Transformed McCarthy ready for opener
Right-hander resurrects career, stands tall as Oakland starter
By Jane Lee / MLB.com | 03/27/12 4:15 AM ET
TOKYO -- Everything about Brandon McCarthy reflects the characteristics of a team that A's manager Bob Melvin hopes to field this season.
McCarthy is set in his routine, intent on improving, and no matter the success that results from either, humble in his ways. Every single day.
"That's the way we have to be as a team," Melvin said.
It will start with McCarthy, the 28-year-old right-hander who will take a backseat in the limelight that is sure to follow Mariners ace Felix Hernandez on Opening Day at Tokyo Dome on Wednesday. Hernandez, 25, is set to make his fifth Opening Day start. It will be McCarthy's first.
Add in the fact that it's coming on an international stage, in front of fresh-faced, rowdy fans whose excitement for Ichiro Suzuki likely won't be contained, and it'd be easy to think McCarthy might be a little giddy, a little amped, perhaps a little nervous.
Not so much.
"To stop and think about it is cool, but I really don't do that," McCarthy said. "My parents are proud, and there are people that are happy for me, and it's a cool thing personally, but really I'll be more excited if I pitch up to that level and do everything I'm capable of doing, not just on that day but the entire season." McCarthy will take the mound to high expectations. It's his own doing, having catapulted from an injury-prone pitcher who barely made the rotation in camp last year to one who is the unspoken leader of a young staff following a commendable season that resulted in a 3.32 ERA and a 123-to-25 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 25 starts.
The transformation is no accident, and it's been well-documented, most recently in ESPN The Magazine, on which McCarthy and his wife, Amanda, graced the cover earlier this month. The story that's told is one that never gets old, one that Melvin deems "unbelievable." Catcher Kurt Suzuki calls it "incredible."
In the short version, McCarthy, once a highly regarded prospect with the White Sox, embraced analytics to turn his career around. He extended his repertoire, previously consisting of only a fastball and curveball, to include a sinker and a cutter. Suddenly, he started throwing more strikes, getting more ground balls.
In December 2010, he set out to showcase himself to the A's, by way of a one-year deal worth $1 million, after losing parts of each of the previous four seasons to injuries, including three stress fractures in his right shoulder. What he did between then and now is represented by his latest salary: $4.275 million, a 328-percent raise.
"It's as big of a transformation by any pitcher I've ever been around," Melvin said. "When I first came in here, I knew not nearly as much as I know about him now. I knew his history as a pitcher, but I didn't know about the changes he sought out and made for himself at all. And, really, I haven't delved too into it with him personally, because he's a guy I let do his own thing. He's earned that."
McCarthy strives on mental preparation. So as much as he's appreciative of the journey he's enjoyed with teammates in Tokyo, he's not about to let the emotions that come with it override the ones that have guided his work to this point.
"Everything has been the same, whether if this was in the States or a game in the middle of July," he said. "It's just getting prepared to pitch, making sure everything's there. It's been a little different with the shorter spring, trying to get pitch counts up faster, so it's been a bit of an adjustment there, but mentally, it's one pitch at a time. Different location, different fans, but when you start to consider all that, it becomes too much. I like to keep it as simple as I can."
And, quick, too. Working at a fast rate, McCarthy said, was sort of the finishing touch to everything he had changed. Away from the field, though, he only does so when he's procrastinating -- a frequent occurrence.
"I don't like to do what I'm told, so I wait until it's my time and then I try to get it done as quick as possible so I can go take a nap or do anything else," he said, smiling. "So maybe that's my philosophy with the game. If we can get out of there in two hours, I can go to sleep or go have dinner or something."