Updated: 7:58 p.m. Monday, May 24, 2010 | Posted: 7:52 p.m. Monday, May 24, 2010
O'Flaherty's conditioning regimen gets career on track
By David O'Brien
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Occasionally, Braves relief pitcher Eric O'Flaherty feels like skipping one of his three daily stretching sessions.
Then he remembers his 2008 season spent with the Seattle Mariners. Determined to make his first opening-day roster, he loaded up on anti-inflammatory medicine and tried to pitch through throbbing back pain.
He made the team but his 20.25 earned run average in seven appearances landed him in the minors two weeks later. By June, he was done for the season in Triple-A and given the choice of surgery or rest and rehabilitation.
O'Flaherty chose the latter. He never wants to choose again.
That experience has helped the 25-year-old left-hander push aside fatigue and plop down on the floor a few times a day. He does this at home, in hotel rooms and in clubhouses. He runs through a battery of stretches that would make a contortionist proud.
O'Flaherty works out and then stretches before batting practice. He climbs on a treadmill for 10 to 15 minutes, and then he stretches again. Sometimes it's hard to stay on schedule.
"There's days where I'm like, man, I don't want to stretch today at all and it feels good and it would be totally easy to say, ‘I'm going to skip it today and just go play catch,'" O'Flaherty said. "And I could get away with that for a few days, but after a time it starts flaring up on me and I'd be right back where I was before. It's redundant and boring and a pain in the butt, but I'd rather be out here than sitting at home."
O'Flaherty is 2-1 with a 1.89 ERA in 22 appearances and ranks among the National League leaders with a .167 opponents average and only 8.5 baserunners allowed per nine innings.
Teammates say the Washington state native is also their unofficial bullpen leader in hours of preparation.
"His work ethic is phenomenal," closer Billy Wagner said.
"He's the most prepared guy that I've ever seen," reliever Peter Moylan said.
O'Flaherty was an unsung but well-utilized member of the 2009 Braves bullpen that featured the strikeout-minded Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez, and Moylan. O'Flaherty had a 3.04 ERA in 78 appearances and limited left-handed hitters to a .215 average.
"The thing about O, he gets righties out as easily as lefties," manager Bobby Cox said.
O'Flaherty has made obvious improvement against right-handed batters. They're hitting .152 with a .263 on-base percentage against him, down from last year's .282 and.375, respectively.
"Health is a big part of it,"O'Flaherty said.
He returned to full workouts that included weights during the offseason, something he avoided the year before. He was still adapting to his back issues and had just been claimed on waivers by the Braves.
An improved physique from restrained workouts – no more power-lifting exercises -- and a better diet got him headed in the right direction. O'Flaherty found a better mental outlook, too.
"It's also just getting to that point where I actually think out there," he said. "When you first get called up there's so much stuff going through your head, you really can't control your thoughts and everything like that."
After his injury-shortened 2008 season, the Mariners thought they could sneak O'Flaherty through waivers, but the Braves claimed him after reports he was throwing without pain.
In 100 appearances for the Braves, he's posted a 2.75 ERA and .228 opponents' average with 57 strikeouts and 25 walks in 75-1/3 innings.
"It makes me wonder what the hell Seattle was thinking, to be honest," Moylan said.
Former Braves are likely to dominate the National Baseball Hall of Fame class of 2014 more than any team has in quite a while, and Bobby Cox could get the ball rolling Monday when the Veterans Committee announces its selections.
The Atlanta Braves delivered their pitch to real estate developers Friday, formally opening the search for a partner on a proposed $400 million mixed-use development adjacent to a new Cobb County stadium.
Atlanta Braves executives will return to work from their Thanksgiving travels Monday, still thankful for $300 million in public funding for a new stadium but aware that last week’s vote by the Cobb County Commission signaled the start of an unforgiving timetable to get the ballpark built by 2017.