Bullpen A New Beginning For Bailey

The 2008 campaign was a tale of two seasons for right-hander Andrew Bailey. For the first two-and-a-half months of the year, Bailey struggled as a member of the Midland Rockhounds' rotation. However, a switch to the bullpen in late June sparked a revival for Bailey, who excelled as a reliever. We recently spoke to the hard-throwing righty, who will be heading to the Arizona Fall League in October…

Sometimes a change in perspective is all a player needs to turn the corner. For Andrew Bailey, it was both a change in mindset and a change in role. As a starter for the Double-A Midland Rockhounds, Bailey struggled to find the strike-zone and posted a 1-8 record with a 6.18 ERA and 45 walks in 71.1 innings. Those were surprisingly poor numbers for a pitcher who entered the season as one of the Oakland A's top right-handed pitching prospects.

In late June, Bailey's fortunes changed dramatically when he was shifted from the starting rotation into the bullpen. In 22 relief appearances, Bailey was 4-1 with a sparkling 0.92 ERA. He allowed only four earned runs, one homerun and 11 walks in 39 innings. Bailey struck out 41 and held opposing batters to a .207 average. Over his last 10 appearances, he walked only four and struck-out 23 in 19.2 innings.

Bailey spent the entire season with Midland and helped the Rockhounds come within one game of a playoff spot and post a 41-29 record during the second half of the season, a second half that included an 11-game winning streak.

On Monday, we caught-up with the hard-throwing right-hander, who was recently named as part of the A's Arizona Fall League contingent.

OaklandClubhouse: Congratulations on a strong season and on almost making the playoffs.

Andrew Bailey: Thanks! We made a good run at it.

OC: I wanted to get your feelings on participating in the Arizona Fall League. Last year, Ron Romanick mentioned to me that you watched a number of the AFL games when you were at Instructs last season. What are your feelings about participating in the league this year?

AB: I'm very excited for it. It's a nice honor for any player to be invited to participate in the league with the Arizona Fall League being one of the top leagues for fall ball. It's always been a goal of mine. It's another step in the right direction and anytime you can keep on playing baseball [after the regular season] that is always a good thing to be able to keep in shape. Every different eye that sees you is always something good.

OC: You made the switch from the rotation to the bullpen about midway through the year and your season really seemed to take off at that point. What do you think the difference was for you between being a starter and being a reliever?

AB: I think going into this year I put a lot of pressure on myself and I was a little too fine. I found myself trying to hit corners and not pitch to contact, and I ended up pitching away from contact and out of the strike-zone. That was the biggest thing and once it started snowballing [his struggles as a starter], I was just sort of waiting for it to turn rather than doing something about it.

I think when I made the switch to the bullpen it was more of a mental switch. I just started kind of going right after guys and telling myself that I've done this a thousand times and it's the same game; same ball, same bat. It's important just to go out there and throw strikes and be aggressive in the strike-zone. There is a reason that .300 hitters are Hall of Famers. I had faced hitters a thousand times and I knew that I was good enough to pitch in Double-A and hopefully higher levels. So that was the biggest thing for me was to go back to challenging hitters instead of trying to hit the corners and trick the batters by throwing too many off-speed pitches.

OC: Did your pitching repertoire change at all when you moved into the bullpen, or were you pitching with the same arsenal of pitches as you were as a starter?

AB: Actually, Gil Patterson [the A's minor league pitching coordinator] when he was in town, I was working with him and Scott Emerson [the Midland pitching coach] on developing a cutter. My four-seam fastball naturally cuts a little bit but they said, ‘hey, since you are out in the bullpen, why don't we see if you can throw a cutter?' Gil kind of compared me to Mariano Rivera and he said, ‘just watch his game and see what he throws and sequences and the way he uses the cutter.' So I watched a number of Yankees games on film and online and I just kind of watched [Rivera]. It is a pitch for me that when I first started to use it, it acted more like a slider, but as my confidence built in it towards the end of the season and I started using it more and more, it started acting more like a natural cutter. It's the kind of pitch that you can throw inside to righties and front door it and throw it inside to lefties and jam them.

