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March 02, 2016

Underdog Buchanan training himself mentally for spot on Phils roster

DUNEDIN, Fla. – A bearded Harrison Ford played across the clubhouse from the pitcher on a small TV screen. His wife had just been murdered in the opening minutes of “The Fugitive.”

“She gone,” David Buchanan said.

The 26-year-old Phillies pitcher, a self-proclaimed movie guy, said he had never seen the classic 90s thriller. Sure, Buchanan was only a 4-year-old when “The Fugitive” was released in theaters, but it’s been a popular staple on cable channels, particularly this winter, for whatever reason.

Buchanan wasn’t tuned into TNT this offseason. Instead he had his nose buried in a book.

He grabbed the tattered copy of Charles Duhigg’s “The Power of Habit” – with a blue pen jammed inside, likely as both a highlighter and bookmark – and placed it back into his locker stall at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium on Wednesday afternoon.

“I just finished it,” said Buchanan, who threw two scoreless innings against the Toronto Blue Jays in a 4-4 tie. “I really enjoyed that book as far as teaching me how to take a different outlook on things and how the mind works.”

Buchanan is no longer the kid pitcher who looked beaten down by life after an 8.76 ERA sent him to the minor leagues after the first month of the season last year. He looks and carries himself with confidence.

It’s the mind frame he’s going to need – along with results, obviously – in order to jump into the fifth starter competition this spring.

“I feel great. I’m very positive right now,” Buchanan said. “That’s what I did a lot of in the offseason, getting that mentality right, different from where I was last year. Right now I’m mentally solid. I feel very positive. … I’m very confident in what I have to bring to the table. I’m excited for the competition and it makes it fun.”

The 2015 season was anything but pleasant for Buchanan.

He came to camp a year ago as a lock for a rotation spot following a rookie season that saw him sport a 3.75 ERA in 20 starts. But then, the disastrous first month, capped by a seven-run bludgeoning in a matinee in St. Louis. And then a demotion. And then back-to-back big league games in August when he allowed a total of 18 runs on 21 hits in 5 2/3 innings, capped by perhaps the worst game of the 2015 season for the Phillies in Arizona, when Maikel Franco broke his left hand, too.

The only thing that made the 2015 season salvageable for Buchanan were the final four starts, when he allowed a total of five runs. Still, it wasn’t something that was going to put him back into firm position on the Phillies roster.

The new-look front office made adding pitching depth a priority this winter. Two of the pitchers the team added – right-hander Vincent Velasquez and left-hander Brett Oberholtzer – followed Buchanan out of the bullpen on Wednesday in Dunedin and both are considered favorites for the vacant fifth starter job.

Velasquez hit 96-MPH on the radar gun and Oberholtzer, who has a 3.84 ERA in 42 big league starts, also threw two scoreless innings on Wednesday.

“It’s good to see,” manager Pete Mackanin said of the pitchers hoping to fill out the final spot in the rotation behind Jeremy Hellickson, Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff and Charlie Morton. “And those guys know, they see it all. Hopefully it makes them pitch as well as they can.”

Buchanan is undoubtedly on the outside looking in, behind Velasquez, Oberholtzer, and Adam Morgan. But that doesn’t mean he’s looking for a condo to rent in Allentown just yet, either.

A favorite or near-lock a year ago, Buchanan is enjoying the underdog role this spring.

“Instead of coming in here and knowing that your spot is (already there), it’s nice to come in here and have something to work for, something to compete for,” he said. “It makes the game more fun.”

Buchanan began attacking the mental game with more fervor after hanging out with a former teammate two months ago.

He attended one of Cole Hamels’ pitching clinics at Maplezone Sports Institute in Garnet Valley. It was there that he connected with Jim Brogan, a San Diego-based mental skills coach whom Hamels talks with routinely before games.

“After hearing him speak for five minutes, I said I have to meet this guy,” Buchanan said. “I try to talk to him about 2-3 times a week.”

Perhaps the power of positive thinking, and focusing on the smaller tasks and not getting buried by the big picture, will help Buchanan bounce back and find a permanent spot on a major league roster again.

“I don’t know what’s in his mind,” Mackanin said when asked if Buchanan was in a better mental place this spring. “I don’t know. All I care about is if he commands the ball. Whether he’s got his mental coach or not, I don’t care.

“We just have – this is the last stop. You’re got to do it or you're not going to be here. So whatever it takes to stay here is all I care about.”

It’s all Buchanan probably cares about, too. And just like Roy Halladay once picked up “The Mental ABC’s of Pitching” when his own career came to a crossroads a decade and a half ago, Buchanan is keeping that copy of “The Power of Habit” with him and betting it, and the regular counsel of his new mental coach, can give him the edge he needs to compete with the rest of the talented arms in camp.

“(Last year) it was more beating myself up and concerning myself with energy, with the wrong things, being focused on the wrong things,” Buchanan said. “I did a lot this offseason because I refuse to let that happen again.”

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @ryanlawrence21