Oakland A's Q&A: Brad Ziegler

Reliever Brad Ziegler had a memorable rookie season, setting the major league record for consecutive scoreless innings to start a big league career. He finished with one of the top ERAs of any reliever in baseball and is poised to be an important part of the A's bullpen in 2009. We recently spoke to Ziegler about his breakout season.

It wasn't an easy ride for Brad Ziegler to the big leagues, but once he got there, he made pitching at the major league level look like a walk in the park. Ziegler spent six seasons in the minor leagues before getting an opportunity at the major league level, and he took full advantage of that opportunity when it came.

Ziegler set an MLB record for consecutive scoreless innings to start a career by tossing 39 scoreless frames before having the streak come to an end on August 14th. He also broke the A's team record for consecutive scoreless innings in a season. Ziegler would continue to pitch well even after the streak was over and he finished the year with a 1.06 ERA and 11 saves. Combining his work in Sacramento before his call-up, Ziegler allowed only eight earned runs in 84 innings and he saved 19 games last season.

We recently spoke to Ziegler about his breakout campaign, his thoughts on continuing that success and more...

OaklandClubhouse: Congratulations on a great season. How has this off-season been different for you knowing that you have a major league job waiting for you in the spring and given everything that happened last season?

Brad Ziegler: Obviously, confidence-wise, I feel great going into the season. I was able to get a shot at the big leagues and prove that I could have success at that level. Re-signing Mark Ellis, getting Eric Chavez healthy and having Jack Hannahan there to back him up if we need him, and having Bobby Crosby at short, those guys are the core of our defense and they make my job a lot easier. Just knowing that we have all of those guys back and they are all the great fielders that we had last year and hopefully even better with the work that they will get in spring training, all of that makes me feel confident. It's making me want to work harder this off-season. I don't want to relapse. I don't want to make it to where last year looks like a fluke and I don't want to make it the only good year I ever have.

OC: Could you have ever imagined when you got your spring training invite last year that the year would go the way that it did, that you would be up in the big leagues as early in the season as you were and that you would find that sustained level of success there? Did it come as a surprise to you?

BZ: It was a little bit of a surprise, I think, with the level of success that I had. I thought I could get the job done up there. I just didn't expect to go up there for that long without letting anybody score or finishing the year with an ERA just little above 1.00. If you had told me that I would do that at the beginning of the year, I'd have been ecstatic. Obviously, the finish was a little disappointing, September was a little rough, but that was my first time pitching that deep into the season and now I have a better idea of what I need to do to prepare my body for the longer season.

Going into spring training last year, my goal was to earn a job on the team. I'm not sure that I got a fair shot in spring training. I only got to pitch twice and it was on consecutive days. Those were the only two outings that I had before I was sent down to minor league camp. I felt like I didn't really get much of a look from anybody. That is probably the case with a lot of non-roster invitees, especially if you are a reliever. It was actually probably more beneficial for me to be in minor league camp and to be able to get into a regular routine, pitching every two or three days, and be in good shape going into the start of the season.

OC: You got to do a lot of closing in the big leagues and in Sacramento last season. That was sort of a new role for you. Did you enjoy it? Does the ninth inning feel different than the seventh or eighth inning?

BZ: It definitely feels different, but I love it. I like any time that it is late in the game, the seventh, eighth or ninth inning and the game is tied or we have a lead. I love pitching in those situations because it can give you a chance to really thrive on those tight situations. I've always loved having the ball in my hand in those situations. I'm much more nervous sitting in the bullpen watching someone else pitch in a close game than I am when I am out on the mound. Whether I am pitching the seventh, eighth or ninth innings, I try not to approach it any differently. But I also like coming in with runners on-base and taking it as a challenge to see if I can get a double-play ball to get us out of the inning. That's kind of my role as a groundball guy and those situations for me are just fun. The only difference in the ninth inning is that as soon as the inning is over, if you have done your job, then you are done.

OC: We've talked in the past about the challenge for you facing left-handed hitters with your new throwing motion. You had decent success against lefties last season. Do you feel like you have made improvements in your approach against lefties since the start of 2007?

