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Gustafson returns to Gwinnett with sense of renewal

Staff Photo: John Bohn Parkview graduate Tim Gustafson is a pitcher with the class AAA Louisville Bats. Gustafson will be the starting pitcher for Louisville when they play the Gwinnett Braves Saturday.

Staff Photo: John Bohn Parkview graduate Tim Gustafson is a pitcher with the class AAA Louisville Bats. Gustafson will be the starting pitcher for Louisville when they play the Gwinnett Braves Saturday.

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Staff Photo: John Bohn Parkview graduate Tim Gustafson is a pitcher with the class AAA Louisville Bats. Gustafson will be the starting pitcher for Louisville when they play the Gwinnett Braves Saturday.

LAWRENCEVILLE -- Tim Gustafson has played much of his baseball career in north Georgia, and in Gwinnett County in particular.

So, it may seem a little strange to see the 6-foot-3, 210-pound pitcher striding out of the visitors dugout when he takes the mound for the Louisville Bats tonight against the Gwinnett Braves at Coolray Field.

Even Gustafson -- who pitched at Parkview High School and Georgia Tech, and then was drafted by the Atlanta Braves in 2006 and had minor league stops in Gwinnett and Rome -- admits it feels a little odd, though not as much as one might think.

"It's a little different," the 27-year-old right-hander said. "I played against (the Braves' Double-A affiliate) Mississippi last year. That was a little bit stranger because I was on that team earlier in the season and had a good relationship with a lot of those guys.

"Maybe if I'd played against Gwinnett last year, ... it would be different. But there (are) a lot of new faces over (with the G-Braves). It's just going to be like every other team. ... The difference is, I'll be able to sleep at home."

Considering the crossroads his career was facing after being released by the Braves' organization in May 2011, it's a feeling he's happy to deal with.

Not that Gustafson hasn't dealt with adversity before, including Tommy John surgery on his pitching elbow that wiped out most of his 2008 season.

Still, even after being picked up less than a week after his release from the Braves by the Cincinnati Reds organization, Gustafson admits he had doubts about where his career was headed after spending the remainder of the season at Class A Carolina and starting with Double-A Pensacola out of this year's spring training.

"At the beginning of the season, the way I was throwing, I wasn't very competitive," Gustafson admitted. "I didn't feel like myself. I didn't feel like the product I was putting on the field was anywhere close to how I remember pitching -- how I feel like I should pitch. ... I just wasn't very competitive.

"There might have been one of those (thoughts like), 'This isn't going to last much longer if I keep doing this.'"

But after a rough start to the 2012 season in Pensacola, a stronger comfort level began to emerge on the heels of work with Blue Wahoos pitching coach Tom Brown, plus a few mechanical adjustments he made on his own.

"I had a really good spring training, (but) I think with all the moves that went on (with the Reds), ... something clicked. My arm felt good. Each time after that, my velocity went up. ... This was around the end of May or maybe the beginning June. It just felt easy. The ball was coming out (of my hand) like it was supposed to. From there on out, it got better each time out. ... I felt like I had my career back. I felt like I had an opportunity to compete."

Despite a 2-2 record with a 5.04 earned run average in 14 appearances -- seven of them starts -- in Pensacola, the Reds organization began to notice the same positive trends Gustafson did, and promoted him to Triple-A Louisville.

There, he has gradually built up his confidence, posting a 4-3 record with a 4.30 ERA and 39 strikeouts in 60 innings, though his best work had come in the last three weeks.

Gustafson is 1-0 with a 0.81 ERA with 14 strikeouts over 22 innings over his last four starts.

And with the International League season nearly at an end and with the parent club in Cincinnati in a pennant race, it might be natural to wonder if his recent good work might get him a look for a September call up to the Reds' bullpen.

But if there's one thing Gustafson has learned in recent years, it's not to let his focus stray too far ahead.

"That is one of those things that is looking ahead," Gustafson said. "I try to keep myself from doing that. Obviously, my plan all along was to get drafted out of junior college and be in the big leagues the next year. Things happen, but all I want to do is to prepare each day and when I go out on the field, to have fun and take care of business.

"It's easy in this game to look behind or try to look ahead, to get too concerned to where you could be or where you should be," Gustafson said. "My wife and I just started saying back-and-forth to each other that we're just going to be where we are ... and enjoy each day before we get ahead of ourselves."