Q&A With Ron Romanick, Part Two

In part two of our two-part interview with Oakland A's Minor League Pitching Coordinator Ron Romanick, we discuss the development of some of the A's young pitching prospects, the progress of Mike Madsen and Dan Meyer, whether or not Dallas Braden has been throwing his screwball, the health of Jared Lansford and more...

For part one of this interview, please click here.

OaklandClubhouse: It seems like Trevor Cahill has had a strong season in the Midwest League at age 19. What have you seen this season?

Ron Romanick: We are trying to develop a high school program. We kept him [in Arizona] in extended for another 25 innings [at the start of the season]. This spring was very cold for everyone in the big leagues on the way down and our Low-A club is in Kane County, which is in Chicago, so they were throwing ice balls out there for the first few months. Him and Henry Rodriguez, who is the 19-year-old Venezuelan also on the Kane County staff, we kept them here in Arizona at the start of the season just to be careful and they both got 25 innings and they progressed and we took a shot [pushing them to a full-season affiliate].

They were still two or three weeks from the start of the Vancouver season, so we thought, let's see what they can do in the Midwest League and they have stayed there ever since. It has been a very positive thing.

With Trevor, he came into spring training with a change-up. He worked on it all winter and he came into camp with a really nice what I'd like to call a back-and-forth game. It has allowed him to pitch effectively at a higher level. And with Henry, Henry just has tremendous stuff. It was just a matter of getting it over the plate and staying consistent. And, with him, the weather was a factor. He comes from Venezuela where they don't see snow and so we wanted to protect him that way.

With Trevor, another big development was that he finally started speaking. [laughs] He is a very quiet guy and mostly I was getting ‘yes' and ‘no' answers from him. I finally started getting some sentences out of him and he has really blossomed. He has done a really nice job. I have seen him pitch now three or four times this season and I am looking forward to seeing him in the Instructional League here. There are a few things that he needs to work on to get to the next level and that is part of the process. He is a very disciplined kid and he picks things up really quickly. All of the really good ones do that. If they believe in something, they can incorporate it right away. He has that quality about him.

OC: Rodriguez has been clocked around 100 MPH with his fastball, right?

RR: He can bring it. He definitely can. It is just a matter of him sometimes going so hard that he can't control it. Last year, it seemed like two or three out of every four starts, he would get going too hard and would just get out of control and he'd start throwing balls. He wouldn't be wild, but he would just miss out of the ‘zone with an overthrow. Now, it appears that it is one out of every five or every six starts where he will over-throw. So his consistency factor has really come around and it has allowed him to pitch there.

And he is developing a good change-up and is coming up with a nice assortment of fastballs – a two-seamer and a four seamer – so he has the weapons that he can get over the plate instead of over-throwing, he can pitch to contact to get back in the count. He has really come a long way and he is a tremendously hard worker himself. He is very disciplined and he takes care of himself. He is a very competitive guy. He wants to be the best. For him to pitch where he wants to pitch, you have to have those characteristics.

OC: Have you seen James Simmons pitch since he arrived in Midland ?

RR: Yeah, I just got back from there. He is pitching up [in a high level] obviously. He was working out of the bullpen and he made a couple of starts. We are working on his off-speed stuff a little bit. He has the makings of a nice change-up and he has tremendous fastball command. We are trying to figure out what kind of a breaking ball he wants to throw. That was the big question when I left Midland. I just filled in as the pitching coach there about two weeks ago. That's what I left him with. I said, ‘you are throwing a breaking ball this way, but there are two or three different ways you can throw a breaking ball, just depends on what you want to have.'

We gave him a couple of spot starts but there is an innings-thing that we are concerned about because he threw a lot of innings in college. He is only going to throw so many innings and then he is going to be done for the year. I'm not sure if he is going to come to the Instructional League or the Fall League. I believe he is going to go to one or the other just to keep working.

He has a nice delivery and he can really spot a fastball. He is a great learner and he has a good body. He has all of the nice tools that a player like that should have. He's pretty good. He's pitching at Double-A, which is a pretty high league, and he handled the mental aspects of that very well. I think the guys in Midland have been very impressed with him. He is a good guy and does and says all of the right things, but it is still his first professional season. It is a big jump for him.

OC: Is there a different program for a pitcher who projects to be a starter such as Simmons or Cahill, as opposed to pitchers who are likely to be late-inning relievers such as Andrew Carignan or Sam Demel?

RR: Yeah, our throwing program allows for that difference in roles. For our daily throwing program, there are a bunch of different routines that they go by. Relievers and starters, they lift a little differently and there is a reliever cycle versus a starter cycle. There is an education process and within that program there are some choices, what works better for each guy. There is some individuality in the program that allows guys to make choices.

