Estrada determined to stay healthy in 2014

Last season, Marco Estrada posted a 7-4 record with a 3.87 ERA, leading the team in WHIP (1.078), strikeouts per nine innings (8.3) and fewest walks per nine innings (2.0). This season, he aims to log more innnings pitched.

Rick Scuteri/Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

PHOENIX — Starting pitcher Marco Estrada was happy with nearly every number he posted for the Milwaukee Brewers in 2013, except one: days on the disabled list.

"Injuries. The DL. It’s so frustrating," said Estrada. "Rehabbing in Arizona, watching the team and not being able to do anything about it. It’s definitely frustrating. I wouldn’t wish it on anybody."

For the second straight year Estrada spent considerable time on the disabled list, missing two months of the season with a strained hamstring. The 30 year-old also missed one month of the 2012 season with a quadriceps injury. In fact, since being picked up off waivers from the Nationals in 2010, the 2005 third-round pick has never pitched more than 146 1/3 innings at the major- or minor-league level.

But, in the 21 starts Estrada did make last season the right-hander was very productive, notching a 7-4 record with a 3.87 ERA, leading the team’s starting pitchers in WHIP (1.078) and strikeouts per nine innings (8.3) while being second in fewest walks per nine innings (2.0). He was particularly effective in his nine starts after coming off the disabled list in August, going 3-0 with a 2.09 ERA and garnering the team’s pitcher of the month award for both August and September/October.

Encouraged by his success last season and determined to stay healthy in 2014, Estrada made some changes to his offseason routine.

"Mentally, it felt good to finish strong last year, but everything starts over," Estrada said. "Those numbers are in the books. But mentally, it does give you something to build off."

The Long Beach State product, who lives in Arizona now, added, "Heading into the offseason the thought was that maybe I was over-lifting with my lower body. So Josh (Seligman, Brewers strength and training specialist) and I knocked back the lower leg lifts. I also did a lot more stretching and really started working on more flexibility. I ended up working a lot of muscles in different ways. I feel great and really think it’s going to make a difference."

Beyond conditioning and flexibility, Estrada, who pitched 5 2/3 shutout innings in his most recent spring training start, is also working on his curveball.

"Having a good curveball late last season really helped me," he said. "Hitters don’t expect me to throw it so when I do, they pretty much lay off of it. It may not be my best pitch, but it gives hitters another look and something else that they have to think about up there."

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Catcher Jonathan Lucroy agrees.

"When he came back in August he was getting his curve over and that was big," Lucroy said earlier in spring training. "He’s not the hardest thrower, but he’s got a good fastball and he changes speeds and that changeup adds to his fastball. Then, when hitters see him throw a curve or the cutter for strikes, he gets real tough."

In Estrada’s next spring training start he plans to start working his curve into the mix.

"To this point, I’ve been working on throwing fastballs and changes," Estrada said. "I needed to get those dialed in to where I’m hitting the spots I want. In my next start I’m going to start working in some curveballs and some cutters. I want to get more out of both pitches this year, but especially the curve."

Another thing Estrada would like to improve on for the 2014 season is his performance at Miller Park. In nine starts at home last year, Estrada went 2-2 with a 6.62 ERA while giving up 14 home runs. However, in his 12 road starts Estrada went 5-2 with a 2.09 ERA while serving up only five round-trippers.

"Miller Ballpark isn’t the biggest ballpark in the world and that doesn’t help a fly ball pitcher like me," Estrada noted. "But it’s not in my head. I can’t change the way I pitch because of the park. If I can locate my pitches and change speeds, I know I can succeed there."

Estrada’s optimism isn’t limited to his own prospects for the season.

"My plan is to go out there every five days, give the team a good seven innings and give these guys a chance to win it," Estrada said, waving his hand toward the rest of the clubhouse. "We’ve had a lot of talent in here the last few years. But we’ve had some bad luck and some injuries, too. This year I think everybody is past that. The clubhouse is confident and real upbeat. I think we’re a closer group with great chemistry. I like our chances this year."

If Estrada can pitch the way he did last year, but do it over 30-plus starts and 16 wins, the Brewers chances will be pretty good indeed.