I really enjoy talking with Matt Wise. If he weren’t playing ball he said he would be a third generation auto mechanic. I think he’ll be in the bullpen when the season opens.
He was my topic in The Journal News this morning.
JUPITER, Fla. _ Pitching can be as much mind as arm.
There is studying a hitterâ€™s strengths and tendencies. There is focusing through stress and needing a short memory when taken deep with the game on the line.
For Matt Wise, there was overcoming the video loop in his mind of his fastball that slammed into the face of the Cincinnati Redsâ€™ Pedro Lopez last summer.
As a hitter must overcome the fear of the ball, so does a pitcher of hurting or maiming.
For a long time, Wise could not, and it cost him his job with the Milwaukee Brewers.
“I wasnâ€™t the same for about ten days after that,â€™â€™ said Wise, who threw one scoreless inning in yesterdayâ€™s 6-2 victory over the Florida Marlins.
“Instead of focusing on the glove, I was making sure I didnâ€™t hit the batter.â€™â€™
To be effective, Wise needs to work the inner half of the plate. His fastball is in the high 80â€™s. Thatâ€™s not blazing heat, but if a pitcher gives away half the plate heâ€™s in trouble.
“I was working too much outside,â€™â€™ Wise said. “I need to go inside. â€¦ When I lost my focus, I wasnâ€™t helping the team. I wasnâ€™t doing my job.â€™â€™
Wise, 32, pitched four years in Milwaukee, going 13-14. He had an acceptable 3.93 ERA and 175 appearances indicated he could carry a heavy workload.
Last season Wise was 3-2 with a 4.19 ERA in 56 games, including 2-1 with a 2.87 ERA in 37 outings before his fastball tailed into Lopezâ€™s face.
“I felt terrible. His parents had just come up (from the Dominican Republic) to see him,â€™â€™ said Wise, who visited Lopez in the hospital.
“I wanted to make sure there werenâ€™t any hard feelings.â€™â€™
Lopezâ€™s damage was to the outside of the head; Wise was hurting inside as the image kept flashing.
After surrendering the inner half of the plate, Wise struggled and in his last 19 games had a soaring 7.31 ERA to prompt the Brewers to designate him for assignment.
“My performance, regardless of the reason, wasnâ€™t good at the time,â€™â€™ Wise said. “I wasnâ€™t a good pitcher. I donâ€™t blame them.â€™â€™
As Wise skidded late last season, so did the Mets. There isnâ€™t any shortage of explanations for their collapse down the stretch, with a lot of the villains wearing black hats working out of the bullpen.
“Thereâ€™s an opportunity for me here,â€™â€™ said Wise. “I can help this team.â€™â€™
Wise slipped from being a seventh-inning pitcher in the first half of last season to a sixth-inning role before his release.
Mets general manager Omar Minaya said Wiseâ€™s psyche wasnâ€™t an issue when he offered him a one-year contract.
“We got good reports from our scouts,â€™â€™ Minaya said. “Heâ€™s an experienced pitcher who can help us.â€™â€™
Wiseâ€™s role hasnâ€™t been defined, but it is likely contingent on Duaner Sanchezâ€™s health.
If Sanchez is healthy and gets the eighth-inning set-up job, then Aaron Heilman and Pedro Feliciano fall to the seventh inning, which leaves Wise for the sixth.
If Sanchez opens the season on the disabled list, in theory everybody moves up an inning.
“If youâ€™re upset about a role on a winning team, then you donâ€™t have the right attitude,â€™â€™ said Wise.
Wiseâ€™s money pitch is his change-up, which was working yesterday.
“He has a great change-up,â€™â€™ manager Willie Randolph said. “It lulls you to sleep. He has as good a change-up as anybody on the team, and that includes (Johan) Santana.â€™â€™
What Wise doesnâ€™t have is Santanaâ€™s fastball and command. Then again, not a lot of people do.
“I had trouble with my fastball command,â€™â€™ Wise said of yesterdayâ€™s outing.
That command trouble, however, had nothing to do with challenging hitters inside.
“I was able to throw my fastball inside to lefties,â€™â€™ Wise said. “You have to be able to throw inside to pitch in the major leagues.
“Thatâ€™s a dead issue for me. If I walked the first 15 hitters, I would say I still had a problem, but I donâ€™t.â€™â€™
Reach John Delcos at email@example.com.