As a starter, Furbush makes one fine reliever
A left-handed pitcher who came to Seattle in the Doug Fister trade with Detroit last July, Charlie Furbush was envisioned by the Mariners as a potential member of their starting rotation.
There were impressive stretches – seven shutout innings against the Angels last September – but, overall, the results were not there.
Furbush went 3-9 with a 6.83 ERA in 12 starts with the Tigers and Mariners.
As a reliever, it was a different story. Furbush was 1-1 with a 2.42 ERA in 16 appearances.
This spring, manager Eric Wedge and pitching coach Carl Willis began thinking of Furbush as a reliever. Then they took that a step further.
“One big difference for me this season, I always work from the stretch,” Furbush said. “When I pitched from a windup, I had a tendency to get out too fast with my body and make my arm catch up.
“This spring, Carl and Eric mentioned it, that I was more consistent out of the stretch. I’ve been pitching from the stretch only since late spring. It’s worked.”
And then some.
Furbush has become one of Seattle’s most reliable relievers, and in 19 appearances in 2012 is 2-1 with a 3.26 ERA. More impressive is that he has allowed 15 runners (10 hits, four walks, one hit batter) in 19 innings while striking out 22.
“I think he got the feel of what it takes up here last season,” Wedge said. “He came back in spring training more confident, and he pitched like it.”
That second time around has been the key for Furbush.
“At any level, the first time I’ve done something that’s been tough, I’ve been much better the second time I’ve had the chance,” he said. “You give credit where it’s due. You’re facing great hitters, and sometimes they beat you. But you have to know how good you are, know what you can do.”
Willis has no problem reminding his pitchers of that.
“I like something Carl told me last year: ‘Never forget what you’re good at,’ ” Furbush said.
What he has been best at, since age 12, is throwing a curveball that makes his fastball all the more difficult to hit. It’s a pitch his dad taught him how to throw.
“The first time I thought I might be pretty good was when we moved from the small fields of Little League to the big fields,” Furbush said. “The mound was farther from the plate, but I made the transition pretty easily.”
The fastball-curveball combination helped Furbush make the varsity team as a freshman at South Portland (Maine) High School. After his prep career, he pitched two seasons at Division III St. Joseph’s in nearby Standish, and then caught the attention of LSU after an impressive Cape Cod League season in which he threw a 133-pitch no-hitter using just those two pitches.
Furbush has added pitches since then, but he’s never let a new pitch draw him from the basics.
“I stick with what works, challenge hitters with my best stuff,” he said. “If you try a different approach, you put more pressure on yourself – you’re doing something that feels uncomfortable.
“The job is tough enough when you’re confident.”
Now 26, there’s another thing Furbush has learned.
“Experience tells you what works,” he said.
His ascension to the big leagues wasn’t easy. As a Detroit prospect – he was drafted in the fourth round of the 2007 draft by the Tigers – he lost a year after having Tommy John surgery in 2008 to rebuild his left elbow.
It wasn’t the first time health sidelined him.
“My junior year in high school I had a thyroid condition. I lost weight, went to the doctor and was put on medication,” Furbush said. “The weird thing was, we had a white cat named George, and two years later he wound up with the same thyroid problem I had.”
George had a long cat life, and Furbush no longer needs meds for his thyroid.
Furbush misses the family cat but for now hasn’t found a successor.
“I don’t have time for pets, and that wouldn’t be fair to them,” he said. “Right now, my focus is baseball. I spent my offseason at a beach house in Maine, doing a lot of thinking.
“I know what I can do, and I’m getting the chance to do it. I’m not changing a thing right now.”