Perhaps no one other than Graham Godfrey himself could have anticipated the kind of season that he put together in 2011. After an up-and-down 2010 campaign that saw Godfrey post a 5.59 ERA with Triple-A Sacramento and finish the year in Double-A, the right-hander, in 2011, went 14-3 with a 2.68 ERA for the River Cats and made his major league debut, posting a 3.96 ERA in 25 big league innings.
There were clues going into the 2011 season that Godfrey was due for a breakout, however. He was only a year removed from a Texas League All-Star season in 2009 and he was coming off of a stellar performance during the Puerto Rican winter league. Godfrey is aiming for similar success in 2012. He enters this spring training with his first opportunity to make the A's rotation out of camp. Godfrey had another strong winter league season and is excited for the upcoming challenge.
We spoke with Godfrey this week about his breakthrough season, the mechanical changes he made before the 2011 campaign, his thoughts on the A's off-season moves and more…
OaklandClubhouse: You spent some time pitching in the Dominican this winter. You pitched in Puerto Rico last year, right?
Graham Godfrey: Yeah, last year was Puerto Rico. I played the entire winter season and then this last winter I was in the Dominican playing for Escogido and I only played there for a month. [ed. note: in four starts with the Leones, Godfrey had a 3.31 ERA and a 12:5 K:BB ratio in 16.1 innings pitched.]
OC: How do the two leagues compare to each other?
GG: First of all, both leagues are a great experience. I encourage anybody to go that route if given the opportunity. There are differences between the leagues. Pitching in the Dominican, you are just pitching in front of so many fans and the pressure is on right from inning one. In Puerto Rico, it's more Americanized. Starters, they kind of let you go for as long as you can. In the Dominican, the turnover rate is so high, but it is an exciting atmosphere. I really enjoyed both leagues.
OC: You made a big leap forward in terms of your performance with Sacramento in 2011 as opposed to your first year there in 2010. Do you think that your time in Puerto Rico last winter helped you find that success? Were there adjustments that you made in winter ball that you carried over into the regular season?
GG: Yeah, Puerto Rico was a major factor in what I was able to accomplish this past season. One of the reasons I went to Puerto Rico was to work on a higher arm angle. My 2010 season, a lot of people get down on it. It was my first full season in Triple-A and there were growing pains that go along with that. But there were also some mechanical issues that I had and luckily I was able to work with Scott Emerson [2010 Midland pitching coach and 2011 Sacramento pitching coach] at the end of that season in Double-A and I was able to take some of those things that we worked on and really worked on them in Puerto Rico.
All of a sudden the numbers started showing up better and I started having a little bit more success and my confidence started to build up. I knew I was ready to do something special. It definitely helped me.
OC: At the start of last season, you actually began the year with Midland and made one start with them [on Opening Day] before a rotation spot opened up in Sacramento. Was it frustrating to have to go back to Double-A after spending so much time in Triple-A the year before?
GG: It wasn't an easy pill to swallow but that was the second year where, at the end of spring training, they said ‘you are going to have to go back to the Texas League.' In my opinion, I felt I had proven myself, but there are a lot of factors that go along with that decision. The first time they said it, I think I really got down and mentally it shook me a little bit, but that helped me prepare for when they did it the second time. I knew going into it that that was probably going to be an option and the one thing I kept telling myself was, ‘don't worry where you are at. Whether it is in Double-A or Triple-A, work as hard as you can and just stay positive.' And things tend to work out that way.
OC: Your situation going into spring training this year is obviously very different than it was last year, having now pitched in the big leagues and being on the 40-man roster. How is being part of big league camp and your experiences last season changed the way that you prepare for the season?
GG: It hasn't really changed how I prepare. Last season, I really found myself as far as training goes and how to prepare. There are a couple of things that I have changed, but I think I have changed them for the better. As far as my throwing program, I have been with this trainer here in Birmingham for the past three years and he has helped me out tremendously. He is doing some really special things. I guess I have a certain expectation for myself. As long as I feel that I am prepared, then I think everything will work out.
OC: There have obviously been a lot of changes to the A's pitching staff this off-season. Are those moves ones that you pay attention to or do you have to ignore them in getting ready for the season?
GG: Well, I don't think it is really possible to overlook any of the transactions being in the position that I am. I always have people coming up to me and asking me about it. I know that nothing is guaranteed. I have experienced that the last two seasons. I'm taking note of those experiences and am willing to do pretty much whatever it takes to make sure that I am in the best shape possible and that I am ready from day one to perform and to compete.
OC: It's kind of funny that you were part of the wave of prospects that the A's brought in before the 2008 season the last time they went through a major rebuild and now you are part of the organization as a wave of new players arrive [ed note: Godfrey was acquired from the Blue Jays organization before the 2008 season along with Kristian Bell for Marco Scutaro]. Is it funny to be part of both sides of that sort of movement?
GG: I just look at it as just the natural cycle of things. Every year it seems like I've been on a different team with a bunch of different guys. For me, I just focus on myself and don't really worry about guys coming in.
OC: In terms of looking back to last season, how gratifying was it to finally reach the big leagues and get your first major league win after moving up pretty much every level of the minor leagues?
GG: It was definitely a special season. I think it was a culmination of a lot of different factors. I'm extremely proud of what I was able to accomplish and I have reflected on that. I am really looking forward to this next season. Last year going into it, the first game of the season I was starting in Double-A and my last outing was in September against the Rangers. You just never know what can happen. The one thing that I really stress is to be prepared. As long as you are prepared for that moment, you'll be alright.
OC: That last outing versus the Rangers, you came in out of the bullpen for five innings or so [ed. note: actually four innings pitched – zero runs allowed on five hits and one walk with three strike-outs]. Do you feel like having a performance like that against a team like the Rangers that obviously went deep into the post-season was a big confidence-booster for you going into this year?
GG: Yeah, I think it was a good note to end on. That's one of the best baseball teams around. They went to the World Series. I think what I was able to show everybody is that I belong there and that I can be successful. It was a great opportunity. It also helped, like you said, going into the off-season, it was just a little bit of a taste. It instills that drive and that motivation to do the extra reps when I am in the weightroom and just work a little bit harder to get a little bit closer.
OC: Have they adjusted your training program and all of the other starters' training programs at all with the modified spring schedule due to the Japan trip?
GG: Right now, I haven't really heard anything about that. The way I train is a little bit different than how most guys do it. I think it's actually one of the reasons why I am at where I am at. As far as that, I am going to continue to train this certain way and whatever happens we'll have to deal with it.
OC: When do you arrive in Phoenix?
GG: I arrive on February 18.
OC: I know it must be a little weird to be going to your first big league camp after having pitched for the big league team during the regular season, but is it exciting nonetheless to be going to your first big league camp?
GG: Absolutely. The last couple of years I have had the opportunity to ‘go across the street' [from the A's minor league complex at Papago to the big league complex at Phoenix Muni] and just be available if they needed me. I was never able to get into the game. I warmed up once. But it was a great experience anyway.
I think last year if I had been a part of [big league camp] that would have made the transition a little bit easier, but it is something that I am very excited about. It's definitely a fun time. I'm looking forward to seeing everybody and getting this season started.