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Struggles of past prepare Drabek for success

TORONTO -- The path Kyle Drabek has traveled is not one he would have drawn up for himself, but perhaps it was the one that put him in the best position to succeed.

In September 2010, less than a year after headlining a deal that sent franchise great Roy Halladay to the Phillies, Drabek made three starts with the Blue Jays as a 22-year-old and pitched well enough to earn a spot in Toronto's rotation last season.

It wasn't a job he could hold, however. He was plagued by control problems and optioned to Triple-A Las Vegas in June after posting a 5.70 ERA over 14 starts. Things didn't get better in Vegas -- Drabek's command continued to be an issue, and in 15 starts his ERA read 7.44 and opposing batters hit .355 off him. He was eventually recalled to the Blue Jays in September, this time as a reliever, and mostly struggled in four appearances to cap a difficult year.

Drabek needed someone to turn to and that person was his dad, former National League Cy Young Award winner Doug Drabek.

"During the offseason, he was the first one to tell me, 'Forget last year, but remember all the success and learn from the mistakes,'" Drabek said. "We had a lot of time to talk. I think that was probably the best advice because, this year it has helped me forget about the bad things that are happening during the game and it's a lot easier to drain them out and get back out there."

Drabek was in tough spot to crack Toronto's five-man rotation for 2012, but after an impressive camp and a spot created through Dustin McGowan's placement on the disabled list, he left Dunedin, Fla., as a member of the staff. He's since thrived in five April starts.

The Texas native finished April with a 2-2 record and a team-best 2.40 ERA among starters. He's also allowed just two runs or fewer in each of his outings -- one of only three qualified pitchers in the American League to do so. His walk rate is down, strikeout rate is up, he's changed the grip on a majority of his pitches and stopped overusing his cutter -- something he admittedly did last season. Drabek's become more selective, understands better when to use certain pitches and isn't fazed with runners on base.

Mentally, he's a new person on the mound.

"It's pretty much blanked out," Drabek said about his mindset when opponents reach base against him. "I learned a lot from last year and it helps me out this year, especially with guys on base and things not going my way. Last year I tended to overthrow and this year I've been able to slow myself down and make the pitch that I need to."

Drabek has halved the use of his cutter, is throwing his fastball nearly as much as anyone in the game and stranded 20 percent more runners in April than last season. He looks to be cementing himself as a staple in the Blue Jays' rotation but admits there's still work to be done.

"When I was watching [Yu] Darvish, it seemed like he was always 0-1, 0-2 and then he makes you hit his best stuff, the pitch he wants," Drabek said about the Rangers rookie, his opponent on April 30, when Drabek struck out a career-high eight batters. "Sometimes I'll get to that point and then I'll kind of let them back in. That eats up a lot of pitches. I think I can make it to seven, eight, possibly nine innings if I can I get ahead early and stay ahead."

Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos agrees.

"I'm encouraged, he's made strides, he's getting a lot better," Anthopoulos said prior to Drabek's start against the Rangers. "He's not all the way there yet, his strike percentage still has to continue to get better. But obviously we've seen [his] stuff, and everything else is outstanding -- his composure. He's made strides and he's starting to evolve."

It's been more than two years since Drabek was sent to Toronto as part of the Halladay deal and he's slowly starting to carve out his own identity. Experiencing the failure he did last season may have been a good thing after all.

"Pretty much my whole career I've been talking with my dad," Drabek said, adding that after the Halladay trade, "the main thing he said is, 'You have to be yourself, you can't try to be Halladay. You have to be able to go out there and be yourself.'

"I tried to run with that, but people still bring it up. It doesn't bother me, though. Obviously he's one of the best pitchers in the Majors Leagues. I have to work hard to get to where he is -- he worked for it every year."

Toronto Blue Jays, Kyle Drabek