Oakland A's Spring Training Q&A: Brad Ziegler

Since signing with the Oakland A's out of the Independent Leagues in 2004, Brad Ziegler has been one of the A's most successful minor league pitchers. A starter his first three seasons, Ziegler won at least nine games all three years. In 2007, Ziegler converted from a starter to a submarine reliever and won 12 games with a 2.41 ERA. We spoke with Ziegler from his first major league camp.

Going into the 2007 season, Brad Ziegler was somewhat of an unknown commodity. The right-hander had been a consistently solid starting pitcher in the A's chain since 2004. However, during the off-season before the 2007 campaign, the A's approached Ziegler about converting from an overhand throwing motion and a starting role to a submarine throwing motion and a relief role.

Brad Ziegler is in his first major league camp.
Ziegler took on the challenge and made a seamless transition to his new motion and his new role. He began the year in Double-A Midland, where he was 4-0 with a 1.14 ERA in 23.2 innings. Ziegler was then promoted to Triple-A, where he spent the rest of the season. He had an 8-3 record and a 2.96 ERA in 54.2 innings for Sacramento, and a 12-3 record with a 2.41 ERA overall. The strong season earned Ziegler, who was a free agent, another contract with the A's and his first invitation to major league camp.

Ziegler entered camp after an eventful off-season. He and his wife had their first child, a baby girl. Then, about five weeks ago, Ziegler had a scary experience. He was struck in the forehead with a ball that was accidentally deflected when he was playing long toss. The blow caused a skull facture, Ziegler's second of his career. He had a serious skull fracture in 2004 when he was struck in the head with a line-drive while he was pitching in a California League playoff game. Ziegler has recovered from the latest injury and is ready to challenge for a spot in the A's bullpen this spring. We spoke to Ziegler from camp.

OaklandClubhouse: How is your first major league Spring Training going? Is it much different than your previous Spring Training camps with the A's?

Brad Ziegler: I feel like it is going really well so far. In all of my throwing sessions, I have consistently gotten better and I feel like I am getting closer to the mid-season form that is obviously the goal. I don't feel like camp is all that different. The A's – from top to bottom in the system – are a very laid-back organization. Obviously, it is intense when you are out there on the field, but the workouts are designed for you to get better. There is not a lot of pressure put on you. They just want you to be relaxed and to be yourself out on the field and not try to be somebody you are not just to impress. Consequently, it is a really laid-back, fun atmosphere.

Ziegler took well to his new throwing motion.
OC: How much more comfortable are you coming into camp this year than you were last year in the second season with your new throwing motion?

BZ: So much more. Last year, you know, I learned the motion in Instructs and then I went home and I was trying to remember what I learned over those 30 days on my own without really calling a lot of people and asking them ‘this isn't quite right, what do I need to do?' After doing it for a whole season, and I made some extra adjustments during the year, I felt like at the end of last year, that was where I needed to be. I felt really comfortable and I was having some success doing it. So that was what I really wanted to maintain, and I was able to really do that this off-season in my throwing programs and stuff. So I feel 100 percent more confident than I did last year. Last year, I was really trying to feel through what my niche was going to be as a submariner.

OC: How different is the preparation for you as reliever than it was as a starter?

BZ: It's different for a couple of reasons. For one, your conditioning is a lot different. As a starter, you have to have a lot of stamina to go deep into every game. As a reliever, you have to be able to go out there and it's like a sprint. You have to go out there and give it your all for an inning or two and then you've got to be able to come back the next night and do the same thing again. And you never know when you are going to throw. You always have to be mentally ready to go in the game. You never know when the manager is going to call down and ask you to get up, and you never know what is going to happen in a game that is going to cause them to get a pitcher up. A pitcher could throw one pitch and get hurt and be forced to leave the game. If it is the second inning and you weren't planning on throwing until the sixth, it's hard to flip your switch mentally. So you've got to be focused from the beginning because you never know what is going to happen. You could be asked to go in there at any time.

OC: You've pitched in middle relief and in the later innings or extra-innings when the game ‘is on the line.' Is there a difference in pitching in those two situations?

