Pawelek, 22, spent most all of the last three seasons in extended spring training and short-season Low Class-A Boise where his struggles were plenty noticeable.
Away from the field, there have been questions about his maturity, and things seemed to reach a boiling point late last season when Pawelek was sent home for a violation of team rules. He reportedly angered Cubs officials for failing to obtain a passport necessary to accompany his team to Vancouver for a series.
But Pawelek, set to enter his fourth spring training with the Cubs, says all of that is water under the bridge and that he's looking to turn over a new leaf in 2009.
"Every season, good or bad, it matters how you come back for the next one," says Pawelek. "I think this year will be very good because I've done a lot of work and am ready for the year."
The Cubs have said the passport incident was only a "temporary setback."
So what did the team say to Pawelek when they sent him home with two weeks still left in the season, not counting the fall instructional league?
"They just told me to go home and clear my mind and get ready for next year," Pawelek recalled. "I took the approach where I'm going to forget everything that's happened and have a fresh start."
The Cubs would certainly welcome that. In four seasons, Pawelek has a 6-12 record and a 3.80 ERA in 54 games totaling almost 150 innings. In the last two seasons combined, he has appeared in just 24 games.
Yet Pawelek remains optimistic about 2009, in part because of the work he's put in this off-season. While spending the winter months working out indoors in his home state of Utah, he's worked on having better control, starting with his fastball.
He also spends 15 to 20 minutes a day on cardio exercises to keep his heartbeat up, and he's even done yoga exercises, which he hopes will increase his flexibility, allowing him to stay well-conditioned and avoid tightening up on the mound.
"I've actually worked on all my pitches," Pawelek said of his off-season work. "I've tried to get the fastball down because that's the most important pitch you've got to have. I also worked on throwing strikes and not having as many walks as I've had the previous seasons."
The walks have been the result of ongoing mechanical issues.
"They (mechanics) got a little bit tinkered with and we were trying new things to help me get better," he said. "I just had one little thing that, I don't know—I had a difficult time throwing strikes, so I basically conditioned my arm this year just to get the feel back of the ball coming off my fingers and get my grips down good to where I'm trying to throw a lot more strikes instead of just throwing it.
"I've done a lot of mechanical work. I've worked on trying to be more consistent with every pitch, where it's not like a hit or miss thing. Basically [to] keep everything the exact same and focus after every pitch no matter what happens and keep going on."
Pawelek hopes that starting is still in the plans, though he's made only a handful of starts the last two years. He says he's ready for anything the Cubs throw at him.
"I've prepared myself to be either a starter or a reliever this year," he said. "I've never really done the relief role, but I think it would be a good thing if they put me in as a reliever, and I want to do it as best I can so I've worked on being a reliever and getting warmed up faster than I would normally.
"I also have my stamina where I can go four innings and condition myself so that I can throw a couple of innings when I go into camp … and have everything down to where I want it to be."
Does he have an indication of where he'll begin the year?
"No indication. I just want to pitch the best that I can and go where they decide they want me to go," said Pawelek. "I've prepared myself as someone who wants to be in the major leagues and I just want to do the best I can with what I've got, and when I get up on the mound have a solid outing every time."
Pawelek Vows to Turn Over a New Leaf
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