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 978 appearances, just 22 shy of making him the 11th pitcher in major league history to reach 1,000. So at age 41, as he stares at a career nearing its end, 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 before last night's 8-7 Red Sox loss to the Mariners. "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, Timlin has struggled, including a three-run inning Monday night in which he allowed home runs on back-to-back pitches. Last night, Timlin rebounded with two-thirds of a scoreless inning, stranding both runners he inherited.
"Let me preface this: This is not an excuse," Timlin said. "When I am pitching, you're coming into a 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."
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. With performances like the one in San Diego (1 2/3 innings of two-hit ball) and last night, Timlin 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 Sox have struggled lately in Seattle, so too has Timlin. Since the opening of Safeco Field in 1999, Timlin's ERA is 9.75 over 12 innings here, with seven home runs contributing to 14 runs (13 earned) on 18 hits.
But it's more about taming that maddening inconsistency than it is about taming Safeco Field.