Jesen Therrien had finished his second professional season when he received a call from Eric Gagne, a fellow Montreal native whom Therrien grew up idolizing.
"He said 'Hey, you want to work out with me in the off-season?' '' Therrien said. "I was like, 'Hell, yeah.' "
Therrien, who joined the Phillies in July and is beginning to show promise in the bullpen, has flown to Arizona to spend parts of the last four off-seasons at the home of Gagne, the former Cy Young closer with the Dodgers. They work out, throw bullpen sessions, and even attend yoga classes. But Gagne's most important lesson, Therrien said, is about baseball's mental side.
"The thing he said is that it's not talent. Talent is not going to make you have a long career. The mental game is the strongest thing you can have," Therrien said. "Everyone used to call him 'Game Over' when he came into close games because he was a gamer. That's the same mentality I want to have right now when I'm pitching."
Therrien, 24, retired all six batters he faced Tuesday night, and he has retired 12 straight over four innings in his last three outings. The righthander is beginning to match his 94-mph fastball with a devastating slider that helped him have such a dominant season at double A and triple A before being promoted. He looks to have a chance to stick as a bullpen piece.
"We're using him a little bit more now as of late," manager Pete Mackanin said. "I finally saw that slider we saw in the spring. He's been pitching well his last three or four outings. That's very encouraging."
Therrien went to Olympic Stadium as a kid to watch Gagne close a game against the Expos. And there he was this off-season at his idol's home training to play for the same team. Gagne and Therrien played together in March for Team Canada in the World Baseball Classic. It was a thrill, Therrien said, to watch Gagne pitch and carry out the lessons Gagne had been teaching him.
He texted Gagne last month when the Phillies called him to the big leagues. Gagne told Therrien to keep it simple and be the same pitcher he was in the minor leagues. The pupil seems to be following that advice.