struck out 52 and walked 23 in 61 innings.

Mark, so much was made of your first Spring Training with you coming to camp out of shape. How difficult was it to put all of that behind you and finish up with a good run in Boise?

It was a mental year honestly. I didn't know what to expect coming into my first pro season. I didn't prepare myself as I should have. I was thinking I should have went to places where I didn't go like Peoria, but I didn't perform as well as I was able to. When I went to Boise, it was difficult during that first part because I wasn't pitching like I could. After awhile, I talked to some people and it just all clicked. I started throwing like I used to and started putting up numbers again. It was definitely a difficult year, but it's something to learn from.

That was actually going to be my next question – how much did all of it affect you from a mental standpoint?

My dad raised me to be mentally tough. Honestly, if I wouldn't have had some mental toughness, I probably wouldn't have been able to make it through the year. I just wanted to stick around; I wanted to finish the year better than I started it. That was my goal: not to have a bad, bad year, but to finish up great and just play like I could.

Other than your physical shape, what else was involved with staying in Extended Spring Training? What things did the Cubs feel you needed to work on?

It was mostly location. I had my stuff working, but I would miss my locations quite frequently. I was basically working on trying to hit spots and getting batters out with the least amount of pitches I could throw.

Was there any specific pitch that you worked on?

Just my fastball. Once I finally got that down, it was like I could pitch again.

What about your secondary pitches? When you got to Boise, did you have the feel for all of them back?

When I first started in Boise, they took me out of the rotation. When I got back into the rotation, that's when I got my feel back. I threw pretty well the rest of the season. I still have the feel down for my slider, my changeup and my fastball. Those were the three pitches I used the rest of the year.

You mentioned going to the bullpen. Was it a surprise when they moved you there?

I was quite frustrated, but I saw the logic in it. I wasn't pitching very well and they just wanted me to work on getting that feel back. When I finally did, they moved me back to the rotation.

As you said, you started pitching better as the season wore on. Is a baseball season kind of like a fine wine in that it just gets better with time?

I'll hit points where I'm just on a roll. You know how people get hot some times and some times they get cold. I was cold and then all of a sudden I got really hot. Everything was clicking and I could throw whatever pitch I wanted in whatever count for strikes. It helps to have good defense and stuff behind you, but when I was able to execute the pitches I needed to, it helped me get more outs and get the wins.

Did you notice any change in your velocity throughout Spring Training and on into the season?

I really didn't pay all that much attention to my velocity, so I didn't know exactly what I was throwing. They basically told me to work on getting batters out and to not worry about velocity, but I didn't really notice a difference.

What were some of the things you worked on down in the Instructional League once the season ended?

The whole year, I was working on different stuff, so when I got down to Instructs, they told me to just keep throwing my game and to try to get batters out and work on location. That was basically about it.

What does this off-season currently hold in store for you in terms of getting better prepared for your second Spring Training?

I try and make it to the gym about five times a week. Usually I take Saturday and Sunday off. Unless I miss a Wednesday or Thursday, I'll go on Saturday. I'll do legs two or three times a week. On Wednesday, I'll bicycle for about 30 minutes just to keep my cardio in shape. On the days when I do upper body, I start off running about 20 minutes and then finish off with about 10 minutes to get a full 30 minutes in. I'm not trying to overdo it, but I am trying to stay in shape until Spring Training.

How, if any, does your workout regime this off-season differ from the one you went through last year?

I didn't really have a set workout last year. That was kind of one of my problems last year, but this year I have a set workout for what I'm doing. I stick with what the Cubs give me and I think if I do, I'll be set to go come Spring Training.

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