SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Jeremy Affeldt pinches his stomach and there isn’t much to pull. Not anymore.
He points out that is typically his problem area. Carrying a little extra weight around his middle was the least of his issues last season, when San Francisco’s happy-go-lucky, left-handed reliever suffered through an off year in which his mechanics wouldn’t cooperate and he dealt with both a side injury and a pulled hamstring.
Down the stretch, he became the No. 2 lefty called upon out of the Giants’ bullpen behind trading deadline acquisition Javier Lopez.
Affeldt is eager to get back to his old form this season for the World Series champions.
After the inconsistent regular season, Affeldt came through in Game 6 of the N.L. Championship Series, replacing starter Jonathan Sanchez in the third inning of a tie game and going on to record six straight outs. Those were the first two of seven scoreless innings pitched by the bullpen. San Francisco won 3-2 and clinched its first N.L. pennant since 2002, then went on to beat Texas in six games for an improbable title.
This winter, Affeldt began his throwing program a month earlier than usual in hopes of returning to the reliable setup man he was in 2009.
“I feel more confident mentally than I did last year in camp,” he said. “My arm’s better. I started throwing a little sooner and I don’t feel that dead-arm soreness and fatigue. The ball is coming out a little bit better.”
Affeldt, 31, went 4-3 with a 4.14 ERA last year in 50 innings spanning only 53 outings, his fewest in both categories since pitching 49 2/3 innings and making 49 appearances for Kansas City in 2005.
His strained left oblique muscle landed him on the disabled list July 24 for nearly a month. Once he was healthy, he blew late leads in two straight outings only to bounce back to win.
Affeldt began throwing in early December this offseason, and now he feels more confident throwing his curveball and more consistent with his fastball and sinker location.
“I think he’s ahead of where he was last year at this point,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “He feels good about his stuff and his delivery. I know he wanted to come into camp ready to go. He looks determined to get back to the form he had two years ago.”
Affeldt, a highly touted prospect out of Northwest Christian in Colbert when Kansas City picked him in the third round of the 1997 draft, switched teams three times in four years, starting when he was traded by the Royals to Colorado in 2006. He made a career-high 75 appearances in 2007 for the Rockies, then 74 each in ’08 and ’09 for Cincinnati and San Francisco, respectively.
He went 2-2 with a career-best 1.73 ERA in his first season with the Giants. Affeldt hopes his hard work during a short winter helps him get back to that kind of production.
His mechanics certainly feel better so far this spring. Affeldt threw at an indoor facility in Spokane, then arrived in Arizona two weeks early. By the time pitchers and catchers reported Feb. 14, Affeldt had thrown about 14 bullpen sessions – compared to his five at that point a year ago.
“I felt like I was more comfortable off the mound coming into camp,” he said. “I’m used to throwing 70-plus games and 70-plus innings. I was low on my games last year even with the playoffs.”
Affeldt could emerge as the eighth-inning guy again, though Bochy has several options.
“He’s certainly in that mix,” Bochy said. “What’s nice about Jeremy, lefties or righties, is that he has the equipment to pitch to both of them.”