BZ: Yeah, for sure. The big thing is that I have added a change-up. That was something that I was still developing a lot during this year. There were times when it was really good and I am hoping that I can get it consistently working enough to use against both lefties and righties and have it be as good of a pitch as my sinker. One of the things about lefties is just learning how to approach them as hitters. In Triple-A, I wasn't getting to face many lefties. I was seeing maybe one or two every few outings. In the big leagues, I was seeing a lot more of them.

I had to learn the different styles of left-handed hitters. Is this guy a power hitter or a guy who will hit the ball the other day? Once you've figured that out, you have to pitch to them accordingly. That was the biggest adjustment, just learning to pitch to different types of hitters. It was a matter of saying, okay, this is Justin Morneau or Joe Mauer, what kind of hitters are they? Are they guys who are going to try to pull me or are they going to go to the opposite field and what am I going to have to do to combat that?

OC: Is it easier to learn the hitters at the major league level with all of the in-depth scouting reports and video?

BZ: Yeah, the video definitely helps, but a lot of times, I am such a different pitcher than any other pitcher that a lot of times guys will change their approach against me. Evan Longoria, for instance, whenever I face him, he is always looking to slap the ball to the right-side against me through first and second. And then you see him in the playoffs and he is just pulling homeruns right and left. He just changed his approach against me. If I watch video of a bunch of different pitchers facing him, I might think he is a dead-pull power hitter and so I pitch down-and-away and he slaps it through the right side.

I will try to find video of other submariners, using Chad Bradford or guys like that, and if they faced those hitters, just seeing how those hitters react to them. I don't know another submariner who throws a change-up, so that gives me another nice weapon to use, but at the same time, I don't have the opportunity to see how hitters react to it [by watching video] because no one else throws it. So a lot of it is just touch and feel as I go and then over the course of the year, just making notes on hitters so that when I face them again in the future, I have a good reminder of what they did off of me and what I think I need to do to fix it.

OC: Was it beneficial to work with Ron Romanick in the big league bullpen since you had worked with him so closely while you were rebuilding your throwing motion?

BZ: Yeah, it was huge. Having him just standing there while I was warming up was a big help. He would prepare me for the hitters that I was going to be facing and telling me what he had seen on video with them and how he thinks I should attack them. He was vital at the end of the year. We noticed some mechanical flaws. I knew something wasn't right, but I didn't know what it was. He was able to pick it out and pinpoint it. He gave me something to work on right at the end of the season and during the off-season. It wasn't even big. It was just a little tweak. As soon as I realized it, everything kind of fell into place at that point.

I had heard rumors earlier this year that he was in the running for the Texas pitching coach job. He didn't get that and as soon as I saw that he didn't get that job, I was kind of excited. I hope he's back for another year in the bullpen. I know there will be other teams at different points who have pitching coach jobs to fill, but if he is back with us for another year, I would be very happy.

OC: When you were in the middle of that scoreless streak and especially when the attention began to mount, was it a distraction or was it fun?

BZ: When I was on the mound, I honestly didn't really think about it. I thought about it more after the games when reporters would come up and talk to me or when teammates would say stuff. But no one would ever say anything during the games. It was all about being in that moment trying to get the outs that mattered in that game. The only time that I thought about it during the game was when I broke the record and I had teammates coming up to me and congratulating me after the eighth inning. It was still a one-run game with a lot of drama left in the game. That was the first time that they acknowledged it during the game, so that made it special. Until it ended and the crowd in Oakland gave me a standing ovation after I had just put us behind in the ninth inning, that was the only other time that I thought about it much on the field.

OC: You had a couple of outings early on with the A's, specifically I think it was your second outing against the Tigers and your third or fourth outing against the Angels, where you worked more than an inning in a tight game. Did having success against some very seasoned hitters early in your major league career help you build confidence early on?

BZ: Yeah, for sure. And Romanick, that was one of the things that he was really good at was just continuing to hammer it into my head, ‘I told you that this would work. All you've got to do is just execute it and take it one batter at a time, one pitch at a time.' It sounds really cliché but I had to do that. I couldn't think ahead too much because I don't have the stuff where if I just throw a pitch and don't concentrate on it that it is not going to get hit hard.

