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Laffey conquers mental side of game, now thriving

CHI View Full Game Coverage CAGO -- Kevin Costner's character, Billy Chapel, in "For Love of The Game" was able to "clear the mechanism" and find an even-keeled level of calmness, quiet and peace between each pitch. After a few tumultuous and, as Aaron Laffey describes them, "crazy years," the Blue Jays starter has finally found that serenity on the mound.

Laffey searched for guidance toward the end of the 2010 season, which he finished with a career-low five starts and two wins in an injury-plagued campaign with the Indians. His ERA steadily rose from 4.23 in 2008 to 4.44 in '09 and 4.53 in '10.

That's when former Royals shortstop Buddy Biancalana reached out to Laffey, whose role had shifted from starter to reliever.

"He had contacted me at the end of 2010," Laffey said. "I was on the big league DL, getting close to September. I was getting almost ready to come back. I really wasn't in a good place, mentally, just kind of with stuff that had been going on letting things affect me. He said, 'Hey, I have this book, I just want you to read it.'"

The following offseason, Laffey read the book, "The 7 Secrets of World Class Athletes," which Biancalana co-authored. He met with Biancalana to throw bullpen sessions and worked on slowing the game down before Spring Training last season.

"It was nothing to do with mechanics or pitching," Laffey said. "It was just all the mental side of the game. It was just kind of what they call, 'Finding the gap,' finding that silence between every pitch. It's really helped me a lot to stay kind of centered and focused and not worry about any outside distractions."

Laffey still fights to maintain that focus, but he said he thinks he's finally mastered the mental side of pitching, and his numbers back his statement. The advice and the book have paid off for the starter, who finished with a sub-4.00 ERA for the first time in his career last year as a reliever for the Mariners and Yankees.

He pitched in a career-high 47 games, didn't allow a single home run in 11 appearances with New York and ended the season with a combined 3.88 ERA between the two clubs. Laffey felt ready to return to his role as a starter, and the well-traveled pitcher decided on the Blue Jays to pursue that goal after talking to manager John Farrell.

"He let me know there was a legitimate shot I could break the rotation out of camp," Laffey said. "He's seen me as a starter before. I had a lot of confidence coming here knowing the guys here knew what I was capable of."

Laffey kept his hopes high after starting the season in Triple-A Las Vegas. He said he knew he was close to making the rotation after Spring Training, and he'd eventually get his opportunity.

Since making his first relief appearance for Toronto on June 13, Laffey finally achieved his goal of becoming a starter once again on June 26. He currently boasts a 2.67 ERA with quality starts in each of his three outings this year, and he's expected to stay in the rotation following the All-Star break.

"You can't control 99 percent of the things in this game," Laffey said. "The one thing you can control is what you do and how you prepare and how you perform. I'm really happy with the spot I'm in right now and happy to have this opportunity, and I'm trying to make the most of it every day."

Toronto Blue Jays, Aaron Laffey