What a difference a year has made for Nationals right-hander Collin Balester. Heading into spring training 2010, Balester was a starter with 22 games under his belt, but not much consistency - and a tendency for giving up some big runs.
After working hard in the minors to redefine his role and regain confidence on the mound, Balester made a nice transition to the bullpen.
"I think this year I feel a lot better where I am at," Balester said. "Last year, I heard going in, 'If you don't pitch well, you might be going to the bullpen.' That got me a little bit flustered."
So this season, Balester has a different attitude and a renewed belief in his ability.
"This year, I am going to work hard and surround myself with positive people," Balester said. "When you have that positive attitude, nothing can bring you down."
Balester showed the move to relief was good one, going 0-1 in 17 appearances in 2010, with a 2.57 ERA, 28 strikeouts and only six runs allowed in 21 innings.
"The move to the bullpen was one of the best things to happen to me in my career," Balester said. "I went with it. I didn't think too much. As a starter, you wonder if you have saved enough juice til the end. But in the bullpen, I got to rear back and have fun with it. It was the most fun I have had in pro ball. I had a great offseason and I am ready take the next step in my career."
Balester noticed all the moves the club made in the offseason to improve the pitching staff and feels it will only help to have so many pitchers in camp.
"Definitely, we got some good pitchers," Balester said. "We showed what we can do at end of year. Getting Jason Marquis back, seeing John Lannan do well at end of season, having Jordan Zimmermann back and still being one of the young staffs is a good sign. With Marquis and Livan Hernandez, our starters will be a lot better than last year and that will take the pressure off the bullpen. It will be nice to see the starters go seven or eight innings."
Offensively, the team made moves with the acquisitions of Jayson Werth, Adam LaRoche, Rick Ankiel, Alex Cora, Jerry Hairston Jr. and more. Balester said that will help because he won't have to face those guys any more.
"I think that is great, having a veteran presence on the team," Balester said. "And with them on our team, we don't have to worry about them crushing it against us. I faced all these guys in my career, now they are on my team. It didn't hurt that we added Werth off the Phillies; it is like addition by subtraction."
There also is the question about Balester's moustache. What's up with the 'stash?
"Moustache will be trimmed a little bit, I will keep it clean, nice and presentable," Balester assured.
Balester said several pitchers have already arrive in Viera, Fla, including Matt Chico, Lannan, Drew Storen, Zimmermann, Adam Carr, Cole Kimball, Josh Wilkie, Todd Coffey and Tom Gorzelanny.
"A lot of guys came early this year," Balester noted. "It shows they want to be ready to go."
Pitchers and catchers report Tuesday. Physicals are on Wednesday and then they get going on Thursday.
Balester said he has been working on refining his changeup, the pitch pitchers work to get better at each season.
"I have been working on my changeup in the off eason, playing around with it," Balester said. "Having that changeup would help me go longer in games. It has been getting a lot better. My curveball is good, fastball command is good. I am looking to work downhill with it."
With the way Balester ended last season, his uphill battles are over.