Matt Bowman's aha moment came a few weeks ago.
That was when a lightbulb flickered atop the Princeton University graduate's head. When the Double-AA Binghamton Mets righthander decided to ditch a habit that admittedly gave him a reputation. Not coincidentally, it was when Mets catcher Travis d'Arnaud, while on a rehab assignment, was Bowman's battery mate.
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Bowman realized on May 27 his own high intellect was becoming a hindrance. He then chose to stop shaking off catchers' signs at a rapid pace while standing on the mound.
The 23-year-old started that night against the New Hampshire Fisher Cats but pitched only two innings as heavy rain suspended the game. They were scoreless frames, however, and he used only seven pitches in a 1-2-3 second inning. Perhaps more importantly, he never shook off one of d'Arnaud's signs from behind the plate.
For the first time in as many outings as he could remember, Bowman consistently nodded as the catcher signaled one for fastball, two for curveball and so on. He worked on executing pitches rather than thinking about what he needed to throw and then throwing it.
"I sort of have a reputation for shaking off catchers because I have a pitch I definitely want to throw in certain counts," said Bowman Wednesday, the night after he tossed six scoreless innings to improve to 5-4 and lower his ERA to 3.84. "But when [d'Arnaud] came here, the thought to me of shaking off a big-league catcher seemed a little odd."
After all, isn't thinking about what pitch to throw and then executing that pitch doubly demanding for a pitcher's mind? Isn't that a reason why catchers call games? In retrospect, Bowman strongly believes so, regardless of how much major-league experience for the catcher.
"I was getting in my own way," Bowman said. "It just made sense for me to trust what they were putting down there. I sort of simplified what I was doing on the mound and how much thinking I was doing and since then, whether it's been Kevin Plawecki or Xorge Carrillo (the two Binghamton catchers), I've trusted what they're going to put down and I've focused on executing pitches."
It's served him well. In five starts and 271/3 innings including the rain-suspended game, Bowman has allowed nine runs for a 2.97 ERA, with 30 strikeouts and six walks. The Maryland native has struck out 65 batters in 652/3 innings (12 starts) this season.
Last season, in combined stints with Single-A Savannah and Single-A St. Louis, Bowman was 10-4 with a 3.05 ERA and 116 strikeouts in 127 innings for an average of 8.22 strikeouts per nine innings. The slight rise in strikeouts per nine innings this season could be attributed to a more aggressive approach.
"Our pitching coach [Glenn Abbott] has taken me aside a few times and he's been working on changing my mentality and attitude on the mound," Bowman said.
Despite good control, one of the knocks on Bowman has been his tendency to allow more than a hit per inning. This season he owns a 1.39 WHIP and has allowed 71 hits. He's hopeful of attacking hitters with his array of pitches -- he throws a four-seam fastball, a two-seamer, a curveball, a changeup, a slider and a splitter -- and permitting the catcher to call the game will help alleviate the issue.
"Sometimes, I've certainly been accused of trying to outthink myself," Bowman said. "Letting it go and letting the catcher call the game; I've learned that any pitch in any situation will probably work as long as I throw it with some conviction."