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MacArthur: With health in check, Jeffress looking to impress

Scott MacArthur
9/5/2013 10:29:31 AM
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PHOENIX - Jeremy Jeffress faced two batters in the 10th inning of Wednesday's 4-3 Blue Jays' loss to the Diamondbacks.

Both hitters singled. The second hit, off the bat of pesky shortstop Willie Bloomquist, scored Adam Eaton and gave Arizona the series sweep-avoiding win in walk-off fashion.

Not a pleasant return to the majors for Jeffress in his first appearance in almost five months, but occasionally in defeat, there is victory.

Jeffress' story, this 2013 season, is one of overcoming.

First, a little background.

There have been problems since his draft year of 2006 when he went 16th overall to the Milwaukee Brewers.

There was the positive test for a "drug of abuse", marijuana. He got a warning. In 2007, he tested positive again and sat for 50 games. Two years later, he tested positive again and sat for 100 games.

If there's a next time, a fourth time, Jeffress will be banned from baseball for life.

"Stoner," they yell. "Addict," they scream. You name the catcall, he's heard it. Jeffress ignores them, which has become easier to do because now he understands why he would get high.

The marijuana helped him to cope with juvenile epilepsy, a condition that's affected him for years but was only recently diagnosed by doctors at the Women and Children's Hospital in Buffalo.

"To get that taken care of, I know baseball is my life, but being healthy and being away from my family for this long, that was just the biggest key," Jeffress told TSN.ca. "At first, when I got into the hospital, it messed with me a little bit. It's like, I just want to be on the field. Whenever I'm on the field, I don't think about the seizure stuff but now that I understand, that was a big key to my life."

The "seizure stuff" Jeffress is referring to is only one of the symptoms of juvenile epilepsy. There's also twitching, especially prevalent at the start and the end of the day. There's anxiety. It's a cruel mixture, especially when it persists for years without proper diagnosis.

Jeffress spent about five weeks on the disabled list. He was prescribed medication, which he now swears by, that has alleviated the twitching and calmed him down. He hasn't had a seizure in more than two months.

Now, Jeffress just wants to focus on mastering his craft. He's coming along in that regard. Like Neil Wagner, Jeffress is a flame-thrower. Every now and then, the radar gun hits triple digits when he's on the mound. He saved some games for the Bisons when Wagner was called up. However, also like Wagner, Jeffress struggled for years to command his lively fastball.

He's made an adjustment, under the tutelage of Bisons' pitching coach Bob Stanley, dropping his arm slot. Despite averaging 4.3 walks per nine innings in 25 appearances for Buffalo, Jeffress believes he's on the right track.

"Everybody's always told me I don't have to over-amplify and overdo myself just to get the ball past people," said Jeffress, who turns 26 on September 21. "Putting it in certain spots and working down in the zone, that's tough to hit already. Me thinking, before, that I had to blow it by everybody with 98 to 99 and just try to do it that way, it won't work. You have to be not too fine but just in the zone more consistently."

It's hard to say what opportunities will arise over the final three and a half weeks. Jeffress will be called upon in certain high-leverage situations, like he was on Wednesday, and he'll have the chance to show what he can do.

In his third organization, there was a stop in Kansas City after Milwaukee, Jeffress knows a strong showing will plant a seed with general manager Alex Anthopoulos.

The organization loves his arm.

"I really just want to show them that I'm very capable for them to trust in me," said Jeffress. "That's what I want them to do is basically trust me. If we're in a close game or whatever and we need a couple of outs, I want them to have my name in their heads, for sure. Just get them to see that I can do the job."

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