The truest reset for Paul Fry didn’t start until he returned to his Michigan home.
Fry never got back to Camden Yards after the Orioles optioned him following another disastrous outing against the Rays on Aug. 29. He figured to make a pit stop at Triple-A Norfolk, with a few scoreless appearances leading to his recall, but his command remained an issue until time ran out.
The left-hander registered a 1.78 ERA in his first 26 appearances and briefly served as closer, but he had a 11.05 ERA over the next 26. He posted a 34.71 ERA versus Tampa Bay, losing all three decisions, and a 2.98 ERA against everyone else.
Fry has stated that the crackdown on the usage of sticky substances had no bearing on his results.
The offseason is allowing Fry to clear his head for a little while before diving back into his usual routine. He expects to be in the bullpen on opening day.
Fry was a trade chip at the deadline and the Orioles held onto him, feeling no motivation to move him while he remained under team control for a significant period. He hopes to win back their trust, and also solve the Rays riddle.
How are you going to spend the offseason?
“Rest, recover for these first few weeks, do a little mental reset, do a physical reset type of thing. But I work out here with a trainer in a neighboring city (Madison Heights). Get that going.”
Do you think it’s going to do you some good mentally to just get away from it for a little while?
“Yeah, but it’s more so to kind of reflect on what went well during the season and what didn’t go my way. You always have to have that reflection at the end of the year to just build on to make your goals off of. It’s just one of those things where it’s crucial to take a look back while also kind of trying to flush the negative.”
I know you’ll get asked this a lot, but what did go wrong for you? What happened there, because you were off to such a great start?
“When you’re going well, like I was, it’s kind of like an autopilot feeling. And then when struggles start happening, I started looking into, is it mental, is it physical? And it kind of seemed like it would be the opposite on each day with a struggle. I’d be there confidently or there mentally, and then my mechanics would be off. Or I’d be focusing so hard on mechanics that I’d get away from attack mode, or the little mental edges that you have as a pitcher. Just tough to balance that at the same time.
“I was the closer there in early June, I think it was, but just one of those things where you don’t want to let the team down and you’re thinking about too many things at once, and mechanics get off, and that’s where I think I lost a lot of my outings. I think it was mechanics. I don’t know if I was tipping pitches or whatnot.”
It sounds like you got inside your head and couldn’t get out of it. Is that accurate?
“A little bit, I would say, but like I said, it would be opposite. Some days it would be mechanics, some days it would be lack of confidence in mechanics.”
How much did overall confidence become an issue?
“It was definitely one of those years where I’ll reflect on exactly that. I’ve never had a problem in those situations and I have to really take a deep look at what was the problem. Was it mental, was I there with my plan, was I prepared, was the other team more prepared in that moment? I think the majority of my outings were against the Rays, the terrible outings, I guess you could say. Either they knew me better than I knew myself or it was just kind of ... I don’t know. They had something on me, I guess I would say.
“It was like 10 games in August that we faced them. Tanner and I have faced them a lot every year. I would say it’s 10 appearance against them a year, so you see the same guys, they see you. Sometimes they have something, whether it’s a glove tip or something like that, and I think maybe I was doing that. I don’t know. But I did change some things in Triple-A. You never know what it could have been, but also I wasn’t throwing strikes. Take that for what it is, too.”
How disappointing was it that you weren’t able to come back to the Orioles? The assumption was made after you were optioned that it was a brief reset and we didn’t see you again.
“Yeah, I didn’t really look into it that much. It is what it is at this point. I had an option and I deserved to get optioned. I have no control over moves or anything like that, so I just tried to go out in Triple-A and figure out what was going wrong. And I think by the end, I did figure out what was going wrong. I know the stats in Triple-A weren’t any better, honestly, but I think the command was starting to come back, the velo was starting to come back a little bit, too. So, I think it was just a nice reset. I used it as a positive, as much as I could. I hadn’t been there full-time like that in a few years, so things were different, but it was still Triple-A and they’re still good hitters. You have to go out there and get your work in.
“I didn’t look too much into it. I just tried to do what I could that day to get better and I think that being in Triple-A kind of helped me take a look deep down and be able to breathe a little bit out of the tough atmosphere that we were going through in the big leagues.”
Were you basically working on the same things down there that you were in the majors?
“Right when I got down there, I was kind of looking into what’s different, and there were things I didn’t really know until I got down there. My arm slot was a little bit lower, I was getting around the ball. So, for us to take a look at that at Triple-A and kind of work on that, it was a breather and there was more time to work on things and get scheduled outings and appearances, so you know your spot in the games, just to take the other thoughts out of it.”
You’re entering the next phase of your professional life as a first-time arbitration-eligible player. Do you remain confident that you’re in the Orioles’ plans and they still believe in you and you come to spring training hoping to pitch well and return to your late-inning, high-leverage role?
“Yeah, that’s what I see for myself. I know ‘21 was what it was and I finished in Triple-A, and for arbitration’s sake, I would have loved to not finish in Triple-A. I would have loved to continue April, May all the way on through like I was doing, but it happens, and I hope I have the opportunity to get back to myself, which I will be. This offseason I’ll be working hard to get back to where I was, and I never quit.”
So, you believe you’re much closer to the pitcher who dominated earlier in the season than the one who struggled so badly later in the summer?
“Yes. I’m not just all of a sudden someone different. It is what it is. It was just a rough stretch, a rough month. Every reliever has those certain outings, but mine all kind of came in a row there. So, I deserved the option, like I said, but it didn’t hurt my confidence and it didn’t hurt what I believe in myself.”
Do you still believe in what the Orioles are trying to do with this rebuild, the entire process? Obviously, the results aren’t there at the major league level and no one will be predicting playoffs in 2022, but it wasn’t supposed to happen quickly.
“I think so, yes. You can already see it. I know the results aren’t there all the time, but you can already see the bright spots for the future of Birdland. It’s coming together, I would say. And I want to be a part of it anyway I can. I’d love to see this thing through. It’s special.”