They have to find what their niche is within the program. Everything is based on what is healthy for the arm. Again, we ask the medical guys ‘is this harmful or is this good?' They give the pitchers direction and they go with that. Then you write it down and document it and you try to get the pitcher to figure out what works for him.

You prepare routines and it evolves. For me, that is how guys get good. They write down stuff that they do every day, that they made x-amount of throws, and how they felt and they note that this amount of running makes their body and their arm feel good within the context of being a starter or a reliever or whatever. A couple of years of that kind of growth and development, you get a pitcher who is really consistent and who knows how to prepare for every outing. That's what the program allows for.

When guys come over for the first year, I think they are surprised with how structured the program is. We really don't take any days off. Playing professional ball is a daily thing. It's not a two- or three-day a week thing like college where you gear up for a big weekend series and maybe you have one weekday game. Here, you are doing something every day because you might play eight or nine days in a row without an off-day. It's more of a marathon-type thing than it is a sprint. The program is based that way. You try to get a little better every day. Guys realize they don't have to kill themselves every day, but you have to really have a timeline and budget what you do and how your body is responding to it. You'd be surprised what you can do on a nightly basis. That's professional baseball as opposed to amateur level baseball.

OC: Are those back-to-back relief outings the biggest test for relievers in their first year of pro ball?

RR: Actually, college programs, sometimes these guys get crushed. In some college programs, a guy will throw 100 pitches in a start and then have a day-off and come back and pitch out of the bullpen, which is something that we would not do. We would not have our relievers go three days in a row regardless. Maybe on an exception in a higher level. We count the pitches and we count the appearances. If a guy gets up two times in a game, we take that into consideration and if he gets up three times and he doesn't get into a game, we consider that an appearance.

That is my job. When I get up in the morning, I get onto the computer and I have a log of every pitcher and every pitch he threw and we stay within those usage guidelines on numbers of pitches thrown and that could require a certain number of days of rest. When they get to the big leagues, they obviously take that sort of stuff into consideration, as well. And they do throw three days in a row up there, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but there is no reason for us to do that to them down here. Again, there is structure and it is number of days rest based on number of pitches thrown. We kind of structure it based on that, not so much based on innings. I have the master log, so it is my job every day to write all of that stuff down.

OC: And would you be in contact with the pitching coaches at the different levels if someone fell outside of the normal guidelines?

RR: Oh yeah. If a guy goes over pitches, I usually get a call if a guy is like 10 pitches over the pitch count, especially a starter, and they'll tell me what happened and why he went over. I really enjoy the conversations with the instructors. I speak with the managers, too, but mostly I'm talking with the pitching coaches about what a guy is doing, what kind of pitches he was throwing, whether it was an extended inning, how a guy was feeling, because sometimes you want to push a guy because he's got 10 pitches left and he's dialing in, I want him to go back out there to see if he can get deeper into the game especially if he is the best available guy.

Sometimes it is a good thing to push a guy because we just don't want to have guys looking over their shoulders, thinking that they only get x-amount of pitches and they are done because that approach doesn't work either.

OC: Is it pretty satisfying to see Dan Meyer healthy and up in the big leagues after so much time in rehab?

RR: Yeah, I have spent a lot of time with Dan. [laughs] I have rehabbed him a lot. It's one of those things where his dad grabbed me and said ‘you stay on him now.' And I go, ‘well, I get on Dan all of the time because Dan forgets his routine.' Dan agrees with me that when he goes on rehab and I go out on the road, that we'll write things down that work well for him and if I come back in town and he isn't preparing correctly, I get to take his hat off and whack him with it. [laughs] So we have that kind of joking relationship. Everyone needs some structure.

He's very talented. He is a tremendous feel pitcher. He is a lot like Phil Mickelson. I love comparing pitchers to golfers. Phil is a tremendously feel-oriented player and he gets a little out there and he likes to take risks. Dan is kind of like that, where he can throw it over the plate and take that risk. For me, what he needed to do was focus on more quality and how he prepares rather than falling back on his tremendous ability to pitch with feel. Whereas someone like Tiger Woods, he is tremendously focused on precision and he has feel and he uses them accordingly because that is the way that he prepares. I said I'd rather take Tiger Woods' paycheck than [Mickelson's]. Actually, I'd take either one [laughs], but Phil is trying to get where Tiger is at, and it is no surprise that he switched coaches to a guy that prepares that way.