BZ: I don't think the mental focus would change a whole lot. There is a difference in the way you go about it. The earlier you are brought into a game, the longer the team is hoping that you will go. If you were forced to come in early in the game, they may need three or four innings out of you. Whereas if you come into the game in the seventh or eighth, the team might only need you for a batter or two. Obviously, your mental focus is on trying to retire each batter as quickly and as efficiently as you can, but if you come in earlier, you may want to try to pace yourself a little bit to be able to last longer in the game and save your pitching staff.

OC: This past off-season, you were a free agent like you have been the last few seasons. Having had success at Triple-A, you were probably a more high-profile free agent this time around. What made you decide to return to the A's?

BZ: Up until last year, I enjoyed it with Oakland and I was just kind of trying to feel my way around the system to see if there was an opportunity there. Last year, the submarine motion is something that the A's brought to me, and that let me know that they really wanted to pursue this because if it works, there is a chance that I might be able to help the big league team out. Because of that and because last year went so well, I felt like if I had the opportunity, I really wanted to come back to Oakland and try to progress even more. I wanted to work with the coaches who had gotten me to that point last year and maybe they could help put me over the top this year.

Ziegler used an overhand throwing motion when with Midland in 2005 and 2006.
OC: Do you see an opportunity to make the big league club out of camp this year, or are you more looking to make an impression on the coaching staff in hopes of being called up to the big leagues during the year?

BZ: A little bit of both. I don't think there is anyone here who doesn't have the goal of making the big league team. Obviously, you want to get there as soon as possible. I feel like this year, there are a few question-marks as to who will fill the last few spots in the bullpen. There are a few guys obviously – like Huston [Street], Alan [Embree], [Keith] Foulke and [Kiko] Calero – who pretty much have their spots locked up barring an injury or a set-back of some sort, which you never wish on anybody. And there are guys with experience. There is Andrew Brown, and, if he arrives in camp, Santiago Casilla, guys who had the experience last year that the major league coaches know already and probably are the front-runners for those jobs. At the same time, they keep preaching to us that they are going to take the 25 best guys at the end of camp.

So if there is a way to maybe work my way into that spot, that would be great. Last year, there were obviously a lot of opportunities for guys to move up and get their shot. I don't think that the injuries are going to come like they did last year. If they did, that would just be a disaster because it was so hard on the front office, I'm sure. At the same time, there will be opportunities at some point, and I've just got to go out there every day and control the things that I can control and really focus on what I am doing. I want to be in a position that if an opportunity come up, I would be considered because I am pitching well at that time.

OC: Is there anything that you came into camp wanting to show that you had improved on over how you were throwing last season?

BZ: Definitely. The biggest thing is that I had a lot of success against righties last year, but lefties hit me pretty good. Most of it was due to games that occurred right after I got to Triple-A. We faced Tucson a couple of times, and I just got hammered by lefties. They had eight lefties in their lineup almost every night that series and I was just not having any success against lefties at all. I spent the whole rest of the year working to get my average against lefties down, even to respectable levels, let alone decent.

Obviously, it didn't work out as I wanted, but they came to me with a stat last year that counting the playoffs, the last 17 lefties I faced were 0-for-16 with a walk. So I was doing a better job towards the end of the year last year at getting lefties out. The playoff numbers are obviously not going to help my overall season stats against lefties, but I knew in my head that I was doing a better job against lefties.

Ziegler's motion is similar to that of former A's reliever Chad Bradford.
I went home this off-season and watched a little more Chad Bradford tape to see what he was doing against lefties that maybe I wasn't doing that might be a good idea to try. I feel like if I just refine the pitches that I had against lefties and I just had a little better plan of attack against them than I did at the beginning of the season, I'd have more success because I was having success at the end of last season. Hopefully, I'll just enhance what I was doing that was successful.

OC: Are you throwing basically the same pitches that you were throwing as a starter with just a different throwing motion or do you have a different set of pitches?

