Balester feels like a "totally different pitcher"

Nats pitcher Collin Balester had a nice throwing session with a pair of minor leaguers today, and tomorrow he'll pitch with new teammate Matt Capps for the first time.

In crucial news, Collin has really worked on his moustache in the offseason. It's getting to Rollie Fingers proportions.

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Collin told me, "I like to twist the sides with some moustache wax. When someone looks at your face and they have trouble recognizing you with the crazy moustache that is where it is going to be good."

But on a serious baseball note, Collin just got to Florida after a marathon 38-hour car ride from California, but Collin says he's ready to go.

"I have a better attitude this year. I had stress and pressure last year but I feel no pressure whatsoever this season. If they want me to pitch bullpen or be a starter, I am up for either. I finally have the attitude and self confidence where I feel comfortable in the way I am pitching."

Balester told me veterans from around the league have helped him with the jump from being a starter to the bullpen and back again.

"I've talked to the Orioles and former Giants pitcher Brad Hennessey for advice. He went through the same thing, being a starter his whole life.

"The Giants put him in the bullpen and he didn't want to go at first. Then finally he did and it helped him unbelievably. He later went back to starting and had a complete game in 4 starts. He told me he grew up so much in the bullpen.

"Steve McCatty, Garrett Mock and Tyler Clippard talked to me and gave me reassurance about moving to the bullpen. I will pitch wherever they need me. I have the confidence in my pitching that I will get outs when and wherever I pitch."

Did you have that mentality at one point that being a starter your whole career was what you wanted to always be?

"It is normal to say, 'bullpen, that's not for me'. You think it is easy and all that stuff. But it helped all these guys in their careers to work out of the bullpen. I just told myself to relax and get outs. It doesn't matter if you are a starter or a reliever, just get outs. That is my mentality now."

How are you physically after your recent pitching sessions?

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"My ribs felt great after workouts. The ball was coming out of my hand so smooth. I didn't feel this way last offseason. I was over-working everything. Something was off. But now, even when I threw curveballs the ball was snapping better. Everything was coming out better. It has been 7 to 8 weeks and I am still going smooth. So I feel like 'let's go!""

Explain how you are different mentally on the mound?

"My mentality now is if I throw a good curveball, let's try to throw that same good one. If my fastball hits the outside corner, just throw that again.

"If you try to throw the perfect pitch, you will try for a long time. I have been reading books on the mental side of the game and I have learned that you don't need to try to throw a better pitch.

"Just throw that same pitch, don't try to do too much. In the past, instead of being satisfied with a good quality outing, I would try to throw complete game shutouts. Now, I am just letting it happen. I feel like I am a totally different pitcher. It feels like my first spring training again."

What about all the pitchers the Nats have signed in the offseason?

"I thought the Nats and Mike Rizzo did a great job this off season. You know, they didn't sign a savior but they did get a whole bunch of guys that are good. You need a bunch of different guys to have success.

"The most important signing is getting Pudge Rodriguez. He is a veteran catcher and a sure Hall-of-Famer. Pudge has seen so many different things. It is great to get to learn from him.

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"Ivan caught so many great pitchers and just to be able to ask him about those experiences and how he attacks a hitter is going to be huge for us. I can see him as a coach when his career is over. He has so much knowledge to share. I can't wait to work with him."

So I know you are going to meet with Matt Capps tomorrow (Wednesday) and pitch with him. When are going to report to Viera and what are you working on before spring training gets started?

"I am excited to start February 1st, next Monday. I am going to work on a slider for the next 10 to 14 days. It will either click or be second nature to me or it will take a little time, but I am interested to see how that pitch works for me. As always, I have my fastball, curveball and changeup. My curve can be my out pitch and then I could use maybe the slider on 3-2 and 3-1 counts."

"I am also going to go back to my chest high fastball that guys have swung and missed against in the minors. When I first came up I was worried that big hitters would hit the chest high pitches. You are always conditioned to pound down hill. I want to get back to trying the chest high fastballs because it got outs in the minors."

We have talked about the mental side, how are your pitching mechanics?

"I went back to over my head with my wind up and I feel a lot better. It makes me feel taller and as I pitch to a downward level. This wind up helps my arm stay up and the pitches come out with life. I can tell the ball is coming out of my hand so smoothly."

What makes this year different for you as you get ready for Viera?

"I have been to six or so spring trainings, and now my confidence is sky high. Last year my confidence was not good. I didn't feel all right early on and it just kind of snow balled from there.

"I had a bad year. I have to forget about that. Now my confidence is higher than I could ever imagine. I need to get in moment, learn from last year and move on. My motto is to just go out and do it (hold the phone, Nike). Not just to try, but just go out and pitch."

You can learn more about Collin on his website at www.collinbalester.com. It has to be one of the better player websites I have seen. Collin promised to give me updates here as spring training rolls along.

Also, tomorrow, I will head over to the Nats Winter Caravan in Virginia and talk to Jim Riggleman and some of the young pitchers for the Nats. Make sure to come out and meet some of your favorite Nats. My previous blogs have the Nats caravan schedule. Any questions for Rigs, Drew Storen, Danny Espinosa or Ryan Speier? Let me know in comments and I will make sure to ask them for you.

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