Brewers' message to Sarfate: Relax

Brewers' message to Sarfate: Relax

TEMPE, Ariz. -- No offense, people of Nashville, but Brewers reliever Dennis Sarfate is trying to avoid your fair city this summer. Maybe he's trying too hard.

The right-hander would rather break camp with the big-league Brewers than with Triple-A Nashville, but he needs a good outing or two for that to happen. The 25-year-old Sarfate came to camp as one of the front-runners for the final spot in the Brewers' bullpen. But he has struggled, entering Saturday's scheduled inning of work against the A's with a 17.36 ERA, worst on the team.

"This is the first chance I've had to do anything like this," Sarfate said. "But to tell you the truth, when I go out there I'm not nervous. I just think I'm trying to do too much. I'm trying to impress.

"But they know what I did over the winter. They know what I did last September. They know me. I have to have the mindset when I go out there of, 'Here it is. Hit it.'"

The scouting report on Sarfate has for years gone something like this: great arm, command needs work. But he seemed to find a niche after converting from starter to reliever last summer at Nashville, where Sarfate was 3-1 with a 2.89 ERA after the switch.

He finished the year with Milwaukee (4.32 ERA in eight relief appearances), then impressed the organization with his performance in the Mexican Winter League. Sarfate did not allow an earned run and struck out 19 batters in 10 appearances for Hermosillo, which was league champion and represented Mexico in the Caribbean Series.

Sarfate arrived for the start of Spring Training in midseason form, hoping to quickly secure a roster spot. But it just hasn't happened. In his first five appearances, Sarfate has surrendered 10 hits and eight walks in 4 2/3 innings.

"It's not like guys are crushing my fastball," he said. "It's a base hit here, a base hit there. A walk. A misplayed ball. So I'm not worried about it. Hopefully when I go out there on Saturday my mind is clear."

Keeping his mind clear has been a priority for Sarfate. Last year, he began working with Milwaukee-based sports psychologist Matt Krug, who is affiliated with Brewers employee assistance director Tim Hewes. Sarfate said Krug has confirmed this spring what Brewers manager Ned Yost and others have said: The kid is pressing.

Krug's messages are pretty simple, according to Sarfate. Think in terms of one pitch at a time. One outing at a time. Worry only about the things you can control. Relax.

Easier said than done.

"I feel strong. I feel great. I'm ready to rock," Sarfate said. "I just need to forget about everything else when I toe the rubber except getting that guy out."

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Sarfate said he is "huge" on the mental side of the game. The night before each of his outings, he watches video of past successes. On Tuesday, prior to his outing Wednesday against the White Sox, Sarfate watched an outing against the Cardinals on Sept. 29. In his first inning of work, he retired David Eckstein, Jim Edmonds and Albert Pujols.

"I watch it over and over again," he said. "I watch the pitches. I watch the location. I watch what I did, and I try to do the visualization I need to settle my mind down."

But Sarfate has struggled to take that mentality to the mound this spring. In his last outing, on Wednesday against the White Sox in Tucson, Sarfate walked the first batter he faced. That drew a rare visit from Yost.

"Instead of being out there maxing at 100 percent, I wanted him to try to stay within himself and pitch," Yost said. "I wanted to see him make pitches, and he was better after that. He kept the ball down."

Sarfate allowed a run on a hit and two walks in his one inning of work, but needed 30 pitches to get through it. Still, he saw some positives afterward.

"After Ned came out there I was throwing at only 80 percent, just getting it in there," Sarfate said. "But you know what? I started establishing the fastball inside. I got two groundouts. If that's the result every time out, I'll take it.

"If I'm on the attack, if I don't walk guys, then I'm in control of the situation. Walks kill me."

Sarfate is not the only Brewers reliever to struggle this spring. Yost was extremely pleased to get clean innings from right-handers Jose Capellan and Matt Wise in Thursday's win over the Angels, but Greg Aquino (9.64 ERA) and Grant Balfour (12.46 ERA) are among those causing some concern. Sarfate, Balfour and Aquino are all scheduled to pitch against the A's on Saturday at Phoenix Municipal Stadium.

"When I look around, I know my chance is as good as anyone's," Sarfate said. "I have to relax and have fun and things will work out."

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.