09/16/10 12:56 PM ET
Mulligan: Wolf uses golf to regain consistency
By Jordan Schelling / MLB.com
Opening the 2010 season with the Milwaukee Brewers, that consistency seemed to escape Wolf. He looked nothing like the pitcher he was for Los Angeles, stumbling out to a 4-6 record with a 5.31 ERA through 13 starts in the first two months of the season.
"I just knew something wasn't right," Wolf said of his struggles.
Over that stretch, Wolf mixed in impressive outings: He tossed six scoreless innings at Pittsburgh on April 20 and seven scoreless against the Astros on May 25. More frequently, however, Wolf struggled, as he did in allowing eight runs over 4 2/3 on June 9 to the Cubs.
As he watched his club's newly acquired veteran left-hander struggle, Brewers pitching coach Rick Peterson struggled himself as he searched for an answer.
"You're trying to pinpoint what exactly it is. Why exactly is he struggling? What's different from the year before and this year?" Peterson said.
"So I went and I looked at all the Pitch-f/x information going back three years, taking a look at his vertical and horizontal movement on all his pitches, and the velocities on all his pitches. They were all the same. It was actually identical."
If his stuff was the same early in 2010 as it was throughout the last three seasons, why were Wolf's numbers so much more inconsistent?
Following his rough outing on June 9, Wolf bounced back, going 3-2 with a 3.25 ERA over his next seven starts. Wolf's next start after that stretch, July 21 at Pittsburgh, was his worst yet. Entering with a 4.56 ERA, Wolf surrendered a career-high 12 runs on 13 hits over 5 2/3 innings pitched, causing his ERA to jump to 5.20.
While that Pittsburgh outing certainly was forgettable, the silver lining was that it marked the date Peterson and Wolf finally figured out what change was necessary.
"The difference from this year to the past, was that he just wasn't making pitches," Peterson said. "For whatever reason, he was missing location consistently. Everything else was the same, but that makes a huge difference.
"What I think had happened was that his slow tempo had worked for a long period of time, but now it was almost so slow that it was affecting his release point and his ability to execute pitches."
But the question that remained was how to get Wolf, who told Peterson in Spring Training that he liked to keep his tempo slow, to speed things up with his delivery.
Recognizing that Wolf typically operates with a much more athletic, upbeat tempo when not pitching, Peterson used another sport to explain to Wolf the importance of tempo.
"We play some golf, so I said, 'Show me the tempo in your golf swing,'" Peterson said. "I said, 'See if you can put the same tempo into your delivery as you do your golf swing.'"
What did Wolf think of the comparison of the tempo in his delivery to his golf swing?
"I think that he thinks I'm a better golfer than I am," Wolf quipped. "But it makes sense. Even as an amateur or beginning golfer ... with anything you do a rhythm is very important.
"You don't want to go so slow and then fast. You want to start slow and quicken up as you go, not just instantly. I think just talking to him about it, I became more aware of it and paid attention to it more so than usual."
Since getting touched up for 12 runs in Pittsburgh two months ago, Wolf has quickened the tempo in his delivery, while paying closer attention to what a different rhythm can do to his pitches. At times, he has found the need to slow it down a bit, while speeding up at others.
In nine starts since that outing against the Pirates, Wolf has looked as good as he has all season. Wolf is 4-2 with a 3.07 ERA over that stretch, allowing just 20 runs in 58 2/3 innings of work.
Wolf also has put up his two most impressive performances of the season in the same stretch: He tossed 8 1/3 innings of three-hit, one-run ball in St. Louis on Aug. 18, and gave up just one run on four hits in eight innings in his last outing on Sunday.
It took nearly four months, but Wolf is finally pitching with the kind of consistency that the Brewers expected him to show when signing him to a three-year deal in the offseason.
"Is this what we expected? This is the kind of command and the kind of process we expected," Peterson said. "If he can get that process, he's going to pitch well every time. More importantly, that's what Randy expects of himself."
With four starts remaining this season, Wolf is still focused on what he can do in 2010, though he certainly hopes to put together a more consistent 2011 campaign.
After his last start, Wolf talked about wanting to start strong, stay strong and finish strong. While the first two months may have gotten away from him, it's hard to argue against the way he's closing out the season.
"It's frustrating at times, but when you get 33-34 starts, you keep on learning and just get better. I look at those bad games as an opportunity to get better, learn from it and just move on," Wolf said.
"There are times definitely where you don't pitch well, but you've just got to get over it and put it behind you. If you dwell on it and feel sorry for yourself, it's going to be a really long year."
Jordan Schelling is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.