Jose Tabata's enigmatic career with the Pirates came to a head this summer when he was outrighted to Class AAA Indianapolis in late June.
No team claimed him and his hefty salary as he passed through waivers. So Tabata accepted the assignment and settled in for what would become two months in the minor leagues.
Tabata admitted this week how frustrating the experience was at first, and what woke him up.
"The first five days I was a little frustrated," Tabata said. "But after that I said to myself, 'You know what? My baseball is not done. My career is not done yet. So I've got to continue to play the game. Play hard and work hard.' "
His teammates, particularly some of the other Latin players including Starling Marte and Francisco Liriano, called him often, offering encouragement.
"They called me almost every day to say 'Hey, keep going.' So I have a lot of people I can say thank you to," Tabata said.
When he turned the corner and decided to dig in, he said he focused on his swing and his defense.
"It's not easy to go down. But you know it's baseball," Tabata said. "I worked 100 percent because I wanted to get back to the big leagues."
The Pirates, who pay Tabata $3 million this season, owe him $4 million in 2015 and $4.5 million in 2016.
He was recalled this week after hitting .281 with 12 RBIs in 39 games in Class AAA.
"He's been down a while," said manager Clint Hurdle. "To get yourself back in that frame of mind can take a player some time. It's just you've got to make some adjustments. And there are going to be some challenges with it. His buy-in was good from the day he showed up as far as showing up working, getting extra work, playing. And after about a two-week period once the at-bats started to bundle, he's been a very good offensive player."
Geometry, physics and the perfect pitch
Over the course of a season, a pitcher's arm slot can migrate several degrees, particularly when fatigue or an injury creeps in.
"Sometimes it can be through manipulation. They're not seeing what they want to see out of the spin of the pitch, the movement of the pitch," Hurdle said. "Something as simple as 'I want it to be more inside,' rather than just moving on the rubber. I'm going to aim over there, I'm going to shoot it over there more. Maybe you raise your arm slot if you want a little more downhill angle. ...
"I think they're very minimal changes initially. Sometimes in different circumstances it can be from feeling a little fatigue -- 'Ohh that feels better.' And sometimes it can be result-oriented."
Part of the reason Pirates starter Gerrit Cole had such a long rehab assignment was to rediscover his arm slot. Cole spent July 9-Aug. 20 on the disabled list and was sent on a rehab assignment July 28.
"Going through this disabled list ... showed me that you have to be disciplined through your delivery because things can creep up on you faster than maybe you anticipate," Cole said.
"And, it's hard to do when you're 100 percent. When you're coming back and you're dealing with not having thrown in a while, it's important to focus on that kind of stuff so when I get into a [game situation] I can just go pitch."