Standing just outside the Williamsport dugout, Mitch Gueller leaned on a ball retriever he used to collect baseballs during batting practice and took a deep breath.
He stared out toward center field as Hudson Valley began batting practice, replaying Thursday night's start over in his mind. He searched for the words to describe what he could take away from a start where he failed to record an out and faced just six batters, giving up five runs.
"It has to help you re-focus. I'm not OK with it at all," Gueller said Friday following batting practice at Bowman Field. "In order to improve on it you have to put in the work and re-focus. You don't want to have an outing like that to re-focus, but if it does happen, then it's what you have to do."
Gueller said the outing snowballed on him Thursday night with one tough pitch leading to another and then another until finally he was staring at a bases-loaded situation with nobody out in the first inning. He finally threw a first-pitch strike to clean-up hitter Oscar Hernandez before throwing him a very good 0-1 curveball.
But Hernandez, the New York-Penn League's leader in home runs and RBIs, went down in the zone and hit the breaking ball out of the park for a grand slam. Gueller stood on the mound and just kicked at the dirt at his feet as four runs crossed the plate. A double down the third-base line and a single to right field later and manager Nelson Prada was making the trip to the mound to remove the former supplemental first-round pick.
It was the shortest outing of Gueller's career since being drafted in June 2012. It was the first time he failed to throw at least two innings in an appearance in his career, and the one time he threw just two innings came in his professional debut.
"I want to go out there tonight because I know I can do better than that," Gueller said. "It was one of those days where I just didn't have it. I throw one ball, then let it get to me and next thing I throw another one and all of a sudden you're 2-0 to a guy. That's kind of how I seemed to be to every batter. I let it affect me more than I should have. I need to learn from it and move on to the next pitch. (Thursday) I didn't do that."
Gueller, who's been appearing in various Top 20 Phillies prospects lists since he was drafted out of W.F. West High School in Chehalis, Wash., has had an up-and-down season in his first pro season outside of Florida. He pointed yesterday to his first couple starts being more like what he expects from himself.
But in between he's had starts which have become frustrating. There was an outing which lasted just 2 2/3 innings against State College in which he gave up three earned runs. But none of the struggles he's experienced were anything like his Thursday night start.
He went to a 3-0 count to three of the six batters he faced, and had a three-ball count to four of the six batters he faced. Although he said the pitch to Hernandez wasn't a bad pitch, he said the result was somewhat predictable.
"That's the culmination of everything leading up to that," Gueller said. "Walk a guy, base hit, walk the next guy, it's only fitting that happens."
Gueller spent most of Thursday night's game in manager Nelson Prada's office having a heart-to-heart discussion with the first-year skipper of the Crosscutters after Prada was ejected in the fourth inning. Gueller said Prada told him some things he needed to hear, beliefs he himself had about his pitching and his season, but beliefs he needed to hear reinforced from someone else.
Following Thursday's game, an 8-4 Hudson Valley win, Prada said he was very honest with Gueller about some things, but he would keep those things between he and Gueller.
"I think he's relaxing too much," Prada said. "He has to go out there and fight a little more."
Gueller said he spent much of the game Thursday night thinking about the outing, but he tried to let go of it by the time he left the clubhouse afterward.
"I'm not going to sit and pout about it," he said. "I've got to focus on the next start and now is a good time to re-focus. It's time to move on."