Linebrink focused on offseason work
Right-hander looks to learn from last season's struggles
CHICAGO -- Pick a word to describe Scott Linebrink's 2009 season.
Go ahead. The White Sox right-hander has nothing to hide.
How about "disappointing" and "frustrating" as two examples, especially when focusing in on Linebrink's 8.49 ERA over the second half of the campaign? Considering there was no injury hampering Linebrink's efforts, and he carried a 1.93 ERA into the All-Star break, "baffling" comes to mind.
"It was a test of my patience and resolve to get back out there and fix things," Linebrink told MLB.com of last year's results. "I learned a lot from what happened. Sometimes you learn more from when you are struggling than when you are going good."
What exactly did Linebrink learn to make him a more productive late-inning reliever in 2010?
For openers, Linebrink dismisses the idea of pitch-tipping as a cause for his second-half debacle. It was a possibility put forth by general manager Ken Williams during a couple of offseason conversations.
"I just can't figure why Linebrink had the second half he did," said Williams, almost falling back on the pitch-tipping after exhausting other explanations. "His stuff is too good. It's sharp, it's crisp and he's aggressive."
The pitch-tipping concept has been heard before by Linebrink, but still holds little weight.
"If I had a nickel every time I heard I was tipping pitches, I wouldn't have to draw a salary," Linebrink said. "That's one of those scapegoats that can be used for pitchers.
"Everyone tips. Hitters are good enough, especially with up-close video, where they can slow it down and zoom in and see if you are squinting one eye on a certain pitch. You might be doing it subconsciously, something not too glaring. I was told that last year by a few people. I kind of laughed at it."
Upon further examination, though, Linebrink actually was tipping his pitches, but not in the defined way. His assistance to opposing hitters came from his ineffectiveness within the zone.
Getting into hitters' counts meant a fastball was on the way. It also meant Linebrink matched a career-high 70 hits allowed.
Linebrink realizes how strike one stands as his best friend. That idea works along side with fastball command for the 33-year-old, who still consistently can bring it in the mid-90 range.
"Hitters know your tendencies, your go-to pitches," Linebrink said. "If you are not able to throw the offspeed pitches consistently for strikes, on a 2-1 or 3-1 count, it doesn't take a monkey to figure out you are coming with a fastball and you will be around the heart of the plate to avoid the walk or get in any further trouble. It's universal for every pitcher.
"Last year I had a run of bad luck, and it played with my head a little bit. I needed a couple of good outings to get the monkey off my back. They didn't come at the right time, I got down on myself and it all snowballed.
"You start questioning, 'What am I doing wrong?'" Linebrink said. "It's not always doing something wrong but instead the bounces didn't go your way. My fault is taking everything to heart. I overanalyze some time. Back in San Diego, I was best when I kept it simple."
His Chicago struggles, which included 16 hits and eight earned runs yielded over seven September innings pitched, dropped Linebrink from the primary setup role to mop up duty. There were times where no lead seemed safe enough for the right-hander.
Two areas focused upon with Linebrink's troubles were health and salary. Linebrink bounced back strong from a bout of shoulder tendonitis that cost him much of July and all of August in 2008. The truly good news is that Linebrink is in a "whole lot better shape this year than last year," when he wasn't sure how his rehabbed shoulder would respond to the rigorous Spring Training throwing schedule.
As for pitching in the third year of a four-year, $19 million deal, the setup man never uses salary as a barometer for success or as a driving force.
"My motivation is to win, not to prove I'm worth the money," said Linebrink, who has been working out since the second week of the offseason. "I don't take my job any more seriously because of the larger number than I did when I was making minimum."
J.J. Putz's addition, joining closer Bobby Jenks, Matt Thornton and Tony Pena, leaves Linebrink a bit uncertain as to where he fits in the relief lineup. If Linebrink returns to his dominant ways, it's a good dilemma to have.
In looking for that word to describe 2009, Linebrink came up with "perseverance". He also threw out "consistency", with each of his last two second-half efforts paling in comparison to the first.
The most apropos answer, though, would be "forgotten". Linebrink simply wants to focus on the work ahead and not the shortcomings left behind.
"You can't ever quit, and I don't give up," Linebrink said. "I would approach this year no different than any other year, because the minute you start riding on last year's performance, you get into trouble.
"Back when I had my best year (1.83 ERA over 73 games in 2005), it made me work even harder. That same desire to be better than last year is there every year. I've learned what I wanted to learn from last year, having the chance to reflect and gain some perspective. I'm ready to put it behind me, not compare and dwell on it."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.