ST. LOUIS Cardinals reliever Mitchell Boggs couldn't find his way onto the mound in a meaningful spot during their World Series run last year. Now he's one of the most valuable arms in the St. Louis bullpen.
Taking advantage of a fresh start with new manager Mike Matheny, the hard-throwing Boggs has been one of the best relievers in the National League through the first three weeks of the season.
He's allowed just one earned run in eight appearances to start the year, good for a microscopic 0.96 ERA. Boggs has nine strikeouts and just one walk, becoming Matheny's primary eighth-inning setup man for closer Jason Motte.
"I'm pleased, but it's early," Boggs said. "This is something I want to translate to the entire season. It's been nice to have success early on but my goals coming into the season were to have this type of success all year long.
"I want it to be sustained and I feel like its something I can do. It's definitely a step in the right direction but I have to continue doing the things I've been doing."
The 28-year-old Boggs made headlines at the Winter Warm-Up in January when he didn't shy away from putting high expectations on himself for the season.
Boggs, who was demoted to Triple-A for part of last season and was confined to mop-up duty down the stretch, said that he felt he could compete with anyone in the league and expected to be, "really good," this year.
So far, he's been right.
"He probably had a little bit more of a chip on his shoulder because things didn't go the way he wanted them to last year," Matheny said. "I think that's just the competitive nature of these guys. I'm happy that's how he went about his winter, feeling like he had something to prove, because he did.
"That was an advantage going through the winter like that and then taking that and using the stuff that he has and trying to figure out the adjustments and just having the mental drive of, Hey, I'm going to make a difference.'"
Boggs posted a 3.56 ERA in 51 games with the Cardinals last season, his fourth in the big leagues, and earned the first shot to replace Ryan Franklin as closer when the veteran lost his job in late April.
But after earning saves in three straight appearances, Boggs allowed four hits, committed an error and let two runs score in his first blown save of the season in a 6-5 loss at Houston on April 26.
And that was apparently all former manager Tony La Russa and pitching coach Dave Duncan needed to see to think Boggs wasn't ready to close out games. When a save chance came up the next night, it was rookie Eduardo Sanchez who got the call.
Boggs allowed five earned runs in his next seven appearances before getting the ultimate demotion a trip back to Triple-A.
The Cardinals had Boggs start in Memphis so he could use all of his pitches and work out some of his issues. He made four starts with Memphis and posted a 2.45 ERA before being called back up to St. Louis about a month later.
The move appeared to pay off as Boggs posted a 1.86 ERA in his first 16 games back with the big league club and had 16 strikeouts to just seven walks.
But things went downhill quickly when the calendar turned to August. Boggs allowed runs in six of his ten appearances in the month and quickly again fell out of favor with those making the decisions. He made just six appearances in September.
Boggs entered with the Cardinals already losing in 28 of his 41 appearances after April 26 last year as the club's lack of confidence him became quite apparent.
But that hasn't been the same this year as Boggs took his first key assignment and ran with it. And he hasn't looked back since.
"I'd be lying to you if I said it wasn't tough last year coming to the field when we're in the middle of a pennant race knowing that the majority of time I was only going to pitch if we were losing," Boggs said. "That was tough and it would be tough for anybody in here. We're all competitors and we want to help this team win.
"For me to be a part of that right now, it's where I want to be and that's why I said the things I said this offseason, because I felt like I can do that and if I didn't feel like I could help this team that way, I wouldn't say those things."
There's no doubt a renewed sense of confidence has played a big part in Boggs' success. But so has a change in his delivery that's resulted in a higher arm slot and more movement on the ball.
As crazy as it may sound, Boggs said the change in his delivery started with standing up taller on the mound and not slouching over. He made the change early in spring training and noticed the results immediately.
"It had more to do with the way I was setting up," Boggs said. "I was really spread out before so I kind of brought my feet closer together which made me stand up a little taller. I was underneath the ball and my delivery was a little inconsistent and I felt like I had a ton of wasted motion. My arm is on top of the ball now. It's a major difference.
"It's made it much easier for me to command all my pitches where as in the past, I was across my body a whole lot and I could throw strikes that way but I was just a little more inconsistent than I have been right now."
The changes have definitely worked. Boggs is sixth among all National League relievers in ERA, fifth in opponent's batting average and second in WHIP.
With his confidence back and the Cardinals apparently more confident in him, Boggs shows no signs of slowing any time soon.
"It validates the things I've been doing and makes me realize that the way that I feel about myself isn't that far off," Boggs said. "I just need to continue to show up every day and work hard and be ready for every situation.
"You want to help your team win. That's why everybody is here and to have a little success early on and help us win some games, it's been a lot of fun."