After giving up another game-ending home run Thursday, Kyle Barraclough retreated to the quiet sanctuary of the video room and pushed the rewind button to June, when his world was perfect and he could do no wrong.
When he was the National League’s “Reliever of the Month.”
When he gave up no runs and one hit -- ONE -- in a dozen relief outings.
When he was seven for seven in save opportunities.
When he was untouchable.
Now, with little going right for the Marlins’ closer, Barraclough went searching for answers, trying to pinpoint causes for all of his recents problems. So he studied June.
“I was just trying to get those good images in my head and flush out the bad ones that have obviously popped up in the last three or four,” he said. “As good as it went in June, it’s been that bad in July, and now continuing into August.”
Barraclough’s fortunes have turned upside down.
On Thursday, he suffered his third blown save in his past four save situations, coming completely unraveled in a nightmarish ninth inning, one in which he threw only nine of his 24 pitches for strikes, uncorked one pitch behind a batter’s back, and eventually gave up a three-run, game-ending homer to Maikel Franco.
Barraclough also gave up a walk-off grand slam on July 22 in a loss to the Rays and a game-tying hit in the ninth in an eventual, extra-innings win over the Nationals six days later.
The same pitcher who went 20 2/3 consecutive innings without giving up a run in June has suddenly given up 11 runs over his past 4 1/3 innings. His earned run average has shot up from 1.28 to 3.28 in that brief period of five appearances.
“It just seems like anything that could go wrong is going wrong and I’m compounding that with not throwing strikes, not working ahead,” Barraclough said. “So it’s kind of been the perfect storm in a bad way. As good as June was in a good way, this has been the bad way it can go. It seems like it flipped overnight and now it’s spiraled and I’m trying to correct direction.”
Despite Barraclough’s recent struggles, manager Don Mattingly said he will continue using the pitcher in save situations.
“I’m not saying I won’t be a little top-steppish (in the dugout),” Mattingly said of his anxiety level. “But he’s a guy we have confidence in. I think the biggest thing now is show confidence, get him back out there. If it’s not working at some point, then you make a small change.”
For now, Barraclough is trying to resolve the primary problem, his inability to command his fastball for strikes.
The cause of it could be any number of things. Something mechanically off with his delivery. A drop in confidence. The pressure of dealing with the near daily trade rumors in July that involved him.
“I’m trying to figure that out,” Barraclough said. “I think some of it is a confidence thing. I think that’s what I’ve been trying to tell myself, that this is just kind of a regression to the mean.”
But bottom line is fastball command.
“I think it’s always been that,” he said. “It’s always been my problem over the course of my career. When I get ahead of guys, I have no problem. When I fall behind, that’s when issues pop up.”
Barraclough has worked his way out of similar issues in the past. This is the first time he’s had to do so in the closer’s role.
“I’ve gone through struggles before,” he said. “I did this last year -- had a bad stretch of five or 10 games, got taken out of high-leverage roles, and kind of got back in the groove and got put right back into it. And that’s what I’m trying to do now.”