Oakland A's Mid-Season Q&A: Gil Patterson

Oakland A's Minor League Pitching Coordinator Gil Patterson just recently finished a 22-day trip around the Oakland A's system. We spoke with Patterson on Wednesday about the progress of a number of A's pitching prospects, including James Simmons, Henry Rodriguez, Tyson Ross, Sam Demel, Arnold Leon, Jared Lansford, Ben Hornbeck, Mickey Storey and more...

Note: This interview took place on Wednesday, July 15

OaklandClubhouse: James Simmons has had sort of an up-and-down year. What are you seeing from him at this point?

Gil Patterson: He and Ricky Rod [Rick Rodriguez, River Cats' pitching coach] are working very well together, especially over the last four, five or six starts. He has been able to locate his fastball a bit and his slider has also come along with a little bit better tilt and, honestly, his change-up has been maybe the biggest improvement. His command is always going to be a plus anyway, but when you add the fastball command with the slider getting better with a very good change-up, that has probably been his biggest attribute the past four or five weeks. The change-up has been a very, very helpful pitch for him.

OC: Do you think it is just a matter of him putting it all together and the numbers will reflect that pretty soon?

GP: I think so. What I ask the guys sometimes to do – especially when they start off with poor numbers – is sometimes to look at your last five games or your last seven games and look at your numbers over that period. If you are able to do that, look at the last five outings in a row, whether you are in the bullpen or a starter, at least it gives you a little bit of a reference point as to where you are with your progress. I think his last two games weren't very good ones, but before that, he had gone four or five outings where he was going at least six innings and giving up only a run or two.

Sometimes you look at the overall numbers, and the ERA is 4.50 or 5.50 and it can almost get you frustrated or depressed as opposed to seeing the bright light at the end of the tunnel. For him, there is one. There is a very bright light.

OC: Another guy who has been pitching a lot better lately is Jerry Blevins. Was there anything that you worked on with him to get him back to pitching like he was last year?

GP: The only thing he's added, and you are going to laugh of course. What is the biggest pitch I teach?

OC: [laughs] The cutter.

GP: Yep. It has helped him quite a bit. That has helped him and I think his arm strength coming back. They [in Sacramento] do a nice job of making sure that he gets into the games and gets enough work. They do a nice job of that with everyone, but it really seems to help Jerry. He almost seems like one of those guys who the more you use him, the better he gets. I don't mean over-use, but to use him on a pretty consistent basis. He does a lot of flat-ground work with Ricky Rod just to maintain his delivery, and I think that has been nice for him. Throwing that cutter has been a big help for him. It has given him a pitch that he can use on righties, and he can get lefties to hit it off of the end of the bat.

OC: Speaking of the cutter, was it fun to see Andrew Bailey in the All-Star game and in the same dugout as Mariano Rivera after all of the work you did with Bailey on the cutter last year?

GP: It sure was, and he has been so great. People call me and say ‘Andrew has said this or that about you,' and that is very nice. You have some major league guys who remember and appreciate and some who don't and he is one who does. I try to make sure to mention that when someone does call and they mention that he talked about the help he got, I make sure that they know that it is really all him. And also, along with that, there were a number of other coaches in his life, but it's nice to be recognized. It couldn't have happened for a better guy.

I'm going to look forward to talking to him because I did ask him to go talk to Mariano. It will be interesting to see what more information he has after he did talk with Mo because talk about a class guy, Rivera is one.

OC: A couple of other relievers in that Sacramento bullpen have been putting up some intriguing numbers this season – Sam Demel and Henry Rodriguez. How have they been in terms of refining their control and their secondary pitches?

GP: Ricky Rod has done a very good job of getting Henry turned around and focused and helping him repeat his delivery. Also helping him not only to throw more strikes, but more quality strikes at 100 miles per hour. He has also been able to mix in some change-ups and sliders, so that has been a very pleasant development.

Sam, he was with Garvin [Alston, A's minor league rehab coordinator and 2008 Ports' pitching coach] last year and Emo [Scott Emerson, Midland pitching coach] this year and they both have done a very good job with him, getting him to command his fastball and to use his fastball He's got a good breaking ball and he's got a good change-up that sometimes you think is a split. But there were times when he would only throw 50 percent strikes with [the change-up]. So that has improved. The baton has been passed from Garvin to Emo and now to Ricky Rod in getting him to throw more fastballs and also in better spots. That's very nice to see.

