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Baffled Timlin just isn't pitching like his old self

SEATTLE -- Mike Timlin doesn't have the answers. He laughs, in fact, when the question is posed to him. If he knew what could help him, he would be doing it.

Perhaps throwing in the bullpen more to stay sharp would help. But perhaps it takes more than that, a reconfiguring and revision of a mental and physical game that has taken him through 977 appearances, just 23 shy of making him the 11th pitcher in major league history to reach 1,000. So, as he stares at a career nearing its end at age 41, he knows he has to go back in time.

"I've got to take it back to the beginning, as far as I can remember back," Timlin said. "Strip everything off. Nothing elaborate, and go pitch by pitch. You try to get there mentally.

"Obviously, completely redoing your whole get-up is not easy, because you have routines and you have things you do. But that's what we're trying to get done."

Working with Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell, Timlin said, he has returned to the origins of his mental approach, and once he feels that is back in place, he'll move on to the physical aspects of pitching.

Timlin maintains that the problems he's had have not been physical, despite the time he spent on the disabled list this season. He came out of spring training on the DL with a strained left oblique that severely curtailed his preparation time for the season. He hit the DL again from May 3 to June 9, this time with tendinitis in his pitching shoulder.

And since his return, on a limited workload of eight innings, his ERA is 6.75. He has allowed 10 hits and six runs in his last six innings, including home runs in Monday night's 9-4 loss to Seattle on back-to-back pitches to Kenji Johjima and Adrian Beltre.

"Let me preface this: This is not an excuse," Timlin said. "When I am pitching, you're coming into a baseball game where you're losing. As time goes, if you look over anybody's stats, if you're pitching against another team that's winning, they're swinging the bat really well. So their confidence is really high.

"If I'm going into a 3-2 ballgame where we're winning, they're a little bit more defensive. Therefore, your pitching is different. The results are different. You can throw the same pitches, the results are completely different."

With a lack of work -- and thus a lack of consistency -- Timlin has suffered through a difficult stretch short on both results and innings, something that is readily acknowledged by his manager.

"Here's a guy that's handled a real heavy role for us from before I got here to when I got here, and trying to get him back into a role has not been the easiest thing, but we're trying to make sure we get him consistent work," Terry Francona said in San Diego. "And the way he pitches will figure out how best to help our team. I think that's the best way to assess it."

With performances like the one in San Diego (1 2/3 innings of two-hit ball), Timlin said, he knows he can still pitch. He has confidence that, in his 17th season, his arm still has enough to get batters out. It's just that the good spurts have been offset by appearances like Monday's.

Maybe that performance, though, shouldn't have been all that surprising. Just as the Red Sox have struggled lately in Seattle, so too has Timlin. Since the opening of Safeco Field in 1999, Timlin's ERA is 10.32 over 11 1/3 innings here, with seven home runs contributing to 14 runs (13 earned) on 18 hits.

Timlin is aware of his troubles in the Pacific Northwest. But it's not actually a problem with Seattle, he points out. In 66 innings in the Kingdome, Timlin had a 4.36 ERA, giving up just six home runs. But those were his younger days.

For now, it's more about taming that maddening inconsistency than it is about taming Safeco Field.

"That's the frustrating part, when you're locating 85 percent of the ball, but 100 percent of the effort goes out the window because of the result," Timlin said. "You've got to get that 15 percent under control. That's a big percentage."

Because it's not as if he doesn't know there's a problem. That part he understands well. He just doesn't have the answers. Not yet, at least.

"I can go out and throw strikes any time," Timlin said. "It's just not every time."

Amalie Benjamin can be reached at abenjamin@globe.com

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