Cubs Prospect Interview: Rocky Cherry

Cherry, now in his third season with the Cubs' organization, goes in depth about his progress, college life at Oklahoma, past elbow problems and much more.                                                            

Q: Thanks for joining us. What can you tell us a little about yourself.

A: Well I'm from Dallas, Texas. I have a younger brother and my parents currently live in Plain Oak, Texas. I've grown up in Dallas my whole life. In high school I played football, basketball and baseball. I went to the University of Oklahoma and played baseball there. I have a construction science degree there.

Q: Describe your college career at OU, pitching in the Big 12?

A: The Big 12 is a good conference to be in. I learned a lot pitching amid the good competition. Every year we had a hard schedule. A lot of the guys I've faced throughout pro ball are also from the conference. I run into people all the time that played there. It's good to see that I played a good enough level against good players, which gives me a little confidence here that says, "Hey, I can pitch with these guys." Especially when you move up to a new level and you see somebody that's already been there and had success. It's nice.

Q: Last year at Lansing, you were a part of something truly special. How did it feel to be a part of that Lugnuts championship team?

A: That was a blast. I don't know, it just kind of happened so fast. It seemed like we were just all of a sudden into the playoffs. We were 7-0 in the playoffs and the thing was, we went in and weren't playing too well towards the end of the season. All of a sudden we put a semi-winning streak together and hit the playoffs. It just seemed like everything was coming together. Before you knew it, we won every game and were in the championship game, which we also won. We just felt like everything was going our way. We had a lot of confidence and were playing well together, and it just came together at the right time. We couldn't ask for anything more. It was fun to win, because it's been awhile since I won a championship. It felt good to celebrate. It kind of felt like the season had more meaning to it, even though I had a good year. You know, your goal as a team is to win it all. So it had kind of a fulfilling end to it, which was really satisfying.

Q: You were originally a relief pitcher early on in your career, correct?

A: Well, I was a little of both. I'd close some and I'd start some. And the reason was, they didn't know what role they'd rather have me at. Jared McAuliff is currently in the same situation I was in. He's pitching there at Oklahoma. They use him as a starter, but he also closes the Friday and Saturday games. If we had a good enough starter to fill in a Sunday start, I'd close the games. But if not, I'd start. It was back and forth and it just changed up and down. It was the same when I came to the Cubs. They put me in the closer's role and I started off the season in my first year closing. It didn't really fit me. They felt like I would be better off as a starter and it's worked out. In their mind, they still ask me today, "Would you rather be a starter or a reliever?" And I think that later on in my career, I'll probably end up being a reliever. But right now, they feel like starting is my best suit.

Q: What would you rather be? The starter who goes out there every five days or so, or one of the everyday relievers who gets to go out there with the game on the line day in and day out?

A: I feel it's a great opportunity as a closer or setup man to come in to a game in tight situations when it counts. Every time you pitch, it means something. I really like to start, too, because every time you pitch, it's in your hands; not necessarily as to whether you win the game, but whether or not you keep the team in it and give them a shot at the victory.

Q: So what's the difference in the Class-A hitters at Daytona as opposed to the ones a year ago in Lansing?

A: I think every year it seems like they get a little bit smarter; a little more disciplined. I know in the past you can throw that breaking ball in the dirt and people will swing at it no matter what the count is. Here, they're more disciplined. They lay off that. You have to make quality pitches and establish strikes with your breaking ball. They make adjustments in the game, whereas a lot of times, younger players will look for that fastball in and it's "pull, pull, pull!" You have to learn how to pitch more and how to move the ball in and out. Mix and change speeds: this is the first step I think that makes you learn how to pitch.

Q: Who has been the biggest help to you over the years? You've had both college and professional experience now, so that has to work to your advantage.

A: My parents have been behind me and have showed me hard work, what it takes to get things done. They've told me to keep pursuing. That's a huge part of the game: keep going at it and working hard. The other part is pitching hard, the mechanics and what not. Rick Tronerud helped me out a whole lot last year. He helped me get the foundation of my mechanics. My college pitching coach, Ray Hayward, helped me a lot, too. It's a combination of a little bit from every body. Each pitching coach has their own ideas, and I just take those little bits and pieces that have worked for me and combine them all. Everyone has really helped me out, but my parents and those two guys have been the most influential. Rick could probably be a pitching coach wherever he wants, but he lives close by and is just satisfied living in Arizona I guess.