BZ: I throw a fastball, slider and change-up. Overhand, I threw a fastball, curveball, slider and a change-up. As a submariner, it is hard to throw two breaking balls. I don't know if it is even possible to do that. I'm not sure if anyone has ever done it. It's hard because as a submariner, you are actually trying to get the ball to break up. You are fighting gravity the whole way to the plate. It's actually a very difficult pitch to throw. Obviously, there are times when I throw it great, and other times when it is just terrible. Hopefully with the terrible ones, they are so far out of the strike zone that the hitters don't even swing at it so I don't get hurt on it. Then I can come back with a better one and hopefully get the guy out.

The idea, though, is just to get groundballs. I am going to do that most of the time with my fastball. That is going to be my pitch that comes in the hardest and has the most movement on it. That's my pitch that is going to be my bread-and-butter. Any submariner is going to be the same way. They are going to live off of their fastball, their sinker, and use the other pitches just to keep the hitters honest more than anything.

It is kind of the same repertoire as a submariner, but my style of pitching is very different. I always had to be very much a control pitcher working on the corners when throwing overhand because I didn't throw overly hard and didn't have a whole lot of movement. Now there is more movement and the release is a little more deceptive to hitters, so I don't have to be quite as fine, working on the black of the plate. I can work a little more towards the middle of the plate and still get the results I am looking for.

OC: When you were preparing for last season or during the season itself, did you talk to any submariners, or did you prepare mostly by watching tape?

BZ: I didn't really during the season. I did talk to Chad Bradford back when he was with us [in 2005], and he rehabbed with us in Stockton right before he got traded to the Red Sox. At that time, I was a three-quarters guy, but I would drop down sidearm or lower even, sometimes, to get a right-hander out. I might throw a breaking ball from down there or something like that. Because I did that occasionally, I wanted to pick his brain a little bit to see if he could tell me anything on how I could make those pitches better.

I did talk to him a little bit over those couple of days that he was with us, but other than that, everything I did, most of the time, it was Ron Romanick [former A's Minor League Pitching Coordinator and current A's bullpen coach] working with me. He was trying to fill in the pitching coaches for the teams that I was with in terms of what I needed to do. He taught me the delivery and he had the drills and everything all planned out for when I got to Instructs in '06. I sat down and watched film with him and he gave me copies of the film.

When a guy does come on in a game that is submariner, I am obviously going to pay attention to it. While we are definitely never going to be the exact same style of pitcher, they might have something that I might not have thought of that I might be able to try. I am kind of limited on what I can do as a submariner, but if there is something that I can do that I can learn from someone else, I might as well give it a shot in addition to what I already do and see if it makes a difference.

OC: Have you been working with Ron pretty extensively in camp now that he is the big league bullpen coach?

BZ: Not really extensively, but almost every time I have thrown, he has been there watching. He'll stand in as a hitter sometimes when I am throwing my bullpens just to give me a look of what it is like with a hitter in there to give me a little bit better practice focus. If he sees something, he'll definitely tell me. He has never been hesitant to let me know what is working and what is not. That really helps because the more that he says stuff, the more it gets ingrained in my memory. Then hopefully the times when I am out there pitching and he is not there, I can figure out what I need to do on my own and not have to have him out there, telling me what I need to do on every pitch.

Craig Italiano is coming back from a similar head injury to the one that Ziegler suffered in 2004.
OC: In camp, do you know when you are going to be pitching in a game, or do they try to create situations where you might come in at any time, much like the regular season?

BZ: In camp, a lot of times they try to plan it. I was actually scheduled to pitch today [Thursday]. There were a lot of guys scheduled to throw today. They told me when I threw in the scrimmage on Tuesday to be ready for the game on Thursday. That was really all that I had heard and obviously I didn't get to throw today. So I'm not sure exactly what will happen next. I could go in if a pitcher runs out of pitches in an inning or maybe it works out that I get to start an inning here in the next day or two. In that respect, it is kind of like the regular season. The starting pitchers kind of know when they are going to go in.

