Parra inspiring confidence in self, Reds
CINCINNATI — Sometimes rummaging through a rubbish bin turns up something that looks unusable but turns out to have value. Find an old lamp with a shredded shade, tarnished stand and frayed cord and if you put on a new shade, polish it up and replace the cord and you might have light.
Such is the case with Cincinnati Reds left-handed pitcher Manny Parra. The Milwaukee Brewers used him in nearly every way imaginable, trying to find life.
In 2010 he started 26 games and pitched 16 games in relief and was 3-10 with a 5.02 earned run average. Then he hurt his arm and missed the entire 2011 season.
The Brewers didn’t yet give up. They signed him to a one-year deal for 2012 and used him exclusively in relief — 62 times, 2-3 record, 5.06 earned run average.
Then they gave up. Parra was a free agent and the Brewers didn’t re-sign him. They didn’t have much invested since he was a 26th round draft pick in 2001 out of American River Junior College, where was Junior College Player of the Year. And nobody else signed him until just before spring training began and the Cincinnati Reds took a chance on transforming an old broken lamp into something with luminescence. It looked like wasted effort in spring training when he was hit hard and often. But he made the team and in April it still looked like a waste of time and effort — six appearances, 0-1, 8.10. And every time he popped his head out of the bullpen the multitudes booed. Fans and talk radio wanted him banished, his uniform burned and his glove buried. At the end of April, he strained his left pectoral muscle and missed nearly a month. He returned on May 23 and made three scoreless appearances in May. And the transformation was on. It was as if Parra did a complete body transfusion. He turned awful into awesome.
Since returning from the disabled list, his earned run average is 2.08 for 17 appearances. And the recent numbers are perfection. When Parra faced two Pittsburgh Pirates Friday night, protecting a two-run lead, he struck both out, helping to preserve a 5-3 win.
He has retired 26 of the last 29 batters he faced. He has stranded 13 of his last 14 inherited baserunners, including 12 in a row. He has allowed just two hits in his last 11 appearances. He has made 16 consecutive scoreless appearance. That cellphone that keeps ringing is the Brewers trying to get him back. Now when he sticks his head out of the bullpen the multitudes cheer. He is just what the Reds needed — a left-hander to replace Sean Marshall, the team’s setup man and the only left-hander in the bullpen other than closer Aroldis Chapman. Marshall is on the disabled list for the second time this season and Parra stepped right in. And Marshall has been aiming advice and sharing knowledge to Parra every step from the bullpen to the mound. “Parra has worked hard and I told him, ‘You know, you have to feed that baby that’s coming,’” said manager Dusty Baker, referring to Parra’s upcoming date with fatherhood. “Parra is looking for a home (in the bullpen) and slowly but surely he is finding one,” Baker added. “Earlier in the year he didn’t have much confidence in himself and neither did we in him. Marshall went down and now he is helping Parra through the situation. “We all try to keep pumping him up, me, (pitching coach) Bryan Price, all of us. He has been unbelievable in his role right now.”
Parra, a 30-year-old, 6-3, 203-pound native of Carmichael, Calif., credits Price with the major adjustment — junk the curveball, implement a slider. “Bryan came up to me with about a week left in spring training and said, ‘Lets work on this slider.’ And I agreed because the curveball was just getting worse. It was just flipping up there. I’d throw one good one out of six. “I used to throw a breaking ball which requires more torque, you throw it differently,” he said. “On the slider you just stay behind it, more like a fastball and it seems easier for me to command. I can go in with it and out with it. “For the last four years, my breaking ball has been hit or miss. When I did have a good breaking ball were the days I had success,” he added. “I’m very comfortable in this role — mostly facing left handers,” said Parra. “I know what I need to do to be successful. Before I was searching. Now I know if I execute the pitch and get ahead, I’ll be successful."
Parra disagrees with Baker’s confidence and lack of confidence tag. “I feel like I did have confidence this spring,” he said. “People talk about confidence and the question I often ask myself? Is it success that brings the confidence. I don’t think confidence is one of those things that you can just make up. Success helps confidence.” Somebody laughed and said they thought it was the facial hair sprouting on his chin because he isn’t shaving during this on-course success. “I’ve never done it and I said, ‘I’m going to grow this thing like the other guys in the bullpen,’” he said. “We’re having fun with it. I have some pretty bad facial hair and I said, ‘Let me show it off.’” He can show off all the facial hair he wants as long as he continues to show off that new slider that has him on a run of perfection, something his beard never will be.