Q: Tell us about your repertoire, and in particular, the sinker pitch?

A: Certainly. I'm a sinkerballer, so my fastball is a big key, but I have to keep it down in the zone. Once you get it up—well a sinker doesn't sink when you get it up. You get hit around. That's been the thing I've been struggling with: the feel of getting that pitch down and commanding it in the zone. I also throw a slider. That's probably my second best pitch. It's a pitch that helps me out a lot when I get behind in the count. I have a good feel for it. I also throw the changeup. The change early on was a little difficult for me to find because usually in the lower levels, you can get away with just two pitches. But here, you really have to start establishing three pitches, especially as a starter. I've really had to work on it, and it's getting better and better. I throw both a soft change and a harder one, which is almost like a split.

Q: Two changeup's. Describe the differences in them?

A: I hold it the same way pretty much; I just change the grip a little and throw it with the same arm speed. The change of grip is really the bottom line. Some guys can change their arm speed a little without noticing, but a lot of people can change their grips a little here and a little there and are able maneuver their hands. But I'm really not that advanced in that just yet; it's just now becoming familiar to me right now.

Q: When you were at Oklahoma, you had some arm problems your senior year. Elbow tendonitis, I believe. What was it like going through that ordeal?

A: Well I signed kind of late. My senior year, I hurt my arm halfway through it. The Cubs drafted me and they said, "when you get healthy, we'll sign you." Well it took me almost 6 or 8 months to get healthy and when I did, I finally signed. I had a partial tear in my elbow in my ligament tendon. It was really frustrating because I was having a good year. My junior year I got drafted in the 10th round. I was doing better in my senior year. My stuff was better and I was thinking that I was going to get a higher round in the right. But it's worked out good. God has really blessed me and it's worked out in my favor I feel.

Q: The Phillies were the team who originally drafted you. So what was going through your mind when the Cubs picked you a year later?

A: Well I was excited and ready to go, but it was kind of disappointing when they said, "Hey, we're not going to sign you until you're healthy." So that kind of left a lot of questions. For about five or six months, I kept thinking, "Well what's going to happen if I don't get healthy?" or "How are they going to know if I am healthy?" So there for a while, I just worked out and tried to get healthy. It was a long, frustrating process. It was like I was working for nothing. I was doing my own thing and trying to get that contract. But finally I got to it. I was healthy and it worked out.

Q: Patience certainly pays off and that has been proven when you look at your numbers these last couple of years.

A: Yeah, it's been enjoyable and I think I've shown them that I can pitch. Hopefully I can get back on track here. I've kind of started off slow. I've had some good games; just seems like some things haven't been falling my way. But I feel good, and my confidence is still there so I've got a lot of time.

Q: You mentioned confidence. How big is that for you and your teammates?

A: Confidence is huge. Angel Guzman, our top prospect, was pitching down here and the way he gets up on the mound, he has that little skip in the jump. He's kind of saying, "You guys don't have a prayer against me! I'm going to shut you down!" (laughs) And I think that's a big reason why he does so well. He has it in his mind that he's better than everybody, but only in the right way; not too cocky, just confident. I know that a lot of times when I go out there and I'm not confident in my stuff, you get hit around and you leave balls up or you walk people. And it's really not because your stuff was that much worse, it was just that in your mind, you thought it was that bad and you weren't confident. You have to hang in there and even when things are bad, you have to say, "Hey, I'm still good." Just keep that positive attitude, because if you don't have it, you're not going to last very long.

Q: Things started off slowly for this team, and look where you all are now!

A: Yeah, we started off slow. We were 2-10 when we started off and are just on a roll. We knew we had a good team, and we knew we were going to be one of the top teams in the league. It was just a matter of putting things together and I'm glad we did because it's a long season when you don't play well. We're doing it. We're playing well, and we're enjoying it.

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