Live From the AFL: Rich Scalamandre

Rich Scalamandre is doing something that pitchers far more publicized are not doing. He's getting guys out in the Arizona Fall League. In seven games, and 12.1 innings, Scalamandre is carrying a 2.19 ERA with 11 strikeouts. This is frankly not the guy you expect to do that, but the St. Louis Cardinals did, and more to the point, so did Scalamandre.

"I'm doing the same thing here that I've been doing my whole career.  I'm progressing.  I'm not worried about how fast I make it, I know if I keep getting guys out, I'll keep moving up."

The season wasn't all about moving up for the young 5'11" right hander.  He started the season with the Cardinals Double-A Texas League squad, but was moved back down to Hi-A just three weeks into the year.  It was the type of thing that might have broken a lesser pitcher, but Scalamandre took it all in stride.

"It's one of those things that happens.  You can't dwell on it, because if you do you're already beaten."

Instead, Rich Scalamandre did what professionals do, he took from the stint what he could.

"I learned a lot there, and I brought that back to Hi-A with me and I brought it here to.  In Double-A it doesn't matter how hard you throw or how good your curveball is, you've got to pitch.  That's what I learned, is that you can't just throw a good pitch, you have to throw it in the right spot, in the right count.  I brought that knowledge here too, that's the biggest thing I'm working on, is learning how to pitch."

It's an odd statement from a guy who could be an heir apparent to Jason Isringhausen in the closers role.  Then again, Scalamandre doesn't think of himself that way either.

"I see myself as a 7th or 8th inning guy.  Late inning situations are basically all the same, but that's what I've been doing my whole career.  If I was asked to close, I could, and I would, but I've been in this role for a long time and I'm comfortable in it.  There really isn't any difference though, you just can't be tentative, because there's nobody behind you.  It's your game when you're the closer, and you have to look at it that way."

When pressed on the issue, Scalamandre brushes the question of 'could he close' off in the most appropriate way possible.

"I think every pitcher has that kind of mentality in him," he shakes his head as if to dismiss it, "that's not a closer's mentality, that's a Big League mentality.  Anyone who wants to pitch in the big leagues has to feel that way, from the first inning to the ninth inning, from the #1 hitter to the #9 hitter.  If you don't think you can finish the game you shouldn't be out there."

That philosophy on pitching certainly sounds like a closer's, as does his focus here in the AFL.

"I'm down here to throw strikes, and throw strikes down in the zone.  I'm trying to go right after hitters, not play around with them.  If you get two strikes on a hitter, then you have the opportunity to strike them out.  If you have three balls and no strikes, then you can't strike them out.  Getting ahead in the count is the most important thing for me right now."

And his work is paying off.  Originally Scalamandre was named to the Surprise Scorpions as a 'Taxi Squad' player, which only made him active on Wednesdays and Saturdays.  A good start got him bumped up to the full time roster, and it's a distinction that can't be overlooked. 

"It's a big deal, because even though you're almost always scheduled to pitch on those two days, if you get rained out that means you lose a day of work, and you can't replace the work," he gets excited when he talks about the promotion, "when you're a relief pitcher you come to the park ready to pitch everyday, and when you come to the park five days a week knowing you're not going to be pitching, it isn't easy."

For Scalamandre that shouldn't be much of a problem from here on out.  He's cerebral in the way Tony La Russa and Dave Duncan love, and fearless in the way a late inning reliever has to be.  After his performance in the AFL, his stock can only rise, and that means he'll continue to do what he set out to do, he'll continue to progress.

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