CHICAGO — Sometimes it’s best to keep things simple. Familiar.

Take Seattle Mariners pitcher Charlie Furbush. The former South Portland High and Saint Joseph’s College star spent the winter back home in Maine, working out at the same indoor baseball facility where he spent countless hours as a teenager.

Even Furbush’s approach to throwing a baseball has become simpler – with a more familiar motion from one pitch to the next. It’s helped him to become one of the most dependable left-handed relief pitchers in the American League.

“Pitching (only) out of the stretch is new to me,” Furbush said Friday before the Mariners started a three-game series against the Chicago White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field. “But I do feel like it’s simplified things.

“I’m not the most orthodox pitcher in terms of mechanics. (Now) I’m able to repeat my throw more consistently.”

The switch to the bullpen has had a dramatic effect on his career.

Furbush had been a starting pitcher throughout the amateur and minor-league ranks. He made his big-league debut in 2011 with Detroit, making two starts in 17 appearances for the Tigers before a mid-season trade to Seattle. The Mariners placed him in their starting rotation for the rest of the season.

But the results were mediocre. Between the two teams, Furbush finished 2011 with a 4-10 record and a 5.48 ERA.

That’s why Mariners manager Eric Wedge and pitching coach Carl Willis decided to change Furbush’s role entering the 2012 season.

“With his delivery,” Willis said, “his upside was in the bullpen. A lot of it had to do with arm angle. His delivery has a lot of moving parts. There’s a lot of deception.

“Eliminating the full wind-up and going solely from the stretch has allowed him to be a lot more consistent.”

The results were like day and night compared to Furbush’s rookie season.

In 2012, he had a 5-2 record with a 2.72 ERA in 48 games out of the Seattle bullpen. He averaged better than a strikeout per inning and held opponents to a .174 batting average. Left-handed batters hit .147 against Furbush, the third-best mark by an AL reliever last year. He also was one of six Seattle pitchers who combined for a no-hitter against the Los Angeles Dodgers in June.

“Charlie was just so good against both right-handers and left-handers last year,” Wedge said. “He gives me a little more flexibility because I don’t have to strictly match him up with left on left. I can trust him to face right-handers in between left-handers – or maybe pitch multiple innings.”

Despite his rapid success, life as a relief pitcher has been an adjustment for the 6-foot-5, 215-pound Furbush.

“One of the things I had to learn to was to harness the adrenaline rush when the phone rings in the bullpen — just the thrill, the excitement of the phone ringing and when your name gets called. It was something I really never dealt with before. I’ve tried to get to the point mentally where I can harness it and take it one pitch at a time.”

“Obviously, as a starter you have the four days off between starts,” he said. “Knowing that I might have to pitch back-to-back days, you’re trying to balance … in terms of keeping your body right and your mind right.”

Being in the bullpen also has allowed Furbush to play to his strengths: A two-seam fastball, slider and a curve ball his father, Craig, taught him as a child.

“Using your strengths is really important coming out of the bullpen,” Furbush said, “because if you’re not committed to throwing a pitch just because the catcher puts down a sign … you can really be in trouble. I just try to take it one pitch at a time. And be full-on, full-go on that pitch.

“I think the times I did struggle out there, I was probably trying to do too much, trying to be too perfect instead of just making the pitch in a good location, down in the zone.”

Furbush, who turns 27 on Thursday (April 11), speaks with confidence – and youthful enthusiasm – in a clubhouse that features veterans such as Jason Bay and Raul Ibanez. At times, his eyes seem to shine with a pinch-me-I-can’t-believe-I’m-in-the–bigs look as he speaks of the Mariners.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to play with King Felix (Hernandez). He’s an amazing player, so fun to watch. I got to see how he goes about his business every day. One thing that impresses me is how much fun he has all the time. He’s smiling, he makes everybody feel better.”

So far this year Furbush has made three appearances, pitching 1 2/3 scoreless innings while walking one batter and striking out two, including a 2/3-inning stint Saturday with one strikeout.

“Whatever role I’m in, I’m happy,” he said. “The most important thing is getting in the playoffs. That’s when the fun starts. Hopefully we can bring that first World Series to Seattle.”

Furbush is a Mainer at heart — and he takes pride in his roots. The past two winters has been the keynote speaker at St. Joe’s hot stove auction for the baseball team and he has watched his older brother, Jon, coach the men’s basketball team at Bates College.

“It was really fun just to be home and see all my friends and spend time with my family,” he said of the offseason. “It was good to catch up with everybody.”

Furbush is one of three current major leaguers from southern Maine. Former Deering High star Ryan Flaherty is a utility infielder with the Baltimore Orioles. Former Mount Ararat pitcher Mark Rogers is on the Milwaukee Brewers’ roster, although he has started the season on the disabled list. Another Deering grad, Ryan Reid, is pitching for the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Triple-A team in Indianapolis.

“I take pride in being from Maine and so do those guys because there aren’t too many of us. We stick together well and anytime we get a chance to hang out … we’ll do that. I got to meet up with Flaherty last year when he came to play at Safeco (Field in Seattle). I’m hoping Ryan Reid gets his call-up.

“We’re all the same guys at heart.”


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