Q&A with Rob Whitenack

Rob Whitenack was one of the hottest pitchers in the Chicago Cubs' farm system down the stretch of the 2010 season, and he owes a lot of his second-half success to a conversation he had with Cubs legend and Assistant to the General Manager Greg Maddux.

The 21-year-old Whitenack was a 2009 eighth-round Cubs draft pick from SUNY Old Westbury in New York. He was the first player in school history to be taken in the draft after posting a 5-2 record and 2.81 ERA in 67 innings his junior season.

He was named the Skyline Conference Pitcher of the Year and was the first Division III player drafted that year.

But after signing with the Cubs, it wasn't until after the Midwest League All-Star break at Peoria that the right-hander began to show signs of putting it together.

He came into the All-Star break with a 5.85 ERA in his first 13 starts before putting together three quality starts at Peoria to warrant a promotion to Class High-A Daytona.

Whitenack took the promotion in stride and despite getting roughed up to the tune of six runs and eight hits in four innings in his first start, he closed the season with four quality starts in his last six outings, allowing two runs or less in those appearances to finish 3-1 with a 2.04 ERA and 28 strikeouts to 10 walks in 39-plus innings.

InsideTheIvy.com recently caught up with the Massapequa, N.Y. native for a Q&A.

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Q: You had four really good starts toward the end of your stint in Peoria and then closed out the year with a great run at Daytona. What changed for you in the final two months of the season, starting at around the All-Star break?

A: When I talked to (Cubs Assistant to the GM) Greg Maddux, he said things really got good when he stopped pitching for results. I wasn't worried about how many runs I was going to let up. I was just trying to make good pitches and all the other stuff will fall into place. I was really just working on my mental game a lot, like not thinking too much on the mound and letting my body and my talent take over.

Q: How often did you get a chance to spend some time with Maddux, and did he see any similarities between the two of you?

A: I only had one side with him when he was in Peoria. He just gave me that little bit of advice and he said, "Remember when you were 14 years old? Throw the ball like you did then. You know, just throw the ball and have fun!" That pretty much simplified it for me and it worked for me.

Q: What would you highlight as the one problem those first couple of months?

A: I have a tendency to think way too much on the mound. "Oh, don't hang this breaking ball, don't do this." And once I read the book, "The Mental ABC's of Pitching," it simplified pitching and it makes it a lot easier. My mind has been a lot more clear on the mound and I'm not thinking those negative thoughts and am just trusting my abilities when I'm on the mound versus doubting myself. That was the biggest thing. Once I read that book, I kind of noticed getting better and better every time out.

Q: Did you feel any pressure to go out and pitch well any more than normal?

A: No, not really. I was the opening day starter in Peoria, and really I like situations like that with the big games. I pitched (the game against Kane County) at Wrigley. I usually rise to the occasion, so I didn't really feel any pressure.

Q: Was there ever a time when the Cubs said, "step-up time?" Did they give you any encouragement or pep talks when they were in town?

A: Not really. The pitching coach, Rosario, kind of kept me upbeat about it. He said to keep battling and that everybody goes through (struggles). My coaches from college would call me and try to keep me upbeat because they knew I was down. I got through that and I'm happy the way it worked out. … I talk to them (college coaches) maybe once every week or two weeks. I worked out with their team all off-season and trained with them. I worked with them all fall and off-season, so I still have a close relationship with them.

Q: What kind of pitcher would you describe yourself as?

A: Contact guy. I'm an early contact guy. I'm not a strikeout pitcher. I just throw that sinker and let them hit it into the ground and trust my fielders to do the job behind me.

Q: What's your repertoire and what is your "out" pitch?

A: Lately I've just been throwing my sinker and letting them pound it into the ground, but I've been working on a slider all year and that's really come a long way from the beginning of the season. I've just been mostly fastball-slider toward the end of the year.

Q: You talked about the mental thing and calming yourself down, but what else did you learn about yourself in your first full season of pro ball? Did you develop any new perspectives?

A: Just realizing how much you have to take care of your body. You see some guys start to die out toward the end of the season and when I saw that, I actually upped my weight training in July so that it would get me through the end of July and August. I finished strong and I still feel strong. That's one thing I realized; you have to take care of your body and take your training seriously so that you make it through a full season strong.

Q: What are your off-season plans?

A: Usually I take two or three weeks off from the weight training. I have a gym by my house that I go through all the time, and when I go to the school, I work out with those guys all the time. Probably October 1, I'll start up the off-season weight training program again and then as far as throwing, I won't touch a baseball until after Christmas to give my arm a couple of months of rest. That's what I did last off-season. I started throwing right after Christmas up at school and was ready for spring training and got through the whole year, so I'm going to stick with that.

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