Meek's mindset undergoes overhaul
Right-hander calm, confident early on, has been impressive
BRADENTON, Fla. -- It's quite obvious the difference that a year has made for right-hander Evan Meek.
After pacing around the Pirates clubhouse last spring wondering if he'd make the club or be sent back to Tampa Bay, who lost him to Pittsburgh in the Rule 5 Draft, Meek has shown up this year not only with a bit more confidence, but also with what he calls extremely improved focus.
"It makes a big difference knowing what to expect," Meek said after throwing another scoreless inning on Wednesday. "There's not really that feeling that I have to do well. Of course, you want to tell yourself to do well. But there's not that same pressure. I'm just trying to keep it simple."
Whatever contributed to Meek's new mindset, it's produced positive on-field results. With another perfect inning of relief on Wednesday, Meek has now pitched four scoreless frames this spring. He's allowed only one baserunner and has struck out four.
"He's a different guy than we saw in Pittsburgh last year," manager John Russell said after Wednesday's game. "Last year he had the jitters and was overwhelmed a little bit in the situation he was in. He seems to have a lot more confidence in what he's doing."
It was evident early on last April that Meek was overmatched at the Major League level. He hadn't pitched above Double-A to that point, and with the way certain extra-inning games played out over the first few weeks of the season, the Pirates were forced to push Meek into relief situations that he wasn't yet ready for.
He ended up making nine appearances for the Pirates and allowed 10 earned runs on 12 walks and 11 hits in 13 innings before being sent down to the Minors. It was down in the Minors, though, that Meek regained his footing, and subsequently, his confidence. He finished with a 2.81 ERA in nine Double-A appearances.
Meek then pitched in 23 games for Triple-A Indianapolis. He walked only 14, struck out 34 and ended his stint there with a 2.40 ERA.
He followed that up with a successful Mexican Winter League season where he notched 13 saves in 18 appearances. He went 1-1 with a 2.93 ERA and 14 strikeouts in 15 1/3 innings pitched.
"I've just taken everything from last year through the Mexican season and brought it with me here," said Meek, who has saved three one-run ballgames this spring. "I've been building up to this."
Meek has put himself in position to be considered for one of the final bullpen spots on the big league team. Other situations -- like the need to keep relievers who are out of options or who can be lost because of the rules of the Rule 5 Draft on the Major League roster -- could impact Meek's ability to go north with the club for the second straight year.
But regardless of those final decisions, he's leaving a lasting impression.
"You can sense and see the confidence that he's showing right now," Russell said. "That's what's letting his arm play. He has a good arm, and now with the confidence, he's able to use it like he wants to."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.