Ryan Rowland-Smith never found his confidence in 2010
Former Mariner trying his best to forget 2010
Seattle Times baseball reporter
KISSIMMEE, Fla. — Ryan Rowland-Smith wants to get as far away as he possibly can from last season.
He has done that geographically by signing with the Houston Astros. He has done it visually by ditching his trademark goggles.
Most important, though, Rowland-Smith wants to distance himself mentally from the psychological rut he believes undermined his 2010 campaign.
Always brimming with confidence during successful previous seasons, Rowland-Smith found himself wracked with self-doubt as his year unraveled. He began the season as Seattle's No. 3 starter, but wound up suffering through a 1-10 nightmare that eventually resulted in Seattle not tendering him a contract after the season.
"I went back and looked at the day I was pitching, the lead up to that game, my routine, things like that," Rowland-Smith said of his postseason reflections on 2010. "I was looking at how I felt, the anxiety, the nerves. I had never felt being nervous like that, ever. It built up and built up as the season went on. I started off bad and never really recovered."
Simultaneously, of course, the entire Mariners' season was collapsing, making matters even worse. To Rowland-Smith, it was déjà vu all over again, reminding him uncannily of the Mariners' disastrous 2008 season. Both resulted in 101 losses and a managerial housecleaning.
"It was bizarre. It was from the get-go, early on, just like 2008," Rowland-Smith said. "We struggled, panicked and then just couldn't recover from it."
Rowland-Smith had no control over how the Mariners responded, but he decided the first step back for him was to begin working out at a Los Angeles gym that trains participants in mixed martial arts.
"It's physically demanding, but also you're competing every time you work out," he said. "I got into it, and I just found I was getting stronger just naturally, so much stronger, and I was competing again. I had lost that. I had lost that all season long.
"That's what I loved about it. Whether or not it's baseball specific, I know myself and my body pretty well, and I know going in there every day, I felt this is helping. I would leave every day just wrecked. I'd get home and just sit on that couch."
Rowland-Smith said he believes he's in optimal shape, and that the Astros, who gave him a one-year, $725,000 contract, will be the beneficiary.
The Astros say they were not daunted by Rowland-Smith's 6.75 earned-run average, highest of any major-league starter with at least 100 innings. At age 28, he is seen as a strong bounce-back candidate.
"We think last year was an aberration because of what he's done in the past," manager Brad Mills said. "Being left-handed helps."
"Our scouts liked his arm, liked his stuff," added Houston's general manager, Ed Wade. "The feeling was, pitching in Seattle, he probably — in the perfect world — would have pitched No. 5 for them. By virtue of some things that happened, health issues in their rotation and other things, he probably got pushed into a role he was not prepared for.
"He's a big, strong left-hander and has good stuff, and we think to add him to the mix for the fifth-starter competition made all the sense in the world."
So does Rowland-Smith, who admits he was "shocked" when the Mariners non-tendered him, despite being intellectually prepared for just that. In fact, when he left Safeco Field after the last game, Rowland-Smith told his girlfriend, Amanda Aardsma — David Aardsma's sister — that it could well be his last game as a Mariner. But it still threw him for a loop when he was cut.
"That's all I had known," he said. " I had been there 10 years in the minor leagues and the big leagues. So I was shocked. I had that one bad year, and I understand that. Once I was a free agent, I was going on the Internet all of a sudden, looking at different teams, the cities. I was trying to do my best research. Houston seemed like the best fit."
He leaves Seattle with strong emotions, particularly about the unseemly end for Ken Griffey Jr.
"That really bothered me in the part that Ken Griffey, in that locker room, was huge as a teammate," he said. "Look at his career, and it really upset me, and a lot of other guys, that he ended his career and ended his time in Seattle that way."
He feels the "Sleepgate" revelation cast Griffey in an unfair light.
"I'm a starting pitcher so I go in and out of that locker room (during games). I'll tell you right now, he goes into the locker room and he watches the game," Rowland-Smith said. "He's a professional, and he's been doing it for 20 years and having success for 20 years doing it. That's the bottom line. It's not like he's in there chilling out.
"He and Mike Sweeney would go in that video room. I used to watch them, because I used to like to sit there and talk to Griffey and Sweeney on the bench if I'm not pitching. I'd turn around, and they'd be in the video room.
"If the guy was hitting .300 with 15 home runs, it would probably be a different story. To me, that was really disappointing. When you take away what the guy's done, what the guy's done for Seattle, it upset me."
As for himself, Rowland-Smith's goal for this year is simple: "I'm going to compete my butt off to make the rotation."
And put 2010 in his rearview mirror.
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or email@example.com.
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Larry Stone gives an inside look at the national baseball scene every Sunday. Look for his weekly power rankings during the season.
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