In this edition of Week in Review, we take a look at who has been the stabilizing force in the New…
Aguilar Back in Relief Role
It's a lesson most professional sports players learn at some point in their careers, though some not until it's too late: throwing a ball 60 feet, 6 inches is a lot more fun than collecting tires.
At least, that's how Binghamton Mets reliever Salvador Aguilar learned to appreciate the opportunity to play a game for a living.
Aguilar, 26, is 1-0 with a 2.50 ERA in 18 innings, a far cry from the near 6.00 ERA he posted in about 120 innings, most of them as a starter, with the team last season.
It was a winter job in Fontana, Calif., located about 20 minutes east of Pomona—Aguilar's hometown that itself isn't too far east of Los Angeles—that showed the right-hander just how much he had to appreciate in the game of baseball, a humility that has already translated into performance.
"The only thing different that I actually did do [in the offseason], that I think kind of helped me out, got me kind of hungry, was working at a tire recycling center," Aguilar says. "Talking to all those guys there who said, 'You have an opportunity to play in pro baseball, you're actually doing something. Don't settle for another job or anything.'"
With the help of his younger brother, Aguilar landed a job driving a truck to various tire stores and bus stations in the area picking up scrap tires. He had to carry four loads, of about 400 to 500 tires each, per day.
"[My brother] just kept on saying, 'You're playing pro baseball, this is not a job you need to be having, even though it pays well,'" Aguilar says. "This is not a job for you to have to be having."
So when Aguilar wasn't told until the first day of workouts in Binghamton after spring training broke that he was going to be a relief pitcher again this season—that after he had prepared all spring as though he was going to start—it didn't bother him. He is truly happy to do whatever the team wants having lived the alternative.
And from a pitching standpoint, it's not as though Aguilar was entering unfamiliar territory. He was actually drafted as a reliever in the 29th round of the 2005 draft out of Lewis-Clark State College, and he's proved his versatility before: eight of his 28 appearances last season were out of the pen, and he only spent as much time in the B-Mets rotation as he did because of injuries around him.
"It's fun, it's kind of easier on me mentally-wise, cause I really just go out there thinking, 'Ok, I get these guys out to give my ball team a chance to win," says Aguilar of pitching in relief. "I think it just gives myself a better opportunity to move up, to keep myself valuable, to not just be labeled just a starter or just a reliever; I can actually do both. Hopefully it helps me have a longer career."
Aguilar's most recent outing, against the visiting Trenton Thunder at NYSEG Stadium on Monday, was near-perfect. He allowed just two hits and two walks and no runs in four innings of relief for his first win of the season.
"He's been outstanding so far," says B-Mets pitching coach Ricky Bones. "He's getting used to a new role coming in relief like he did last year at the end, and he's going after the hitters, attacking the zone, mixing his pitches in and out. Pitching out of the rotation at the beginning of last season, I think he was giving too much credit to the hitters and trying to pitch not to get hit. Now he's going after hitters and locating his pitches."
Aguilar stands at 6-foot-2, 182 pounds, and throws a sinking fastball, curveball, slider and changeup. The slider is the most recent addition to his repertoire, something he learned this spring training from his B-Mets' teammate of last season and current New Orleans closer, Carlos Muniz.
"When he came down from big league camp he gave me a slider, told me how to get a grip on it, just really what to do, what to throw it," Aguilar says.
Aguilar talks to Muniz and Eddie Camacho, another B-Mets reliever, everyday. He also lives with fellow pitchers Eric Brown, Bobby Parnell and Robert Paulk.
"We got a good friendship obviously," Camacho says. "We talk mostly about how much time you need to get ready, going out there make sure you got certain pitches that you're willing to throw at any time—your fastball, locating it—just mentally getting focused."
Aguilar still needs his teammates to give him a kick in the rear sometimes, but a lot of the necessary focus he can find within himself. As he works on the slider and builds on his early-season success, there's something propelling him: perspective.
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