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Jake Arrieta: O's Right-Hander Endures Pitcher's Nightmare

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Jake Arrieta: O's Right-Hander Endures Pitcher's Nightmare
USA TODAY Sports

It was tough to watch Baltimore Orioles hurler Jake Arrieta struggle mightily in the fifth inning of the Orioles’ 7-4 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Sunday. 

Rolling along with a 4-1 lead, Arrieta suddenly lost complete command of a game Baltimore had a firm grip on.  What began as rather swift innings transformed into a fifth inning defined by a merry-go-round of walked and hit batsmen. 

Now, less than 24 hours after Orioles lost a golden ticket to sweep the Dodgers, Dan Connolly of The Baltimore Sun reports Arrieta has been shipped back to the Triple-A Norfolk Tides.

According to Arrieta, he is not going to Norfolk to improve his stuff. Instead, he is going to work as hard as he can to overcome battles with anxiety.

From Arrieta (on what he is going to work on at Norfolk):

It's pretty obvious. I talked to Buck [Showalter] about a few things. We talked about things as far as high anxiety situations, and he pretty much asked me, 'Why do you have high anxiety in any situation with the stuff that you have?' Basically, I told him that I just want to be what my team needs me to be. And sometimes I create the anxiety for myself…As far as my mental approach, I really think it's just knowing that the past is really irrelevant. It's about just staying in the moment. I let previous instances creep up in my thought process sometimes. I think that's where things go awry, and that's where the walks come in. I'm not giving up many hits, just putting them on base for free.

Reading Arrieta's quote on anxiety really hit home. It pointed to a nightmarish situation many pitchers endure at one point or another, no matter the competition.

For many pitchers, anxiety attacks, along with dreaded “hit the wall” innings, are two things that can make or break a career.

Anxiety is more than basic butterflies many athletes experience. It is a terrible feeling of doubt that creeps into the back of your mind. And it can sucker punch you when you least expect it. 

Perhaps this is what happened to Arrieta versus the Dodgers. 

As a former hurler, I recall a few times when I rolled along in the first three or four innings. But then, usually for no reason whatsoever, my mojo began to waver. But instead of staying in the here and now, I began wondering when the wheels would fall off. 

Psychologists call this self-sabotage, i.e., finding something negative in oneself in the face of something good.

I remember my heart rate would climb as I took the hill to warm up in those times. Feelings of anxiety were unbearable at times. Although no one could see it from the outside, a war was raging inside my being.

“Lord, just get me through this one inning and I will be off to the races,” I used to say, staring down the hitter, hoping not to spark a domino effect by thumping my opponent with a fastball. 

Suddenly, what was once a thoughtless flow turned into obsession about proper mechanics. Breakdown in mechanics turned into wildness. This moved to thoughts of past outings when things did not go well either.

Consequently, what began as a solid outing reared its ugly head as a nightmarish inning that was tough to get through. 

Done enough times, even pitchers with great potential can succumb to anxiety attacks. 

The big trick for pitchers enduring anxiety is finding a way to battle through it.

Some use humor (like I did rethinking scenes from the movie Ace Ventura: Pet Detective). Others flip anxiety into anger. This can be effective, though sometimes it can result in a pitcher sparking a bench-clearing brawl.

Some pitchers use meditation and/or prayer. Others use nature sound CDs. And some pitchers do things that are considered, well, odd. (Yet again, any man that would stand 60-plus feet from another man wielding a stick used to hit a ball back at him is not exactly sane). 

Hopefully Arrieta will find a way to overcome his bouts with anxiety. Perhaps a trip to the psych doc will help him for good. Arrieta is simply too gifted of a pitcher to succumb to this barrier to progress.

When Arrieta is on, he looks like a confident pitcher that has potential to win a Cy Young Award one day. But when Arrieta is off, everyone can see his anxiety in motion. Sunday’s game vs. the Dodgers was case in point.

Once Arrieta learns to tackle the demons of negativity, his career will take off, perhaps out of the Orioles bullpen at first (like Brian Matusz and Tommy Hunter).

Orioles fans just hope this does not take too long to occur. Because even though many fans want to see Arrieta perform well, patience in Baltimore seems to be wearing thin. 

 

James Morisette is a Featured Writer for Bleacher Report. You can follow him here.

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