MOOSIC — If there’s one fault in Luis Cessa’s game, it’s that he thinks too much.
He’s found success each of the past three seasons with the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders, sporting a 3.15 ERA in 34 games and 32 starts. Even in his time with the New York Yankees he’s had periods of success — accumulating a 4.49 ERA in 35 career big-league games.
Just look at his spot start on July 9 against Baltimore, when he pitched six scoreless innings and only gave up three hits. But then fast forward to Aug. 2 in a relief appearance in Boston when the Yankees were already trailing the Red Sox 10-4 when Cessa replaced Chad Green with two outs in the bottom of the fourth inning.
The 26-year-old right-hander got inside his own head in the middle of an intense atmosphere in Fenway Park and went on to serve up five runs spread over 3.2 innings.
“Actually, I’ve been in trouble the last couple years of my career when I start thinking too much,” Cessa said. “You start thinking too much, you put too much pressure on yourself so you don’t execute your pitches. You start hanging your breaking ball. You’re hanging whatever pitch you throw. Just try to stay a little relaxed. Enjoy the game.
“Working hard in the weight room, my bullpen session, my throwing program and just prepare in my mind. I’ll be ready for pitching here or pitching there, but enjoy the game. Don’t think too much about what happens. Just try to execute the pitches and enjoy the game.”
Pitching efficiently in the majors isn’t easy. Especially if you’re pitching for the Yankees.
Just ask Cessa. He’s 3-0 with a 2.55 ERA in five starts with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
Cessa’s been impressive in his time in the bigs this season, too. But despite his 1-2 record and 3.75 ERA after three starts, including a pair of impressive July appearances, he still sits in the RailRiders rotation with less than a month left in the season.
“I prepare to be ready to pitch here or maybe they give me the opportunity to pitch up there,” Cessa said. “I feel great. It’s just, maybe I made a mistake and sometimes you pay the price, but I feel great. I only can just prepare and be ready for the next time — enjoy. It’s a game. I try to work hard and enjoy the game. That’s it.”
When Cessa was called up on Aug. 2, once J.A. Happ landed on the 10-day disabled list with hand, foot and mouth disease, the pitcher was excited for his next opportunity.
He didn’t know if he was going up as a starting pitcher, to make a spot start for Happ a couple days later, or be used as a reliever with the Yankees bullpen taxed. Either way, Cessa was ready to go back up and help New York in any way he could.
Even though Cessa’s outing didn’t go as planned and he was demoted a day later to clear room for Chance Adams, his positivity hasn’t wavered. But while his positivity hasn’t wavered, it’s evidence that he still needs to sharpen his mental toughness the next time he’s called up.
Not every start is going to be against the Baltimore Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays.
If Cessa’s going to help out the Yankees in September and October, he’s going to have to be ready to face and overcome teams like the Red Sox.
“It’s tough. It’s really tough and hard,” Cessa said. “I try not (to overthink) because, for sure, I’m thinking before the game or thinking after the game, but when you stay in the same mindset, like all the time, when you pitch here, you pitch there, pitch good, pitch bad, you need to. I’ve been successful the last couple years here. I’ve had a couple outings really good in the big leagues. I’m staying in the same mindset. I don’t try to think too much, but, you know, it’s tough sometimes. A couple days you stay down a little, but you need to stay in the same mindset and continue working hard.”
Cessa has relied on his pitching coaches over the last few seasons — Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild and RailRiders pitching coach Tommy Phelps — to help combat the mind games he faces while on the mound.
But the key piece of advice he has received actually might have come from someone who’s now a rival: Cleveland Indians reliever Andrew Miller.
When Cessa came up for the first time in 2016, a good chunk of his time was spent in the bullpen. Out of his 17 appearances, nine were starts. Even though Cessa thought of himself as a starter pitching out of the bullpen, Miller told Cessa to stop thinking about throwing strikes and to just pitch.
It’s that simple.
“I’m not trying to think too much, I’m just trying to execute the pitches,” Cessa said. “Talking with Tommy and Larry all the time, ‘Stop thinking too much. Just try to execute. You have really good stuff. Sometimes you start thinking, you try to do too much and put in extra effort when throwing. In your bullpen sessions you throw really good pitches because you’re relaxed and you enjoy it.’
“You know, it’s hard. It’s really hard pitching in the big leagues. You have pressure. You have the fans. You have everything. All feels you’re feeling there. You just stay a little relaxed, calm your mind and just try to execute your pitches.”
When Cessa takes the mound next, Monday night against the Indianapolis Indians, he’ll have another chance to sharpen that mental toughness.
While pitching at PNC Field in front of roughly 7,000 fans against the Indians is a lot different than pitching in a packed Fenway Park, it’s an opportunity that Cessa welcomes. Wherever he’s pitching, whether it’s with the RailRiders or up in the bigs with the Yankees, Cessa’s just glad to be out on the mound.
“For me, I learned the last couple of years to enjoy the game,” Cessa said. “When you enjoy the game, really good things happen. Just try to enjoy, stay down. It’s really hard. I swear to God, it’s really hard because the pressure is unbelievable. Just try to stay down and just enjoy the game.”
Reach DJ Eberle at 570-991-6398 or on Twitter @ByDJEberle