I have to focus hard on every pitch. If I take that approach on every pitch, and if I can execute those pitches, it definitely helps knowing that I can get out the kind of hitters that I have grown up watching. Guys who maybe are towards the end of their prime but are still some of the best hitters in the league that everybody has heard about for 10 years. It was exciting to be able to play on the same field as them, but, at the same time, you still have to get the outs.

OC: The A's had an up-and-down season. What was the mood of the team at the end of the year? Did you feel like you guys made progress as a team?

BZ: I think we did. When September rolled around and some of the younger guys started coming up, we sort said, ‘okay, we know we are out of the playoff race. Let's go out there and have fun and try to end the season on a good note.' The whole atmosphere in the clubhouse in August was pretty dismal. Guys were still having fun and goofing around, but you just didn't get the sense that we had that confidence when we took the field, we just didn't have that aggressive attitude of ‘we know that we are better than this team.' That seemed to change in September. We had a little bit of a swagger at the end of the season and it really showed up in the way that we played. We had a lot of confidence and guys were more relaxed. We went out there and worked to get the most out of our ability and that led to a more successful September.

OC: He was obviously traded a few weeks ago, but was it awkward when Huston Street was going through losing the closer position and you were getting the call in the ninth inning, or were you guys able to work that all out?

BZ: There were times when it was awkward for sure, but I was pulling for Huston. I like him. He was a very good mentor to have when I first got called up and even in spring training. My first outing in spring training was against the Angels and I was facing the heart of their order with Vlad [Guerrero], Garret Anderson, Casey Kotchman, Torii Hunter and those guys and I was warming up and I was like, ‘what do I need to do against these guys?' because I didn't really know much about them, other than just watching them on TV. Right away, Huston was like, ‘this is what I would do with Vlad, this is what I would do with Torii Hunter.' Right away, he wasn't afraid to share with me the stuff that he knew that would help make me successful.

I was really pulling for him to get out of the little funk that he was in and it was great to see him throwing well at the end of the year. We talked about [the closer situation] one time. We sat down and just said, ‘hey, let's not let this bother us. There is a lot of media talk going on, but let's just go out there and pitch well whenever we get a chance.' We are teammates. We are pulling for each other and no matter what role I had or what role he had, I think the idea is to win games. If we are able to help the team do that, then we will be content for awhile.

It was frustrating during that stretch when we were losing quite a few games and we just didn't know what moves had to be made to help the team out and make it better. They were tinkering with stuff here and there and by September we had found a pretty good little rhythm and good little sequence of relievers to use to get the job done at the end of games.

OC: You got a chance to go to Cooperstown this fall and see your cleats and other memorabilia from your streak at the Baseball Hall of Fame. What was that like to go to Cooperstown and see your stuff in the case?

BZ: It was really special. They did a really good job. They gave me and my family a private tour and really let us dive into the history of the game. Most of my family have been big baseball fans for a long time and so we understand the history, but I think that the tour that we got took it to a whole new level. After walking out and seeing my stuff in there and realizing that I was part of something that special and the tradition that they have going there in Cooperstown, just made it really neat. It was very special and, like I said before, hopefully that won't be the only thing that I am known for in my career. At the same time, if I never have another piece of memorabilia go into the Hall of Fame, that is something that no one can ever take away.

OC: Have you had a chance to talk to Ryan Howard [Howard and Ziegler were college teammates and are longtime friends] since they won the World Series?

BZ: Just text messaging. Obviously, I was very happy for him. I was excited [when they won]. It almost brought tears to my eyes to see him. When they did the little clip after the game was over, they showed every single Phillies player in the field running into the mound and they showed him running to the mound, and he just tackled Brad Lidge, and it made my eyes water a little bit because I was so happy for him. He is such a great guy off of the field, too, and guys like that deserve a lot of success. I was glad that he was able to get that and hopefully for his sake, it won't be the last time in his career that he gets to experience that.

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