Thompson won't take credit for requesting that ‘tight' zone, understand. By the same token…
"You wouldn't want liberal and getting every pitch. But we have to continue to teach them to shove the ball in the strike zone, so I like that."
Something else Thompson likes is how Bulldog pitchers have been performing through the October weeks of fall baseball. Some of the scrimmage scheduling might confuse fans who don't recognize all of the names or for that matter some of the roles filled so far. But there is a plan to it all, Thompson explained following Saturday's scrimmage.
Beginning with, how some moundsmen have handled the tight zone. Or, not. "I think we're getting too many disadvantage counts. Just as you grow from high school even to junior college, to the Southeastern Conference to Major League Baseball, if you're going to climb all those steps the strike zone is going to get smaller and smaller and the game is going to be played lower and lower. And for some of our guys we're still making adjustments to the next level."
The games varied more this weekend, a 13-1 score on Friday and a 5-4 final Saturday, it must keep you flexible on assignments? "Yeah, especially with the starters. You want to hang with the starters a little bit more. I know a starter (Saturday) gave up eight runs, but that's his one time a week. We're going to hang in there and try to make him pitch in three different styles because you only get that once a week to try to get some work done. Plus, you have to be a pretty good pitching staff if you're going to play a three-game series and cover the innings for both teams! So it unveils all your depth, but this is what we're supposed to be doing; taking a look at every pitcher we have and giving every one of those guys an opportunity to show us what they've got."
You have a ‘script' for these games, but you also allow a lot of leeway to adjust during stints? "Yeah. The other thing you're doing is still try to play it like a ball game. Every one of our new guys that has pitched, it is their first time to come out of a bullpen. They've all been a starter where they're from, so there are some things going on behind the scenes that you don't even see in a ball game. The efficiency that you warm up with, you don't get 70 pitches to get loose; now you have to get ready in 10 or 12 pitches, and you're rushed."
"Just that whole process of coming in in the middle of an inning , it's like coming in for the batter but (they) don't come back in for the next inning or two, or you don't even get to pitch that day. Those are all lessons you want to learn in October, you don't want that first time to learn that lesson to be in March."
You've shown some specific matchups, like Saturday when Jacob Lindgren came in to throw to one lefthander and was done? "Before we even started today (I told him) you're going to get the one moment with one important lefthander. Boy, he came in and threw two pitches and got a ground ball right back to him. That was his job, his mission today. And I like how we can set that up before the day ever starts and he can accomplish his mission; not throw too many pitches, he throws twice in a weekend and feels good about himself leaving out of here."
You've been gradual working Ben Bracewell in for some specific times? "Yeah, and he's thrown I think four outings, two each weekend. I like it, he had a good breaking ball today, won his moment. So even when runs are scored…because I'm rooting for our hitters too, we're on the same team!"
"The other thing where ‘iron sharpens iron', Dakota Hudson has his third outing today and I think our hitters are starting to know who he is. Which is going to put more emphasis for him on execution, which is only going to make him better. So these guys kind of know what each other has. Now it comes down to the ‘Mariano Rivera' effect, where you know he's going to throw that cutter, what are you going to do with it? It's all about his execution and things of that nature."
"Dakota has a chance to really get better if he has a couple more outings now because everybody knows who he is, now it is about his execution. And Derrick Armstrong, he started the game off against Dakota where he got a walk, stole second base, eventually stole third and was trying to steal home. Those are the things that are going to make Dakota better because Derrick threw the first punch instead of Dakota throwing the first punch."
What is a general impression of what pitchers have done these first three weekends? "Not even close to where we need to be, to be a top level pitching staff. I don't say that as a negative, I say that as a positive. You've got so many guys that are first-year. Then I don't believe in the ‘Fall American' thing either. So many guys that throw great in the fall and it doesn't translate in the spring."
"So we're in a process trying to get better every day. There are so many things we need to improve on. My job is not to sit here and say hey, we're going to be good again. My job is to say we've got to get better every day to be as competitive as we possibly can be in the spring. We're right in the middle of that. I can't just wake up in February and say let's go play a season, pick up where we left off last year. It doesn't work that way…I wish it would! But we've got to go back and everybody try to get five, ten percent better."
"Ross Mitchell is back throwing, we got Avery Geyer the first outing of his career today. There's so many positives. But I've got to keep tapping them on the shoulder and say ‘hey, Jonathan (Holder) if you're not getting that curveball for a strike it doesn't mean you can just go fastballs and let them take a good rip at it. We've all to get better. Jonathan has to continue to try to get better than he was last year. Jacob is throwing the ball great but he's got to keep finding something every day that makes him a better pitcher. We can't give these days away because we're about to have Thanksgiving, exams, Christmas holidays. So we're trying to capture these five weeks to grow as much as we possibly can. And another phase in January and February leading to the season. So we don't want to give a pitch or a day away this time of year."
Has anything jumped-out at you so far in camp? "We've got to let our defense play. As good as I thought our defense was last year…we've turned 151 double-plays the last two years which probably leads Planet Earth! I want us to trust that defense so much."
We could hear Coach Cohen calling out today ‘pitch to contact' to many guys? "You just get to the point you feel so good about yourself defensively and believe in those guys, that it just seems we give so many pitches away instead of letting our defense works. That seems to be the theme this weekend. If I talk to the pitchers, trust this great defense, we've built it, those guys can make great plays and we need to trust that a little bit more."
You mentioned Ross is throwing. Brandon Woodruff has had two really good pre-game throwing sessions? "Yeah, and I think he's ready. If Dr. Linton will allow it, we're going to call and beg him and hopefully get Brandon into a squad game as soon as maybe next Friday or Saturday. So I'll be excited for that. We've taken our time, Brandon has worked really hard. He's gone step-by-step with what Jason Wire our trainer and Dr. Linton have prescribed. I think he's chomping at the bit to get out there and that's why I feel good about him starting to pitch. Because he wants it."
"And we want our catchers to keep growing. Old Ammo and Slauter did such a great job for us, Thigpen before that who is on our staff now and helping me in the bullpen, my ‘communicator' down there. Those guys just keep growing. We got Gavin Collins back this weekend, how positive is that to see him hit a home run off Dakota? Dakota hadn't given up a run in fall, so dust-off and get back in there and keep competing. And how quiet and good he received and blocked the ball, getting Gavin back is really positive."
About half-way through fall camp do you structure anything differently pitching-wise, start looking for roles, or keep doing what you're doing? "I think that's what Coach Cohen has done a good job of, doing the roles before they're really ‘in' them. So we've been playing guys in different roles. That was a role for Jacob today, That was a different role where Jonathan pitched where he was down for four innings today. Sometimes his challenge is to be mentally tune in all the different roles. We threw Jonathan 50 pitches Thursday to try to stretch him out and get two or three innings like we had to start doing at Texas A&M, which was the turning point in our season last year."
"So I think we're doing the roles great. The problem is with the number of pitchers, you never pitch that many in the season! So I'm trying to get the guys that have a lot of innings since January to get them in games and keep getting them a feel; but we have some young guys that need more innings. That's why you're seeing so many of the freshmen start, is they're the ones getting 66, 70 pitches now. So we'll keep building pitch counts with the starters and keep trying to develop roles. And we actually made the roles up before they settled in, but that's more of a target for January and February when it has to be that specific."