OC: A couple of guys in the Midland bullpen – Arnold Leon and Jared Lansford – have been struggling with their command pretty much all season. Is that a product of something that they are working on, or has it been mechanical issues with those guys?

GP: Leon, he did go down with a sore arm a little bit. That hurt him some from a consistency factor, but it is almost like we said earlier, if you look at him over the past five games, it reflects a little better than the overall numbers. But it has not been an easy road for Arnold this year, especially with him coming down sore for a little bit and having to miss some time. It has been a grind for him and Emo, but there aren't two better people to work on that together. Arnold is a very hard worker and Emo is going to make sure that he improves.

Lansford, he has had to struggle with some adversity this year. He is having quite a different year than he had last year. We have quite good mental toughness people within our organization to help him with the mental side. And you'd be hard-pressed to find a man with more mental toughness than his agent [former A's star Dave Stewart]. It has been a tough rode for Jared. If you say to me, is it all physical or all mental, I would say no. I'm not going to throw one of those old Yogi Berra things and say that it is 50 percent physical and 90 percent mental. [laughs] It's probably more 50/50 this year with the mental and the physical side.

He is making strides, though. It is more of a rollercoaster, though, two days good, one day bad, one day good, two days bad, sort of thing. I just hope for continued progress with him and I think having a good off-season is going to help him. Last year, he pitched all season and then went to the Arizona Fall League and then was invited to big league camp. He had a long stretch there and I think a good off-season is going to help him physically as well as mentally. Then I think next year, if not this year, we'll see the Jared Lansford that we really saw last year.

OC: After a slow start, it seems that Tyson Ross has been pitching much better. What have you see from him?

GP: It's just like you said, if you look at the first five or so outings, you might say ‘ahh,' but the last 10 or so outings, he has just thrown the ball much better. He's been feeling much better, repeating his delivery better. His velocity is 92-93 with sink. The slider and the cutter are tighter and the change-up is good. It has been very nice to see him progress the way that he has the last six weeks or so.

OC: Ben Hornbeck has put up some very interesting strike-out numbers this season and he has had good control. What do you see from him? Is he a starter long-term, or do you think he ends up in the bullpen?

GP: Last year, he was throwing 82-83 miles per hour going straight over the top. I went to Vancouver and we went to the bullpen and I dropped his arm down, almost parallel to the ground at roughly nine o'clock. That night, he pitched in the game and he threw 90. Then he comes to Instructional League and I'm watching him pitch and of course I am trying to add a little cutter. And he has a tremendous change-up, a swing-and-miss change-up. Then I am watching Cole Hamels [in the World Series] and I am thinking, ‘I wonder if we have Cole Hamels here?' The change-up, plus being a strong, tall lefty. So I raised Ben's arm back up a little bit – and he's still throwing 89 – and he's got the fastball, slider and that change-up.

He had that one game in Double-A, really out of need, but he has pitched really well in Stockton and Kane County. Off of the top of my head, I would probably say that he is going to help us the most out of the bullpen, but I am definitely not ready to start that transition yet. I like what he does pretty much and he is pitching well. When his numbers for 10 games in a row are horrible, that is what will tell us that he needs to go back into that bullpen, but I do like what I see from him right now.

OC: Another lefty in that Stockton rotation who just got there is Pedro Figueroa. He has been outstanding this season. Has he finally put it together after a slow start to his career?

GP: Yes. Jimmy Esclante [Kane County pitching coach] has done a great job with him. Pedro used to be like a deer in the headlights, but the deer could throw 93-94 with a slider and a change-up. Now he's a bear and the bear throws 94 with a really good slider and a good change-up. The change-up still needs a little bit of work, but he just has the eye of a tiger. We have talked about getting guys to be warriors. He is all of the things that you would want in a pitcher. No more deer in the headlights for him. It's interesting because he went to Stockton for his first game and the first comment that Don Schultz [Ports' pitching coach] said to me was, ‘Gil, this guy is not afraid any more.' You tell guys every day about being warriors and being mentally tough and not afraid. Sometimes it takes awhile for them to actually believe it in their hearts and their heads. It certainly seems like he has figured it out, and we are very happy for him.

