I think everyone understands that it's been a bit of a grind for JJ. He hasn't been right all season long, and when I say "all season", I really mean all season - the last time he felt anywhere close to 100% was the first day of April. Since then it's been a tedious, difficult slog of a year, as he's encountered hurdle after hurdle while trying to pitch himself back into form.
What's been interesting to me is watching him try to pitch his way back at the Major League level. This isn't something you see very often, but in a season pulled straight from a box of Instant Nightmare, it's not like the Mariners have had anything to lose, so for the most part they've let JJ get out there and plug away. And plug away he has, with mixed results.
It's weird when you see someone lose what made him successful almost overnight. At first he'll try going back to the well to see if he can summon old ability, but if that doesn't work, then you'll see him start to experiment. I think this is the stage that JJ presently occupies. Having struggled with his fastball and splitter command all summer, the old combination wasn't working on its own, so recently we've seen him toy with a curveball that he previously abandoned a few years ago. I'm guessing the idea here is to try and refine another pitch just in case one or two of the other ones aren't working.
It's not a very good pitch. Right now, anyway. He threw a good one to Garret Anderson last night, but that's been far from the norm, as not only is it loopy and soft, but he also can't control it for beans. Which pretty much just gives him a fourth pitch he can't locate. It makes him a different pitcher to watch, but it doesn't make the watching any less difficult. It's hard when someone you used to hold in higher esteem than all others loses faith in his strengths.
Don't get me wrong, there is a little upside. Pitch variety is important, and if JJ were somehow able to come out of this with another reliable weapon, then more power to him. It's just that...this is Spring Training stuff that we're seeing, because the curveball is nowhere near as good as JJ wants it to be, and after the last few seasons, watching JJ pitch like this makes me uncomfortable. I hate thinking that someone can go from untouchable to unreliable this quickly, but if we've learned anything from this season, it's that everybody can disappoint. And the uncertainty I feel about JJ going forward just kills me inside.
I want JJ to get better. I need JJ to get better. But at this point I'm not sure of anything anymore. All I really know is that if this offseason doesn't cure what's ailing him, then I'm going to be one sad panda.