Estes goes back to basics with the Cubs
March 13, 2003
MESA, Ariz. — Will the real Shawn Estes please stand up? The one who struggled mightily last season will kindly remain seated.
The Chicago Cubs, who had an entirely right-handed starting pitching staff a year ago, dearly hope the lefty will step up successfully into the starting rotation. If he can come remotely close to the Estes who won 19 games with the Giants in 1997, the Cubs, who have four young, talented right-handed starters, figure to be a contender.
It was at the end of last season when Estes learned he had an identity crisis.
“What I realized last year was that I wasn’t being myself,” said Estes, a first-round draft pick out of Douglas High School in 1991.
Clearly a 5-12 record with a 5.10 ERA with the Mets and Reds was uncharacteristic for the eight-year veteran. Moreover, his pitching mechanics had changed. A conversation with his former Giants pitching coach Dick Pole led to the discovery.
“He asked me why I stopped going over my head (in my windup),” Estes said. “And I said that’s a good point, I don’t know. In the offseason I started doing it and it felt right. I felt more comfortable and had a lot more rhythm with it, so I’m going to stick with it.”
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Since that time, Estes was signed to a one-year deal with the Cubs and former Giants skipper Dusty Baker brought on Pole to be the bench coach.
Pole is glad Estes took his suggestion to return to a full windup.
“When things are going bad, guys just need to get back to basics,” Pole said. “Sometimes they make it a little more complicated than they need to be.”
Estes had altered his windup after injuring his arm in 1998 because it hurt him to raise it so high.
Baker likes what he’s seen of his old, and new, hurler.
“Shawn’s looking excellent,” Baker said. “His rhythm’s good, his control’s good. He has his old windup back. So far, so good. We’ll just try to keep the pressure off him and let him be himself.”
Opening camp with the Mets a year ago, Estes said he tried to emulate others. He began to rely on a four-seam fastball, up an in, as a go-to pitch. The results were disastrous and he was shipped to Cincinnati, where things got even worse.
“Last year felt strong, healthy,” he said. “There were some things in spring training I was tinkering with and I tried to become a completely different pitcher. I allowed other people to define me rather than me define myself.”
Estes has pitched three times this spring. He threw 16 pitches in his first outing and 50 in his second, looking sharp in both.
On Wednesday, he struggled a bit, throwing 71 pitches in four innings against the Padres in HoHoKam Park. He didn’t get much of a chance to pitch out of his full windup. He went out of the stretch to 13 of the 18 batters he faced.
However, he got out of two jams with double-play ground balls.
“My bread and butter is my two-seam fastball down and away,” he said. “I got away from that last year. I didn’t start throwing my two-seem fastball until the third month of the season. That’s how I get my ground balls, that’s how I get out of innings. That’s how I stop rallies.”
If Estes can prove effective, that’s how Baker will stop teams from loading up with left-hand batters when they play a series with the Cubs. If he doesn’t, the team might have to make a trade because there are no other left-handed starters in camp making a serious bid to earn a roster spot.
One of the starters, Matt Clement, welcomed the addition of Estes.
“It’s important,” he said. “Especially with four of us right-handers. To put in a quality left-hander in the middle of the mix, that’s huge for us. Also, Shawn adds some experience because, for the most part, we’re relatively young.
He’s been through some wars and been through the playoffs. If somebody is struggling, he can come up and give us advice. It’s a great pickup for us.”
Baker agreed: “It always helps to have lefties. They can get everybody out. But to have lefties just to have lefties, that’s not the point here. You
need to have good ones. Estes has a chance to be a good one.”
Pro beginning: Drafted 11th overall by Seattle in 1991 out of Douglas High School.
Lifetime record: 69-62, 4.37 ERA, started in all 189 of his appearances.
Milestones: Needs 11 starts to reach the 200-mark for his career and 96
strikeouts to reach the 1,000 mark.
Tahoe memory: Became engaged to his wife Heather at Emerald Bay during the 1999 All-Star break.
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