OC: Stockton's closer, Mickey Storey, has almost given up nothing this year [11 hits and one earned run in 25.1 innings]. What does he throw?

GP: He has a curveball that they just can't hit. And it's not 82 miles per hour; it's 73-74 miles per hour and they cannot hit it. He has got a little bit of life on his fastball. Not over-powering, but he's at 90. But he can come in and go strike one-strike two-strike three with that curveball anytime he wants to. As great as locating your fastball is, and the game basically revolves around that, if you can throw a breaking ball for strikes, ‘woo, boy,' and he can.

OC: It's kind of unusual to have a curveball as an out-pitch for a closer right?

GP: Yeah. I'm trying to think back. Trevor Hoffman has his change-up, Troy Percival has his cutter. K-Rod throws harder, but he has a really good breaking ball. But you are right. I can't think of too many closers where you can say, ‘oh, he's known for his curveball.' Joe Nathan throws hard and he's got his good slider. Usually closers throw a little harder. They are usually 92-95 guys with a good breaking ball. Well, you don't end up remembering the good breaking ball. You remember the 92-95. With Mickey so far, you are going to remember that curveball. And when you are thinking of that curveball, he's going to throw a fastball right by you.

OC: The Kane County rotation has been good pretty much all season. Anthony Capra and Kenneth Smalley have been two of the best. What are you seeing from them now?

GP: Capra has always had pretty good mound presence. But now he is getting into a little bit better shape, he is locating his fastball a little better and he brought good fastball command with him. He has also improved his change-up. As a matter of fact, when he was in the Instructional League, we gave him the Ben Hornbeck change-up. He's made a couple of adjustments with it and Jimmy has helped him quite a bit with his breaking ball. He has done a very nice job. He is not afraid. All good things from Cap.

Smalley, he threw a little harder out of the bullpen [early in the season], but, you know, look at those numbers. They are very, very, very good numbers. He is one of those guys who you watch him pitch and maybe nothing sticks out. Heck, I'm not going to compare him to Catfish Hunter by any means, but Catfish you would watch from the dugout and you'd think, ‘ok, I can't wait until I get back up there,' and all of a sudden, you're 0-4 and you don't know how he did it. He didn't have an overpowering fastball or a breaking ball. Catfish could really locate and change speeds. And Smalley does the same. He locates well, and he can change speeds. He has a very, very good change-up. Jimmy has worked very hard with him to develop a good breaking ball, as well.

OC: Brett Hunter looks like he is pitching a little bit better. Has his throwing motion gotten more consistent since the last time we talked?

GP: Jimmy and I had him do a couple of throwing drills for his arm swing, and it is a little bit better. Like you said, it is paying off with the quality of his pitches, as well.

OC: With the short-season guys, has anyone really jumped out at you in the early going?

GP: Justin Marks has not gotten to pitch yet, but he has looked very good on the side. He threw BP [on Wednesday] and he is going to throw an inning in a couple of days. He is a left-handed pitcher who looks very good. He looks like he has four quality pitches.

Connor Hoehn looks like he has a really good slider. Robert Gilliam has good life on his fastball and pretty good breaking stuff, as well. Max Peterson, he looks like a little bulldog. I love him. Sometimes you read the gun on him and it says 89 and the ball is getting by guys. He's thrown some pretty good innings as well.

Murphy Smith threw [Tuesday night] in Vancouver, his first time out there, and he went four scoreless innings. He can locate the ball and he spins a couple of good breaking balls. He also throws a good change-up. Honestly, I've been very happy with the guys that I have seen.

We've got A.J. Huttenlocker. He's been super. We got him in something like the 44th round and he comes in, throws strikes and spins a breaking ball. He's been a great help to us in the Arizona Rookie League. Chris Mederos has a pretty good curveball and he throws one of my very favorite pitches, the cutter. I don't have to teach it to him because he's already got it. I've seen some good breaking balls from Daniel Tenholder. His numbers don't look very good. He's pitching for Arizona right now, but I like what I've seen out of him, as well.

I like what I've seen from a number of our draft picks that we have signed thus far.

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