Oakland A's Q&A: Gil Patterson, Part Two

In part two of our Sunday conversation with Oakland A's minor league pitching coordinator Gil Patterson, we discuss some of the A's young pitching prospects, including James Simmons, Gio Gonzalez, Vince Mazzaro, Arnold Leon, Jason Fernandez, Ryan Webb, Jared Lansford and more...

To read Part One of this interview, click here.

Vince Mazzaro has had good location and a nice sinker this season.
OC: A couple of guys in that Midland rotation now – Ryan Webb and Vince Mazzaro – sort of struggled last season a little bit, but both are off to good starts this year. What have you seen from them both in the spring and at the start of the season?

GP: Probably first, I think their ability to throw the baseball where they want to. That is really such a key. Basically, with your fastball, you need to be able to throw the pitch in to the hitters and outside away from the hitters, as well as up and down. Then you need to add in a back-and-forth game with change-ups. Both of those guys can do that. Webb has a tremendous slider and cutter. It looks just like a fastball out of his hand and then disappears down in the strike-zone. He also has a very good change-up.

Mazzaro, he's got a sinker. It might not be quite to the extent that maybe [Trevor] Cahill has one, but it's good, very good. They are also both not afraid of saying to the hitter ‘here's my fastball, try to hit it' or ‘here's my curveball, try to hit it.' That's a big part of it because when you are afraid to attack hitters, hitters recognize it and then they are ready for you. So for them to have the ability to do that and challenge guys is maybe one of the biggest reasons why they are pitching fairly well.

Ryan Webb has a 3.91 ERA in 25.1 innings for Midland this season.
OC: Craig Italiano has been throwing well thus far. Have you seen much from him this season?

GP: Yes. He has really pitched very well, like you said. He hasn't had the luxury of pitching 60, 80, 90, 100+ innings over the past two years. He's had 18 innings, so we are very conscious of that, of course, and we are going to make sure that he is brought along at the right speed. Along those same lines, he is locating his fastball and sometimes it gets to the point where you say, ‘heck, he's got eight, 10, 12 strike-outs' or whatever he's got in a typical game – like [Sunday], he had five scoreless innings again – so someone might ask, well, why don't you move him up? Sometimes it's because they aren't able to throw anything but their fastballs for quality strikes. But with him, that is not really the case. He is becoming much better.

When I saw him, he was pitching up in the ‘zone and guys were swinging at pitches over their necks. But [on Sunday], I talked to [Kane County pitching coach] Don Schulze and he said ‘oh, no Gil. He's much better this week.' We put him on some drills where you throw one pitch high and two pitches knee-high and all that does is it teaches you the feel of pitching. Pitching is really all about feel. You have to see what it is like to throw the ball up-and-down and in-and-out. He has been able to do that now and I am very, very happy with his success so far.

OC: How have you felt that Gio Gonzalez has pitched so far? It seems like he has been a little bit up and down.

Gio Gonzalez has 21 strike-outs and 11 walks in 23 innings this season.
GP: I haven't really seen him too much live yet. I'll see him next week during the first week of May. I'm looking forward to seeing him. Really before I do get a good look at him, from reading the reports, it sounds like his stuff is good and that he has just been getting into deep counts. Instead of two or three pitches and the ball is in play, it seems like it is always a 2-2 count or maybe 3-2.

The other thing that happens is that sometimes when guys have good stuff like he has, hitters foul a lot of pitches off. Sometimes that raises your pitch count and you can't go as deep into games as you'd like because your pitches are good, but they are fouling them off. Then it becomes another foul ball and another foul ball and you start to say, ‘geez, uncle, just put it in play, please.' I think that is how he is just a little bit. His stuff is good, but sometimes he gets himself into deep counts because he throws the ball so well.

OC: Is that the biggest adjustment for pitchers when they reach Triple-A, that hitters can make a little bit of foul contact on your good pitches and you have to figure out other ways to get them out sometimes?

GP: It is, because that is what the really good hitters can do. That's why sometimes – and I'm going to use Craig [Italiano] as an example – sometimes he will strike-out 15 in A-ball and then strike-out two or three in Double-A and Triple-A. And I am just using that as an example because the A-ball kids who are swinging at balls in the dirt are not going to swing, or at least not nearly as much, at those balls when they get to Double-A and Triple-A. So that is what happens. The pitches that you get away with in A-ball and they pop-up, in Double-A, Triple-A and the big leagues, they hit those for base-hits or homeruns. And the pitches that they swing at in A-ball, in Double-A and Triple-A, they don't swing at. Then the ones that are thrown for strikes, the more advanced hitters can foul them off. So it's like ‘uncle,' you know? You start to get ready to give up on this because you are making quality pitches and they are fouling them off and staying in the count. So you are exactly right, that is one of the biggest things that a pitcher has to adjust to.

