2013 was supposed to be the best season of Mitchell Boggs' professional baseball career. He was coming off a career season in 2012; posting personal bests in wins, ERA, strikeout-walk ratio, and led the National League in holds. Boggs, 29, was in an ideal situation to be a premier setup man for the St. Louis Cardinals once again.
And then closer Jason Motte blew out his elbow and underwent Tommy John surgery before the season started. Moving Boggs into that new role seemed like a naturally good fit.
Boggs blew 2 of his first 4 save opportunities and was dealt the loss on two other separate occasions. That went with the worst ERA (12.66) of Boggs' Major League career through the first month. In retrospect, he admits to not being psychologically prepared to handle his new relief role.
"I think it played a part -- Being honest, it was tough," Boggs explained Tuesday evening. "Once the ball starts rolling on you, it's hard to stop it. I had a couple tough outings early on and just wasn't able to get it back going in the right direction."
A little over a month into the 2013 regular season, Boggs was demoted to class AAA in Memphis. At this point, perhaps the only thing fading as quickly as his performance was his confidence. That alone became a catalyst to this unexpected meltdown.
"[Adjustments] weren't really coming into this year. It was the failure I had early in the year; trying to do something different and going out there and having tough outings," said Boggs.
"You look in every direction for the answer and I looked in the wrong direction. The direction I should have been looking in was my ability and it being good enough and continuing to work, trusting my stuff, and knowing it was good enough and I didn't do that. I started trying to make adjustments I didn't have to make. And I ended up paying the price for it."
The cost: A second trip to AAA Memphis following five more less-than-impressive appearances with St. Louis. With the Cardinals continuing to keep pace with the best teams in baseball, Boggs' unraveling was an unnoticed proverbial fall from grace. Following his second demotion, Boggs knew it would probably be the last time he pitched in a St. Louis Cardinals uniform.
"Things that were said by the organization made it pretty clear to me that I probably pitched my last game in St. Louis and I was right about that," Boggs recalled. "So it was tough to go back down and not really know what the plan was."
Even Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak was recently quoted as saying, "My thinking with Mitchell was it was going to be hard to get him back here, so we had to do something." And Mozeliak did earlier on June 11th by trading Boggs to Colorado for $206,400 in international player signing bonus money.
To put it in perspective: in just over three months, a perfectly healthy 29-year-old pitcher who's coming off a career-season as one of the better setup relievers in baseball, is demoted twice and ultimately traded for a compensation which has to be interpreted to most casual fans.
If it's always darkest before dawn, then being assigned to Colorado's AA team, the Tulsa Drillers, may be where Boggs begins his turnaround. Pitching coach Darryl Scott appeared optimistic of Boggs' chances. From his early observations, the issues are psychological.
"What I've seen so far, it seems very minor mechanically," Scott said. "But the number one priority is getting [Boggs'] confidence back in his delivery. "Mitchell is a joy to work with -- Really good guy and he's really working hard to get back and that's really all you can ask for."
A professional change of scenery, not being in a farm system seemingly filled to the brim with future big league pitching talent, and no expectations at this point, may formulate perfect environment for Mitchell Boggs to return to form.
"The mindset is show up every day and work. The results will come," Boggs said.
"And I feel like I'm throwing the ball really really well right now. I feel like I'm more the guy I was last year than I have been this entire season. I feel like there's going to be an opportunity for me in this organization. I'm going to do everything I can to take advantage of it."
As of the end of Wednesday, July 17, Boggs thrown a total of 5 innings in 3 appearances, giving up 1 run on 2 hits, with an ERA of 1.80. He was also successful in his 1 save opportunity.
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