On The Road With Gil Patterson

Oakland A's minor league pitching coordinator Gil Patterson has been a traveling man of late. Patterson recently traveled to the A's Dominican academy and served last week as the Sacramento River Cats pitching coach for a four-game series. Now Patterson is with the Canadians in Spokane. We spoke to Patterson on Saturday morning about Michael Inoa, Vince Mazzaro, Gio Gonzalez, Dan Meyer and more...

OaklandClubhouse: How is Spokane?

Gil Patterson: It's great. They have a nice facility and good fans here.

OC: How were your four days in Sacramento?

GP: Good. They are doing fine. Dana Eveland came down [from Oakland] for a little bit and he threw a couple of nice bullpens. Curt [Young, A's pitching coach] gave me a couple of drills to maybe help him a little bit mechanically and it seemed to go pretty good. The guys get after it [in Sacramento]. It was good there. Trick [Sacramento manager Todd Steverson] got kicked out of a game and I had to coach third base and that was kind of a little odd. I felt like a fish out of water. But I gave us three runs in the bottom of the ninth to win the game, 3-2.

OC: They'll be asking you to keep coming back now. That was one of their best comebacks of the year, so I imagine they'll make you stay in that third base box for a while. [laughs]

GP: [laugh] No, no, this is it. Actually, I believe this is my last road trip until the instructional league.

OC: You were there for Vince Mazzaro's Triple-A debut. How did you think he threw?

GP: He just over-threw the ball a little bit. We always talk about the mental approach, almost on a daily basis, and what causes you to over-throw. Sometimes seeing Billy Beane in the stands might, pitching with your team on a losing streak, and moving up a level. These are all some of the reasons you might over-throw. In his case [last week], it's tough to control that emotion.

I remember a few years ago, Andy Pettitte, who is bound to go down as one of the better big game pitchers, his first big game [in a World Series], he got whacked. He even pitched in a divisional playoff game to go to the World Series, and then in his first World Series game, he went all out of whack and tried to over-throw.

So it is a tough thing to go ahead and move up a level like [Mazzaro] did and not try to over-throw and stay within yourself. But overall, he threw the ball well. I am really expecting him to pitch the way that he did and try to execute his pitches a little better in future starts. He threw too many fastballs and he needs to throw his breaking ball more. But you just watch the ball glide out of his hand, it is very nice to see.

OC: Are you able to monitor what Brett Anderson and Trevor Cahill are doing with Team USA in the Olympics, or is that something separate from your program?

GP: They are sending me e-mails whenever those guys pitch. They sent me e-mails when each of them pitched those four innings and they both called me before they left. They are going to stay in-touch with me.

OC: Is there an understanding about how many innings they will throw, or is that not really a concern?

GP: They have pitch counts, which are basically the same thing that they have here with us. For the most part, that is about 100 [pitches]. For the most part, Marcel Lachemann will act as their pitching coach. He is very respectful and responsible about taking care of pitchers whether they are with his organization or some other organization. So that total trust [in Lachemann] is there. I don't think that Billy [Beane] or David [Forst] or Keith [Lieppman] would allow them to go if they didn't have complete trust in the people that are in charge.

OC: Do you think that type of experience – playing on that big stage – will help them when they make that jump to Triple-A or even the big leagues?

GP: I don't really think so. Once they go to the next level, just being at Triple-A will be the key to that. Like I said, for some reason, if Andy Pettitte can pitch in a playoff game and then still over-throws in a World Series game, then it is almost like nothing is going to help you until you actually do it. But what such a great thrill just to go and pitch for your country. That part has got to be pretty neat. Hopefully, they don't mind flying either. [laughs]

OC: I don't know if you got to see much of Gio Gonzalez's debut with the A's, but what do you think that he accomplished with the River Cats that allowed him to be able to make the jump to that level?

GP: Like you said, I didn't see it. But Ricky Rod [Rick Rodriguez, Sacramento pitching coach] did a really nice job with him in that he was able to get Gio to finish his pitches better and to use all of his pitches and to recognize that throwing the ball max-effort isn't the key to pitching. There is a certain RPM level that you need to pitch at. One of Gio's favorite pitchers is Johan Santana and Santana doesn't just go out there and throw fastball after fastball after fastball as hard as he can.

