SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — After a stellar rookie season that saw Joe Paterson become the first Rule 5 Draft pick to make the Diamondbacks’ Opening Day roster and compile a 2.91 ERA over 62 appearances, it was confounding for the D-backs and Paterson when he was completely ineffective early last season.
Paterson didn’t know what was going on and struggled to figure it out most of the season at Triple-A, but he’s pretty sure now he knows what happened.
“People start telling you you’re a left-handed specialist, and I guess I maybe looked at that more like trying to trick people rather than just going right after them,” Paterson said. “I think I got in trouble last year doing that.”
After getting back to what he does best, Paterson has rediscovered his form this spring and could be on the verge of forcing his way back into the D-back’s bullpen picture.
Manager Kirk Gibson this week expressed great confidence in Paterson’s rediscovered aggressiveness and all but guaranteed Paterson will pitch in the majors at some point this season.
“He’s certainly somebody that’s in play for us this year, definitely,” Gibson said. “I have confidence in what he’s doing now. He’s worked hard to get there.”
In 6 2/3 Cactus league Innings this spring, Paterson has given up just one earned run on seven hits while also getting out of a few tough situations. Though it is spring training, Paterson appears far from the pitcher who gave up 11 runs in 2 2/3 innings over six appearances early last season and was sent to Triple-A Reno.
Paterson, 26, explains further that after a strong rookie campaign, he felt pressure to improve for his sophomore campaign. As a so-called “lefty specialist,” he figured that meant finding more ways to get right-handed hitters out.
“I maybe even did too much in the offseason trying to get better and then came in thinking I needed to improve on that instead of just doing what I did the year before,” Paterson said. “I went into the offseason I guess trying to invent new stuff to get better instead of enjoying my offseason and getting ready like I always have.”
Paterson’s spring training results in 2012 weren’t as disastrous as they were at the start of the regular season. He had started leaning more on his sinker and slider, neglecting his fastball and not throwing strikes the way he needed to. The demotion was tough to take, but he understood.
“I know I went down because I was terrible, but I think what led to that was trying to trick guys,” Paterson said. “That’s not who I have been before, and I have no idea how that ended up coming about, but it was a good learning experience.”
Paterson says he battled with himself most of the season at Reno. He had a breakthrough in the playoffs, though, after regular catcher Konrad Schmidt was called up to the D-backs. Backup catcher Ryan Budde, who had been spending his time in the bullpen, took over regular duties and noticed Paterson’s ongoing struggle to deceive hitters.
“He came out (to the mound) and was like, ‘Quit trying to do that and just throw what I call,'” Paterson recalled. “I kind of got in this streak where I was just pumping fastballs, and it was very encouraging.”
Paterson also learned to deal with making a bad pitch or giving up a couple hits or a run. He stopped beating himself up. The strong finish and renewed focus on just getting hitters out, Paterson says, snowballed into a very positive offseason, which has turned into a strong spring.
It should soon become clear if there will be a spot on the Opening Day roster for Paterson. Most of the bullpen appears set, but there seems an outside chance Paterson gets a spot as the bullpen’s second lefty with Matt Reynolds having a bit of a rough spring (six runs allowed in 5 1/3 innings). At the very least, Paterson could create a tough decision for the D-backs.
“We’re really happy with the way he’s throwing,” Gibson said. “He’s got the greatest attitude on the team, too.”
As for where he ends up, Paterson isn’t particularly concerned but feels confident that having gotten back to being himself will lead him back to the big leagues.
“I’m very excited to start the season, no matter where that is,” Paterson said. “As long as I keep plugging away, I think at some point there will be a job, whether it’s now or later, in the majors for me.”
Jason Kubel was off for a second straight day Friday and will be off again Saturday. Gibson said Kubel has been experiencing soreness in his left knee and is getting some time to recuperate but is expected back in the lineup Sunday. … After missing his Tuesday start with left biceps discomfort, pitcher Wade Miley threw a bullpen session Friday that went well, according to Gibson. He’s scheduled to pitch Monday against the Dodgers, but Gibson said it will most likely be in a “B” game against minor leaguers.