It all began when Pawelek reported to his first Spring Training in 2006 out of shape. He was held over in Extended Spring Training in Arizona and resurfaced later in the year at Class Low-A Boise, where he posted a 2.51 ERA in 15 appearances.
Pawelek was in good shape entering 2007 and began the season at Class A Peoria, but he was quickly sent back to Arizona to work on mechanics.
Then, just when things started looking bright and Pawelek was set to leave Extended Spring Training en route to Boise around the middle of June, there was that odd, fluke injury: a fractured radial head in his non-throwing arm – the result of tripping on a PlayStation 3 console in the middle of the night.
In spite of all the misfortunes that have plagued Pawelek in the early stages of his pro career, the 21-year-old southpaw believes this could finally be the year he turns it all around.
What have you spent the off-season working on leading into Spring Training?
MARK PAWELEK: This off-season was different. After my first one (in 2006), I came in out of shape because I didn't know what to expect. I worked hard to get in shape for the next one, but I didn't throw strikes too well. This off-season, I basically worked on throwing strikes and on staying in shape and getting my accuracy down.
How do you really go about doing that? Some people seem to have this vision of pitchers standing around and throwing to one of those plastic dummies, a la Charlie Sheen in the movie "Major League."
PAWELEK: (laughs) I did do that. I've set up a couple of dummies and a couple of trash cans to work on accuracy. But basically, I went back to the basics. I went back to step one; just started watching film and getting an idea in my head about how I wanted to throw and then I just worked on the feel of things. It's been about two months since I started. It's kind of a slow process, because you can't jump into it right away. I've been working with my father and he's been helping me with my mechanics.
Are you pleased with the work you've put in?
PAWELEK: Yeah, I'm actually thrilled. The last two years, I've really had a lot of problems with my control. But I've faced a couple of batters and feel I can throw strikes pretty well now.
Now that we're on the doorsteps of a new season, how anxious are you to erase all the bad tastes of the last two years?
PAWELEK: Really anxious. I haven't shown my capabilities when it comes to throwing strikes the last two years. For me to be able to do it again, it makes me want to play and I'm excited.
How much of your struggles come from being frustrated with all the extended spring training's, the fluke injuries, etc.?
PAWELEK: It's just been a lot of patience (involved). I was ready to go last year and then all of a sudden, I broke my arm. It was another step back, but I wasn't going to [panic]. But at the same time, I had to keep working hard. I let my arm heel up, and this off-season I made sure it was ready before I started up again. Like I said, I'm really anxious to play because I haven't been able to play a full season yet. I think I'm pretty well prepared now.
Do you ever feel that certain people in baseball – some in the media, some fans, etc. – have written you off or are overlooking you?
PAWELEK: I don't honestly look at that, because reading what people say about me ... they can write good things or bad things; I just try not to let it get in my head. I just want to play baseball and let my playing do the talking.
At this juncture, what role do you see yourself in over the long-haul?
PAWELEK: I've always liked starting, because when I start and get into a rhythm, I can go anywhere … It all depends on how I feel and I've never really been used to the relieving role. I would like to be a starter and I've been working on my stamina and with keeping my fastball the same speed and throwing strikes. As long as I can play, it doesn't matter what role I'm in if I can do it well.
How important is it to get into that rhythm? Because it seems as if getting into one has been a problem with all of the setbacks.
PAWELEK: It's important. If I can be a starter and I get into a rhythm during the game, I can throw the whole game. As long as I can throw strikes, that's the main thing.
What team and what level do you see yourself beginning the regular season?
PAWELEK: I've always been expecting to go places and it really hasn't panned out that way, so I have to wait it out and play to the best of my abilities, and know that wherever the Cubs decide to send me, I'll be happy with.