When we are sitting there watching the game from the bullpen, we have to be ready at all times. Like today, [Joe] Blanton wasn't at his best. We knew that he was getting deeper into his pitch count than they had originally scheduled him for. We didn't know whether we were going to need to come in to finish off an inning or if he was going to be able to make it through an inning and get to the next starter, [Kirk] Saarloos, who was scheduled to throw. Blanton got through the second inning and then was pretty much out of pitches at that point, so they brought in Saarloos to start the next inning. We still have to be ready in the middle of an inning because we just never know what is going to happen in the game.

OC: Has it been interesting to meet all of the new guys in camp this year?

BZ: Definitely. They've brought in a lot of great guys. Really good ballplayers and good guys in the clubhouse, too. It's been good to get to know them and just kind of sharing experiences from the past. A lot of people have come up to me saying that they had read about the second skull facture that I suffered about a month ago. They are like, ‘you've got two?' and they want to hear about the first one and what happened with this latest one. It's been a pretty heavy topic of conversation with a lot of the newer players because a lot of guys will never play with a guy who has been hit in the head with a line-drive.

Honestly, I hope it never happens to anyone else again, but being around the game and as many games as go on, it's going to happen again at some point to somebody. You just hope that it isn't anyone that you know and that it isn't serious. The first thing they ask is: ‘do you remember it?' and ‘were you knocked unconscious?' that type of stuff because it is something that they have never been through.

OC: How are you feeling now? Are you pretty much recovered from the incident this off-season?

BZ: I feel 100 percent. I'm not 100 percent sure that the fracture is completely healed yet. When I go out to face hitters, I have to wear a hard, plastic device in my hat that protects that area of my skull until I get an x-ray done that shows that the fracture is healed. Once that x-ray comes, I can go back to not having to wear anything under my hat. I feel 100 percent now. There wasn't really a setback during the off-season [after the injury] other than just taking it easy for a few days after it happened. The doctor pretty much just said not to get hit there again, and I'll be okay. They were very clear that once the fracture healed, if I were to be hit in the exact same spot again, it would be like a whole new injury. There would be no new complications because I had been hit there once before.

OC: I think it was Ron that mentioned to me that you spoke to Craig Italiano when he was hit in the head. What did you say to him?

BZ: I did. I had gotten to know Craig before that happened in the couple of Spring Trainings before and I liked him. When I heard about his injury, I was thinking, ‘oh, man, that's terrible.' I knew that the A's have had to deal with this twice now in a two or three year span. When I talked to Craig, he had a great attitude. He just wanted to get back on the field as quickly as possible. The biggest thing I did was try to make sure that he didn't try to come back too fast and that he listened to the doctors because they are the ones who have gone through all of the training to give you advice on this. No matter how good you feel, it may not be as good on the inside as you feel on the outside. So you've got to make sure that you don't do anything that would complicate things and make the rehab a longer process.

Other than that, I didn't really have to offer any advice to Craig as far as him worrying about getting back on the mound or anything. I think mentally, he was going to be fine. I think that it was just a matter of making sure that he didn't go too fast and end-up complicating things. He's a bulldog. He's a big-time competitor, so you know he was just itching to get back out there. It's kind of like having a bad outing on the mound, you just kind of want to get back out there the next day just to get rid of it and make it to where your last outing was a good one and that is the last thing that is in your head.

OC: This off-season, you had a new addition to your family. How much did the birth of your daughter impact your preparation for the season or change your perspective on baseball and the season?

BZ: It definitely changed my outlook on life a little bit. It was obviously something that climbed up ahead of the priority list in front of baseball. At the same time, my wife's parents, while she was working, were more than willing to come over and baby-sit while I had to go do my workouts. It didn't slow down my workouts at all. I was able to get everything done that I needed to because they were always willing to come over and watch her whenever we needed them to. In that respect, in preparation for the season, I don't think that there was anything different than before. It was once I was home after workouts that I got to spend a lot more time with my little girl instead of watching TV or doing whatever I would normally do.

OC: And your wife and daughter are out in camp now to watch you play?

BZ: They are. They actually flew out on Tuesday and they are flying back home next Tuesday. They are here for a week now. Today was my little girl's first baseball game and we saved the ticket stub and all of that stuff to put in her scrapbook. Obviously, she won't remember it, but my wife and I will definitely.

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