It wasn't impulse or a drunken haze or even peer pressure that drove GreenJackets pitcher Mike Mowel to the tattoo parlor a few weeks ago.
The 19-year-old right-hander believed the experience would somehow help him become a better pitcher.
In his first 13 starts, the Hartford, Conn., native was 3-9 with a 5.17 ERA. But in his last two outings since having his right bicep tatooed, Mowel is 1-0 with a 2.61 ERA, eight strikeouts and one walk in 10 1/3 innings. His victory in Game 2 of Friday's doubleheader was his first win in a month.
Mowel says it's no coincidence that the on-the-mound tatooings have ceased since taking his maiden voyage into the world of body art.
"What made me get it is what I thought it symbolizes," said Mowel, who picked a traditional tribal design. "I've seen everyone else get them and describe how hard it was and how much it hurt. To me, it symbolized how I wanted to experience that pain and how I can relate that to pitching.
"It took a lot of confidence for me to go in there and get a tattoo and I need to have the same confidence as a pitcher to be successful."
Signed out of high school as an undrafted free agent and considered a long-term project by the Red Sox, Mowel has shown signs of promise.
In a no-decision at Hagerstown on April 29, Mowel tossed seven shutout innings and allowed just four hits with six strikeouts and no walks.
In his first start with the tattoo on June 26, he had what he considered the best stuff he's had all year, but took a tough-luck at home vs. Columbus -- allowing two earned runs on six hits with seven strikeouts in 5 1/3 innings.
With Friday's win, Mowel improved to 4-9 and lowered his ERA from 5.04 to 4.82. Last season, in 15 appearances at short-season Lowell, he was 2-6 with a 4.46 ERA.
"Mike's struggled at times and you expect that from most young pitchers at this level," Jackets manager Billy Gardner said. "But he's had a lot of good outings too where he's gotten some bad breaks. He hasn't struggled as much as his numbers indicate."
After back-to-back quality starts, Mowel says another trip to the tattoo parlor is not out of the question.
"Maybe it's a good-luck charm," he said. "I might have to get another one."
More than two weeks after the fact, teammates say Mark Cisar's two blown saves in four nights likely was the result of the passing of all-star closer's grandmother.
It wasn't until after Friday night's game that Cisar, who is tied for second in the South Atlantic League with 17 saves, openly admitted the loss of his grandmother may have affected his performance just before the all-star break. Even so, he refuses to use it as an excuse.
"I definitely was not in the right frame of mind, but that's not the reason I blew two saves" said the 24-year-old, who is 1-3 with a 2.77 ERA and has converted 17 of 20 save opportunities. "Sure, it was difficult. We were very close, and I know it was on the back of my mind."
Gardner says Cisar was not nearly as intense as usual the week of his grandmother's death.
"Mark is a great competitor and you could tell he wasn't himself," Gardner said. "I have a lot of respect for the way he handled himself, though. He's a gamer -- he did the best he could under very tough circumstances."
GOMER'S HIDDEN TALENT:
When the time comes for Jackets hitting coach Gomer Hodge to retire, at least he knows he has something to fall back on.
The 55-year-old Hodge may be the best birdhouse builder in baseball.
"It started as a hobby I started doing last winter, and it just gives me something to do," the Rutherfordton, N.C., native said. "Turns out I've sold a bunch of them and make a little extra money on the side."
The birdhouses are rustic with a distinct baseball flair. Hodge currently has several on sale in the Jackets' gift shop at Lake Olmstead Stadium. He sold around eight last winter with pricetags ranging from $75 to $400.
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