OC: Did you get a chance to see much of Arnold Leon coming out of the bullpen in Stockton? Has his experience in the Mexican League helped him make that adjustment to the minor leagues in his first US pro season?

GP: In general, I certainly do think that experience helps; however, we still have had to develop a plan for him. We have drawn-up a plan for him to develop a couple of pitches that should help him succeed not only in the Mexican League but in our leagues, as well. What he has learned in Mexico has definitely been an asset for him, but, at the same time, some of the things we have done in the program that we have implemented for him I think has helped him, as well.

James Simmons has a 1.13 ERA and 22 strike-outs against only two walks in 24 innings this season.
OC: Have you had a situation before like the one with Leon this year where he will go back to Mexico halfway through the season and then you will get him for good next season?

GP: No, and I have been around awhile. I was trying to think if I have ever had to do something like that for a player in Japan, but I don't think so.

OC: Is it sort of uncharted territory as to how his development will go this year then?

GP: I'd like to think that the things that we are working on with him he will maintain throughout his time in Mexico. We are just going to make sure that we monitor how much he throws because his health is very important to us, as well.

OC: How about James Simmons? I know that he missed some time this spring with a sore forearm and was limited early in the year with his pitch counts. Is he back to full strength and stretched out yet?

GP: Yeah, as a matter of fact, he's pitching [on Monday] and he is up to 100 pitches or close to it. [Simmons wound-up pitching seven innings and allowing one run while throwing 99 pitches on Monday.] I'm looking forward to getting him stretched out. We tried to teach him a new slider this spring and I think it is working pretty well, along with getting a curveball over for strikes at times. I am pretty happy with him so far.

Jared Lansford is going to stick in the bullpen.
OC: I noticed Jared Lansford has been coming out of the bullpen over the past 10 days or so. Is that a permanent move for Lansford or is it something where you like to see pitchers get work in both roles?

GP: Both roles are important. However, I think for the most part he is probably in the role that he is going to pitch in from now on. I see him pitching more out of the bullpen role than I do in the starting rotation.

OC: Do you see his pitch arsenal as being more suited for being a reliever than a starter?

GP: Yeah. I do.

OC: How about Jason Fernandez? He had a couple of outings for Sacramento early in the season and is now starting for Stockton. He's another guy who has pitched both as a starter and as a reliever. What role do you see him best suited for?

GP: I kind of need to see him pitch more [to determine his role]. That is kind of why we did what we did with him in terms of getting him into a starting role. I like his breaking ball quite a bit.

Usually, as a starter, you kind of need three pitches. You need to have a fastball, a change-up and a breaking ball of some kind. As a bullpen guy, you can get away with two. You know as well as I do that I, nor anyone else, can decide it all and knows what role every pitcher is going to have in the big leagues. Even in the old days and Mariano Rivera, those roles can change over time. Rivera came up as a starter and now is a bullpen guy. We've had other guys come up as a bullpen guy and then become a starter.

Jason Fernandez has had success in both the bullpen and the rotation in his career.
With that being said, guys who are able to have pretty good stuff and three pitches with a pretty good arm, you can give them a chance to start and see if you can develop them that way. The other guy that maybe only has one or two pitches, you try to refine and make those two pitches better, and maybe pitch him out of the bullpen. If all of a sudden, one of the pitches becomes a really special pitch, like a really good split or a really good slider or a Trevor Hoffman-like change-up, then you have them concentrate on having those two pitches. If a pitcher has two pitches, you try to make one of them a real special pitch out of the bullpen. If a pitcher has three pitches, you try to have them develop all three pitches as a starter.

OC: So if you were still with New York: Joba Chamberlain starting or relieving? [laughs]

GP: Whatever Brian Cashman says, I think is the right answer. [laughs]

OC: Does it make you laugh to see all of the controversy back and forth with every decision that is made there?

GP: No. I've lived it. It's normal. If it wasn't happening, I'd be saying, ‘hey, what's going on?'

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