As soon as I got back from Hawaii, I headed out to Chicago. My roommate and college girlfriend were here and I planned to visit for a week, but I liked it so much that I ended up finding a place to stay. I'm living about a block away from Wrigley Field and working out at a place called Frozen Ropes, an indoor baseball facility. They have a real infield and a bunch of cages and I've been giving some hitting and pitching lessons. In the morning, I'll go in and do my work since it's about 10 degrees here and I can't do any outside. Being from Michigan, I'm used to the snow, but I got spoiled in Hawaii. Once I got back, there was about a 50-degree weather drop.
Is this your first time experiencing the whole Wrigleyville atmosphere?
I'd been through the city before, but this is the first time I've actually been able to relax and see what Chicago is all about. I'd heard some great things about the city and it's an unbelievable atmosphere. Everyone is going on and on about the Bears right now, plus the Cubs Convention. Baseball is right around the corner, so people are really excited.
Lets review your tenure in the Hawaiian Winter League. You were 4-1, but had an ERA of 5.91. What can you tell us about the experience of Hawaii?
The experience overall was unbelievable with regards to how we were treated. Everything was first-class all the way and it was unique to play alongside guys from other organizations and to hear their stories. You meet a lot of people and hopefully you get a chance to cross some of those guys again with the season coming up.
When I talked to (former Cubs pitching coordinator) Les Strode before I went down there, he talked about working on all of my pitches. I really focused then on getting my changeup down. I know how important that pitch is, especially when you start getting into hitters counts. So predominantly, that was the pitch I worked on when I was in Hawaii. I followed through with it and kind of carried it with me into my offseason workouts.
What about the Hawaii coaches? Did they let you do your own thing?
Pretty much, yeah. Coming in, they knew we had directions from our own coordinators. If we had any questions, they were open to them.
Tim Wilken, the Cubs' Scouting Director, was impressed by you in the two times he saw you in Peoria last year. What he told us was that you had a curveball that has a chance to be an out-pitch. Would you say that's your best pitch at this point?
Coming into last off-season, I tried to make it a little more of a strikeout pitch. Predominantly, I was coming in and facing a lot of lefties at Peoria, so I wanted to go through the season with a pitch that I could use to put those guys away. I started to get a feel for it during Spring Training and toward the end of the season, I would say that it was probably my go-to pitch to get a strikeout in key situations.
What else can you tell us about your repertoire?
When I first started pitching, I tried to strike everybody out. I tried to do everything on my own. Since then I've learned how to pitch a little more. I've been working on keeping my fastball down and trying to get more groundballs early in the count. And like I said, hopefully coming into this Spring Training, I'll be able to utilize the changeup more in hitter's counts.
You were used strictly as a reliever at Peoria, but of course you started in Hawaii. Do you or the Cubs feel your future now is as a starter?
I'm not sure what the Cubs' plans are for me this coming season. Every time you get the ball, whether it's starting or relieving, your job is to get guys out. I love to compete and I'm not really concerned with where I end up this season or what role I end up in as long as I'm giving our team a chance every time I get the ball.
Did you enjoy starting more than relieving, or vice-versa?
I hadn't started any games leading up to the experience in Hawaii, but I enjoyed it in the sense that I would start the game and it was in my hands from the get-go. I also like the idea of coming in from the bullpen and knowing I'm going to have a chance to pitch every other day. They both have their pro's and con's.
Did you notice any change in your velocity between the two roles?
Not a whole lot. Only pitching about an inning or two from the bullpen and then going into a situation where I would pitch about five innings, I didn't really feel any wear-down. I credit that a lot to our strength and conditioning coach. But no, I didn't feel any real difference.