Why had he performed poorly in 2019? Why was he more effective a year earlier, when the St. Louis Cardinals employed him in 50 games?
Fangraphs, Baseball Reference and MLB’s Baseball Savant system showed he had significantly altered his approach. He didn’t put the ball over the plate as often as the rest of the league. He issued too many walks. He yielded more line drives than he ever had.
There was only so much of that performance Mayers, drafted out of Mississippi in 2013, could blame on the lat strain that claimed the first half of his 2019 campaign. He had simply lost an edge.
“I think I maybe kind of fell in that pattern of trying to be too fine and too perfect, instead of just like, ‘Here’s my fastball, here’s my slider. Hit it if you can,’” Mayers said.
Mayers, 28, focused on reclaiming that mentality during the offseason. He also added a cut fastball to augment what he could offer left-handed hitters. The effort has paid off. Mayers has turned heads and become a front-runner for a spot in an Angels bullpen thin on experience.
He is one of eight relievers in the Angels’ spring training clubhouse whose fastball can touch at least 96 mph and produce a generous number of whiffs. Of course, velocity means little without the ability to throw strikes, so Mayers has spent camp refining that skill.
“Not that I wasn’t a strike thrower,” Mayers said. “I just felt like I kind of fell maybe as the guy that gets [an 0-and-1 count] and then is immediately 1-1 or the 0-2 guy to 2-2 guy. So just try to be aggressive in all counts, not just when I need to be.”
Manager Joe Maddon believes Mayers, who has a 7.03 ERA in 73 major league games but a more respectable 3.48 ERA in 129 minor league outings, could pair well with Keynan Middleton, Hansel Robles and Ty Buttrey in the back end of the Angels bullpen.
Mayers has begun to pitch like it.
He has not issued a walk since he opened his Cactus League campaign with three free passes in two outings. He has struck out nine batters in his last 3 2/3 innings, including three in one inning Sunday against the Milwaukee Brewers.
All he needed to do was flip another mental switch.
“I think a lot of my change this spring and even from the first two outings to later on, is just being more aggressive,” he said. “It’s just all kind of about my mentality. [Pitching coach Mickey Calloway] and even the analytics guys and Joe have really kind of just reinforced that [notion] of, ‘Your stuff plays. Just get it in the zone.’”
Maddon’s Respect 90 Foundation held a fundraiser Monday to benefit the Jonathan Jaques Children’s Cancer Institute at Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital Long Beach. During the Balding All Angels event, David Fletcher, Tommy La Stella, Cam Bedrosian, Luke Bard and other players, coaches and front office members had their heads shaved. Middleton didn’t allow anyone near his dreadlocks, but he donated to the cause. ... Bedrosian was slowed in camp by back stiffness but he should pitch again by the end of the week. ... The Angels will begin to trim their spring training roster Tuesday.