With that being said, I think that Gio has recognized that everything doesn't have to be max-effort and that there is a certain way to pitch. The key to pitching is really to break-up the hitter's rhythm. If you can do that, you have a chance to get hitters out by making soft contact. Gio did that during his last eight or nine starts extremely well.

OC: Another guy who was recently called up is Dan Meyer. Meyer had been pitching better over his last few starts before the call-up. Were there adjustments that he made that led to the improvement?

GP: He and I had a nice long talk the last time I was in Sacramento. We just talked about, again, the mental side and not worrying about things you can't control and not worrying about what else happens and just stay focused on one pitch at a time and trust your delivery and finish. Maybe his biggest mechanical flaw in the past is that the ball stayed up too much and he didn't get the ball down. When he finishes, he can throw the ball as good as anyone. It certainly looks like on paper that he was doing that [his last few starts in Sacramento]. His walks went way down and his execution and quality of pitches went way up.

For me, it was just nice to see him get rewarded for making an improvement. Sometimes there are needs, and for Oakland, to a certain extent, they needed someone and at least he was ready to answer the call this time, as opposed to maybe having someone else ready. He responded to the challenge a little bit and I am very happy for him.

OC: I wanted to ask you about your recent trip to the Dominican. Did you have a chance to work with Michael Inoa when you were over there?

GP: Yeah. We basically just gave him a program to get to the States. I am going to see him pitch down there in November, so we gave him a program to get him from now to November. A little bit of a rest and recovery in July and August and then continue to build up and monitor for September and October as far as his throwing program, and then have him ready to pitch in November. Most likely, he will come over here [to the United States] in the spring. I'm going to try to be down there in November to see him pitch.

Being there for those five days, what a pleasant young man he is. What a pleasant, tall young man he is. [laughs] He knows a little bit of English. He is very professional, quiet, attentive and worked hard in the five days that I was there. You know, I didn't know what to expect. The people who had met him already knew what to expect, but I didn't know. I was extremely happy and maybe a little surprised, with his poise, his body language and his professionalism. It was kind of neat.

He didn't throw hard while I was there because we weren't at that stage, but we played catch because I wanted to see how he throws and the ball just jumped out of his hand fairly effortlessly. It was great to see.

OC: You said you were going to see him pitch in November. Is that an instructional league for the Dominican players, or something separate?

GP: I think they have a Dominican instructional league, yeah. He will pitch in camp in November.

OC: Did you get to see much of the two Dominican League A's teams while you were there? Did anyone jump out at you in particular?

GP: I did see a few games. I have some names written down of guys who stood out. The biggest thing, though, that I tried to relay was that nobody down there can just live with a fastball. I saw one game where one guy threw 23 straight fastballs. I told them that nobody here throws hard enough to only throw fastballs. Nobody throws 95 every pitch. If you can't throw 95 every pitch, then I need to see a few change-ups and breaking balls. If I don't, then it's going to be very difficult for them to come to the States because even in the major leagues, it is very difficult for a pitcher to throw 21 straight fastballs regardless of how hard they throw.

We've got a nice coaching staff down there, I was very happy with that, but the biggest thing that I tried to teach [the pitchers] was that they need to really learn how to pitch. They need to work on their deliveries and know that it isn't always just elbows and kneecaps all of the time. I almost made a rule that they couldn't throw more than three fastballs in a row before they had to throw two of something else. When I go back down there in November, I'll see if anything has changed.

That was probably the biggest thing that I saw. I did see a few good arms, but I can't remember their names right now. I have them written down. You know when you reach 52, how forgetful you get. [laughs]

OC: One last question. I know that Henry Rodriguez has been pitching out of the Stockton bullpen over his last few outings. Is that where he is going to stay the rest of the year?

GP: I believe so, yes.

OC: Is that permanent, or just designed to get him a few good innings under his belt before the off-season?

GP: For the most part, my understanding at the moment is that that is the role that they see him staying in. Things can change, you know that as well as I, but I think as of right now, we are going to keep him there.

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