Also, I was throwing a slider. I started throwing that at the beginning of the year and when I moved into the bullpen, my slider was another great pitch for me. So my arsenal changed a little bit. I still threw my curveball and my four-seam and two-seam fastball. Out of the bullpen, I was mostly throwing fastballs, curveballs, cutters and sliders.

OC: Mentally, was it different for you knowing that you could be called on to work in any game and that you could be working in back-to-back outings, that sort of thing?

AB: I think the biggest change for me wasn't the mentality of having to be ready to pitch every day. It was more of the change in the work-out routines. As a starter, you know that you are lifting and doing arm maintenance the day after a start and the third day. So you know what your work-out regimen is going to be. In the bullpen, you don't know when you are going to pitch. For me, my arm maintenance is really important. I had shoulder surgery in high school and Tommy John a few years ago, so a big part of my routine is my arm maintenance, my arm care.

That was the biggest thing for me to learn. You never know. You might think, ‘well, I didn't pitch today, so should I do my arm maintenance program today or my rotator cuff maintenance today?' because I don't want to overdose it since I might have to pitch tomorrow. Finding a different routine with the weight-lifting and the arm care was the biggest thing for me. Mentally, I'm ready to pitch any day of the week.

OC: Were there guys in the bullpen who sort of helped you make that adjustment?

AB: Yeah, definitely. In the bullpen, we had Andrew Carignan, who has been a reliever all of his life and David Shafer was there in the beginning of the year, as well. All of the guys in the bullpen kind of helped me and gave me little tidbits here and there with their experiences and what to expect. We signed Chris Michalak, the lefty, who is a veteran guy and who has worked a lot out of the bullpen. He helped us along, as well, not just with routines, but with other things like hitter recognition and all of that stuff. So it was a nice luxury to have a veteran guy in the bullpen and he helped me.

Also, we got Jared Lansford [during the second half] and he got pushed into the bullpen this year, so he was kind of going through the same things that I was. It was nice to talk to him because he went through it the same year that I did.

OC: You got to spend the entire year with one team. Did you feel like that was a different experience than switching mid-season? Did you feel like there was more bonding with the team having gone through all of the ups and downs all season?

AB: Yeah, you know, any time you get placed on a team, you always want to win. Being on the same team all year, it's like ‘our team' rather than thinking that you are helping ‘them' win. When you stay on the same team, it's like, okay, it's our team and we are going to do this. We had a lot of guys move and guys come back, but there were basically a core group of guys who were there all year.

It was fun. I guess it is tough in minor league baseball because things can always change with the team, but we always were like ‘we are going to ride this thing out to the end and if any movement happens, it happens.' A lot of the guys [on Midland] were on our Stockton team last year and so a lot of us had met each other last year. It was nice to have a group of teammates, friends, whatever, playing together and pushing for the playoffs.

OC: When you guys ran off something like 11 wins in a row and got the team back into playoff contention, what did that feel like for the team to be playing that well down the stretch?

AB: It was a blast. We kind of had ups-and-downs during the first half of the year and the start of the second half of the year wasn't the way we wanted to be playing, but somehow it all just clicked together at the end. The pitching and hitting clicked and the clubhouse was really light at that point. Our coaches kept the clubhouse light at all times. Even though you are playing professional baseball, you want to have fun with it, forget about the business-side of things and just play baseball. It's good to remember that we are playing a kid's game and that we get to do that for a living. That was the biggest thing, just getting back to basics and just playing the game itself.

OC: When do you head off to Phoenix? Are you on the East Coast for a few more weeks?

AB: Yeah. I am in New Jersey right now. I actually drove back from Texas in a little caravan with all of the other East Coast guys driving back. I arrived on Thursday and spent the weekend with my family. I believe I leave on October 1st for Phoenix.

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