Chasen Shreve strives for consistency in 2017
Without struggle there is no progress, though, and Shreve learned a lot from his sophomore slump.
"Just go out there and pitch," Shreve says of his lesson from 2016. "I can't overthink or worry about what's going to happen, I just have to let my athletic ability take over and not try to think too much."
The slump was puzzling to many, given that Shreve was untouchable almost all spring, but he allowed 11 earned runs in 19 innings before a DL stint at the end of May. It would be easy to pin at least part of those early struggles on the shoulder injury that cost him more than three weeks on the disabled list, but Shreve isn't willing to use that as a catch-all excuse.
"I think it was a little bit of everything, and I didn't start feeling the injury until maybe an outing or two before I got put on the DL," he said. "I had a great run in spring, but I don't really know what happened after that. You go up and down during the season, and you have to plateau at some point."
After his return, Shreve became part of the "Scranton Shuttle," and ended up with his most extended time in the Minors since before the Braves called him up in 2014. Shreve had only spent 10 days in Triple-A in 2015 - a move of necessity after he threw 50-plus pitches in the marathon 19-inning game with Boston that April - and spending the second half on that Shuttle was one of the more mentally challenging times of his career.
"Physically it didn't bother me, but mentally, it's pretty draining, because it's just frustrating," he said. "Obviously, everybody wants to be in the Majors, and after being there almost the entire year before, it's frustrating to go back (to Triple-A); you wonder what you're doing wrong and what you can fix, but you have to just keep going and do your best every time you go out there."
So, this winter, Shreve worked hard, especially on two of his pitches, in hopes that he can bounce back and be as big of a weapon ahead of the Yankees' back-end trio this season as he was two seasons ago.
"Well, my splitter wasn't as good last year, and it was really inconsistent too, so I've been working a lot on that, because that's my pitch," he said. "And I'm still working on my slider; I'm not trying to make it an Andrew Miller where I'm getting swing and miss after swing and miss, just a good healthy slider that can get hitters off my splitter and fastball, because getting strike one with an off-speed pitch is huge."
Especially, he says, when you play 76 games against a division loaded with elite hitters.
"There are a ton of great hitters, great power hitters, in the AL East, so it's huge to get ahead of the batter," he said. "One bad pitch, or one fastball they know is coming, is huge to avoid, because all the fields are small."
This season, the "Big Three" of Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, and Tyler Clippard is locked in, with Tommy Layne likely the top matchup lefty and someone - probably Adam Warren, if he doesn't win a starting role - penciled in to be a multi-inning fireman.
That leaves a couple of spots, though, and Shreve thinks there's a role he's more than capable of filling.
"We have arguably one of the best bullpens in baseball, so it's fun to be a part of," he said. "Hopefully, I can be a fifth or sixth inning guy, maybe when we're down by a run. I've done that a lot in the past, situations where they don't want to use Dellin or Warren, and I feel like that's where I've done well."
If he is to be one of the relievers the Yankees choose to utilize, though, Shreve knows consistency is key.
"Dellin and Chapman are so consistent, and that's the goal; everyone strives for consistency, and with those two there, everyone wants to be like them," he said. "And I want to show myself, more than anybody, that I'm back where I need to be - controlling my fastball, throwing my splitter, and getting lefties to swing at my slider - and I can be that guy I was."