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Better Motion, Better Emotion

White Sox Pitcher Jaime Navarro Has Made Advice From Father Pay Off

May 16, 1999|NANCY ARMOUR | ASSOCIATED PRESS

CHICAGO — Father really does know best. Just ask Jaime Navarro.

A year after being demoted to the bullpen with a bloated ERA, the Chicago White Sox pitcher is starting to show the form that made him one of the National League's best pitchers in 1995. And dear old dad deserves some of the credit.

"My dad used to be a sidethrower. I always saw him pitching like that, but I never tried it," Navarro said. "In the offseason, I went to Puerto Rico and asked, 'What are you seeing?' He said I was maybe way too up to the top.

"He said, 'Once in a while, come from the side like I used to throw.' "

So Navarro tinkered with his throwing motion, lowering the angle of his arm. Instead of throwing over the top, he sometimes throws from around his shoulder. Other times it's lower, and occasionally it's even lower than that, almost a sidearm delivery.

"The deception is there because it's harder for them to see the ball," White Sox pitching coach Nardi Contreras said. "It takes them a little longer to see the ball, compared to where he was. In the past, you were able to see him right away, real easily, which gave them a longer look to see what was coming."

And that made Navarro easy prey.

In 1995, Navarro won 14 games for the Chicago Cubs and was one of the National League's hottest pitchers with a 3.28 ERA. But when he moved across town two years later, he seemed to leave something behind. He went 9-14 in 1997 and didn't win a game the final six weeks of the season.

He finished 8-16 last year, tied for the American League lead in losses. He didn't win a game after July 15, and Manager Jerry Manuel finally demoted him to the bullpen. He was even booed by the White Sox faithful.

"It was bad," Navarro said. "It was frustrating. The fans have their right to be angry because they want to see a winner, and I was coming here to help the team, not let the team down.

"I was taking everything too hard and trying to do too much and getting angry at a lot of things," he added.

Contreras tried to get Navarro to alter his throwing motion so his pitches wouldn't be so easy to see, but had little success. Finally, in the offseason, with rumors swirling that the White Sox wanted to trade him, Navarro went to visit his father.

Julio Navarro, who pitched for the Los Angeles Angels, Detroit Tigers and Atlanta Braves during his career, told his son the same thing Contreras had: He needed to shorten his throwing motion.

The elder Navarro also told his son he needed to work on his emotions.

"My Dad said, 'I'd see you get angry last year. You'd get mad about one pitch and you were struggling. You've got to slow down; you've got to relax,' " Navarro said. "I never lost confidence in myself. Never. I've just got to go out there and believe in myself that I can go out there and be a good pitcher, like I used to be."

While Navarro's 2-3 record and his 5.03 ERA may not be impressive at first glance, he has a 2.71 ERA over his last four starts. It would be even lower if he hadn't given up seven runs--four earned--and five hits in one inning against Baltimore.

"He's really been on a roll lately," Manuel said. "Other than that one inning in Baltimore, we are confident that he has arrived and is back to the form that made him one of the top pitchers in the NL."

Unlike last year, Navarro just shrugged off the Baltimore game. In his next start, Monday against the AL West-leading Rangers, he pitched four-hit ball for eight innings and gave up just one run.

"Right now, I'm just taking things easy," he said. "Whether I have a good game or a bad game, I control myself, learn about it, learn about what were the mistakes, keep working at it and never give up."

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