That is a great analogy for me because guys who have tremendous feel for the strike-zone, for me, they rely on that feel too much. You have to get specific. In the big leagues, it is all about where you miss when you don't get the ball where you are trying to throw it. You have to prepare that way. You can't miss to the other side of the plate when you are trying to go away. Guys who pitch in the big leagues, whether they are starters or relievers, they miss in good spots, and if you don't practice with that in mind and pitch that way, you are not going to be a major league pitcher. And that is what I kept telling Dan. I said, ‘you have tremendous feel, but your misses need to be where you are aiming or at least out where you don't get hurt when you miss.' It's not about where you hit, but where you miss. Everything else will follow off of that. He has a lot of swing-and-miss in his game.

I'm excited that he finally got called up to the big leagues and that he is going to get a chance. He is healthy and he is pitching well and the last time I saw him, he was missing better. When that happens, his [pitch] counts go down and his innings go up and all of those good things happen. But he's got to practice that way. Guys have to prepare that way and the ones that do, those are the guys who stay up there and have nice careers.

OC: I had read something similar with Mike Madsen where he was pitching down in the strike-zone this season after missing more up and over the plate last year. Is that something you have seen with Madsen this year, that his misses are better?

RR: For Mike, both me and the other pitch instructors who had him found that what he thought was down was actually mid-thigh. He was in the Cal League [last season] and he gave up more soft hits into the 6-5 hole than anyone in the league. We were trying to get him to be more of a contact pitcher and to use his two-seamer more down in the ‘zone. What he thought visually was down, was really right at the thigh, which is a good hitting pitch, and we were trying to get him to aim below the knee or at the hollow of the knee.

He came back [this spring] with a little bit different grip on his breaking ball and that developed into a really nice breaking ball, a swing-and-miss one, to go with re-adjusting his gun sight. He has good stuff, so we let him throw a two-seamer and a four-seamer. Now his pitches have a little different dimensions and his change-up is improved. Again, his visual of what a good pitch down in the ‘zone was has changed and his addition of a good swing-and-miss breaking ball has meant that his confidence has gone through the roof and he's having a really good season.

OC: Has Dallas Braden been throwing his screwball this season or is that a pitch that the team has restricted?

RR: Well, Curt Young, the big league pitching coach, and myself and pretty much everyone who has seen him really likes his change-up more than his screwball. His change-up is like a screwball anyway. We are just trying to sell to him, ‘just throw that change-up' because it is a lot like [Tom] Glavine's, which has that late fade to it. You don't need to try to turn-over the pitch even further than it is already. Just throw that change-up. It is a lot more consistent [than the screwball] and it already has a lot of swing-and-miss. When it is on, it is just like Tom Glavine's and I'll take Tom Glavine's change-up any day. [laughs] And that is what we are trying to tell him.

He is trying to master two pitches [the change-up and the screwball] and he really has one that could be exceptional. We've kind of told him that he can change the velocity of it a little bit, but he doesn't need to create any more movement with it. It's got about a foot of fade to it, which is very similar to a screwball, so we just want him to throw that and, again, get that consistency factor with the big league hitters because big league hitters let the ball get deeper and they see the ball better. You really have to make your pitches do things later [than you do in the minors] and Braden's change-up is really a thing of beauty when he is throwing it right. And Curt agreed that Braden didn't need to do any more with that change-up than it already does.

OC: What do you see him needing to improve on the next time he gets up to the big leagues?

RR: Again, if you watch where he misses with his pitches – like when he gave up his homeruns the other day – they are pretty good hitting pitches. They are mistakes. He is not a power pitcher, but he has good stuff. At the major leagues, you have to miss better and I think he is learning that. He is getting more comfortable up there with studying the game-plans and if you can process all of that information and miss in better spots, you are going to be more successful.

I think that is the biggest issue [for Braden]. He will be having pretty good success and then he'll miss over the plate and those misses don't get fouled off like they do in the minors. In the majors, those misses go over the fences. They are hard contact pitches and big league hitters don't miss those pitches very often. I think that is what he is finding out. When he is on, he throws gems, but when he misses, he pays for it. I think he is in that educational process. He is a very competitive guy and it wouldn't surprise me if he figures that out. He's always been competitive and he's made the adjustments that he needs to make.

OC: One last very quick question: is Jared Lansford going to get back on the field during the regular season this year or participate in the Instructional League?

RR: I actually just finished watching his side session here. It looks like he is going to make it to the Instructional League. His lat [muscle] situation has kind of resolved itself and he is scheduled to come to the Instructional League. I'm off the road right now, so I am looking forward to spending some time with him to try to get him back where he was last year and it looks like he is on the way again. It looks pretty good right now.

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