Mental-skills work is part of the turnaround for lefty Cole Irvin

On this date last year, O’s lefty Cole Irvin was pitching with Triple-A Norfolk trying to find his way back to the big leagues. A 10.66 ERA his first three starts got the veteran shipped back to the farm to figure it out.

He would end the 2023 season with an ERA of 4.42 for Baltimore, not great. But he did pitch to a 3.22 ERA from June 10 on last season, showing improvement and some promise.

But nothing like this.

Nothing like what he has shown during this 2024 season when he is 3-1 with a 2.86 ERA in six starts.

He has not been scored on since April 15 versus Minnesota. He pitched 6 1/3 scoreless Friday night at Cincinnati, his third straight scoreless start.

Over those three games he is 3-0 with an ERA of 0.00 allowing 10 hits in 20 scoreless with two walks to 11 strikeouts. Opponents are batting .147 with a .360 OPS against him as he baffled in order Kansas City, Oakland and the Reds.

In a recent interview, Irvin explained that mindset and renewed confidence has been a big part of his season. In spring training, he briefly got away from working with a mental skills coach. In fact, he has one that he has a long relationship with dating to college.

When he was not happy with, as he would say, “things (that became) sped up” during his first start this year, he made a phone call.

“I have had a history of working with different mental skills coaches over my career,” explained the lefty. “Got introduced to a mental skills coach in high school. Played for Team USA and they brought a guy on. When I got to college, (at the University of Oregon) we had Ken Ravizza. A renown baseball mental skills coach.

“When I got to my freshman year of college he came in twice per year and we had another guy come in during my junior year, Brian Cain, who I am working with again.

“One thing they taught you was just recognizing where you are at in your mental process. What is one way to slow your game down? When you are throwing your best game, what is your thought? How do we consistently get our mental preparedness to that point of consistency?”

Irvin noted that Cain also works with Corbin Burnes and believes he may do some work with one or more position players also.

Irvin felt good about how he was throwing this spring. But something in his overall game was missing.

“Came in pretty strong this spring and the only thing I didn’t work on was my mental focus, which is something I kind of pride myself on. First start of the year, it sped up on me a little bit. And I made a phone call to Brian Cain and got connected again. I have worked with him many different times,” said Irvin, who takes a 20 2/3 innings scoreless streak into his start tonight against Arizona.

“Mental skills are about finding the way to make you the most consistent version of your best self. You are not going to always have it. But you can have simple thoughts and simple plans to at least be close to where you’ve been.

“Since even my Boston start – and I resumed working with him about four days before that start – I’ve felt really consistent in my game. And it’s not even physical. It’s what is going on between the ears,” he said.

In spring it was noted that Irvin was throwing harder. But during the regular season, his velocity is about the same as always. But the results are much better. Last year he had an OPS against of .735 and now that is .611. Last year he had a 41.4 groundball rate and now that number is 50.9.

The work with Cain is paying off.

“This has allowed me to have a lot of self confidence. It has helped a lot. My overall success of the season, my mental preparedness, is a key to that,” he said.

When you cut through it all he says his work with Cain basically allows him to get the clutter out of his thoughts and be more focused on the mound.

“Correct. What is the most important thing for me? It’s different for every guy in this room. We are talking twice a week about process and all the things that have made me consistent and how we can repeat it. It’s a slow, steady climb," said Irvin. 

Holliday hitting again: Jackson Holliday, after being sent back to Triple-A, was 6-for-30 in his first eight games back with Norfolk. But in his past three, he is 5-for-9 with a homer, two RBIs, five runs, six walks and no strikeouts.

Over 21 Norfolk games for the year on the farm, Holliday is now batting .309 with a 1.013 OPS along with 27 walks to 17 strikeouts.

Norfolk is playing better recently too, despite Thursday's 3-2 loss at Memphis. The Tides are 18-18 with nine wins their past 12 games.  

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