GOODYEAR, Ariz. Eric Surkamp won an ERA title in Double-Alast season, he enjoyed the thrill of his major league debut and he got dousedwith the celebratory beer shower that accompanies your first major league win.
All good things.
But last season ended on the worst possible note.
In his second to last start, he didnt survive the firstinning at Arizonas Chase Field. And the Diamondbacks destroyed the Giants15-2. Surkamp faced eight batters and retired just one of them. It was fourwalks, two singles, a double, three stolen bases and an early shower.
It was a smoldering wreck of an outing. And it was the night thatArizona clinched the NL West title.
Giants pitching coach Dave Righetti told Surkamp to forgetthat night and take only the positives out of what otherwise was a startlinglygood season. But when Surkamp went to work out at Fischer Sports in the Phoenixarea, the reminders were all around him.
J.J. Putz, Miguel Montero those guys were there everyday, Surkamp said. A lot of Diamondbacks players train there. But it wasgood. It motivated me.
Surkamp didnt lack for motivation over the winter. Perhapsno Giants player made a bigger improvement in terms of fitness andconditioning. But Surkamp needed to improve his mind, too especially afterhis first Cactus League outing was another rough one.
The first outings, I was pretty tense, knowing I didnt endthe season so great last year, Surkamp said. When you struggle in your firstouting, you get down on yourself.
Thats where Tim Lincecum stepped in. Surkamp said he was runningwith the two-time Cy Young Award winner one day when he received a piece ofadvice.
He helped to take the pressure off, Surkamp said. Its justhave the mindset going into games, like, Maybe the weight of the world isnton you. So stay calm. That was the gist of it. Coming from a guy like him,facing No.1s all the time, it says a lot about him and the composure he pitcheswith.
Surkamp has looked more calm and composed with every outing,winning the confidence of manager Bruce Bochy and making himself into a solidoption whenever the club has a vacancy in the rotation. He got close to 90pitches in five innings of a 5-3 victory over the Cleveland Indians on Wednesdayat Goodyear Ballpark.
The only runs he allowed came on Shelley Duncans two-runhome run in the fourth inning. Surkamp didnt let it faze him, settling backdown and throwing strikes to retire the next three hitters.
I think the kids had a nice spring, Bochy said. Hesbetter with experience. It seems his confidence is growing. He threw 90 pitchestoday and thats a good effort. He seems to be commanding his pitches better,and when he gets out of sync, he seems to be regrouping out there.
Hes got a calmness about him that you like.
Surkamp said he began incorporating his slider in hisprevious start and started throwing it to right-handers on Wednesday. He stillchastised himself for getting lazy on a few pitches in the early innings, whenhe was leaving a few balls armside.
Ive got to eliminate the pitches I leave up and over theplate, he said. The home run was a wakeup call, almost. Ive got to learn tobe locked in. It shouldnt take a home run for that to happen.
Even if Ryan Vogelsong must start the year on the disabledlist, the Giants wont need a fifth starter until April 15 the ninth game ofthe season. So Surkamp probably wont be needed in the near term.
But if Barry Zito struggles mightily, Vogelsong needs moretime or an injury befalls the rotation, Surkamp wants to leave the clearimpression that hell be ready for anything even if a division title is onthe line.
Its hard because you want to go out there and prove it to Giantsfans and everybody else, Surkamp said. Really, you just need to prove it toyourself. Just know you belong up here and its the same game.