Q&A with Justin Berg

The final month of the season in the minor leagues can be a time when many pitchers put their game on cruise control. Justin Berg wanted to be the exact opposite in 2007.

After beginning the season in a rut with a plus-11 ERA in April, the 23-year-old Berg knew the importance of closing the year on a positive note. He did that by going 3-0 with a 4.03 ERA in the final two months of the season.

Those may not seem like elite numbers, but they could be just a taste of things to come for Berg – ranked as the No. 12 overall prospect in the Cubs' farm system by InsideTheIvy.com – in 2008 and beyond.

With over a month in the Arizona Fall League, Berg says he now has the confidence to throw all of his pitches – including his bread-and-butter, the sinker – in any count for strikes, and he hopes the Cubs reward his hard work with an invitation to Big League Spring Training.

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Most of your work in the AFL was done in the bullpen. What did you make of the experience you got from pitching in relief?

JUSTIN BERG: I threw 140 innings in the regular season and six more in the playoffs. I figured I had a lot of innings already and they just wanted me to go down there (Arizona) and get some work in; work on throwing strikes and my off-speed pitches. I thought it was a great experience and I enjoyed the competition. Meeting all of the players from other teams was an unbelievable and enjoyable experience.

Were you pleased with the work you put toward improving your off-speed pitches?

JUSTIN BERG: I was working on my changeup. That was my No. 1 pitch that I wanted to work on (because) I have my slider to the point now where I feel comfortable enough now to throw it in any count and in a count where you normally wouldn't expect one. I felt that my changeup was the pitch that I really needed to develop and be able to throw for strikes. Just being able to go down there for a month and throw it for the full month, it really helped out a lot. I have a better feel for it now and really feel that it could be another tough pitch in my repertoire.

Of course your toughest pitch is that sinker of yours, and your pitching coach at Tennessee, Dennis Lewallyn, even compared you to Brandon Webb. That's a pretty lofty comparison.

JUSTIN BERG: Yeah, "Lew" is a great guy and I really got along with him and took in his advice because I know he's been there. Comparing me to Brandon Webb, I almost thought it was a little too far-fetched, but even my teammates were behind him on that. Some of them think that I might even have a better sinker because I throw it a little bit harder. So for him to compare me to (Webb), that's pretty special.

What do you have to do to get to the same level as Webb?

JUSTIN BERG: Brandon Webb was in High-A or Low-A and he hit like 47 batters one year. I hit 14, 17, something like that. (Tennessee manager) Pat Listach turned to "Lew" one day and said: ‘Isn't that a lot?' And "Lew" told him about Webb. I think the main thing I need to work on is getting strike one as much as I can. I believe my stuff is good enough to get hitters out, but I need to throw more strikes and pound the zone.

You got in a little rut to start the season and that seemed to be the biggest difference between '07 and '06 for you. Were you happy with the way you finished up?

JUSTIN BERG: I really was. (Early on) I battled sickness and I also came out one game in the third inning with a little bicep tightness against Chattanooga at home. But I said to myself with about four starts left that it was about that time of year when a lot of people start letting up and putting it on cruise control and coasting into the end of the season. I said to myself that I really wanted to go out and prove myself because hitters get a lot better throughout the year and I really think that by winning the last four games in a row like I did, it says that I wasn't shutting it down early and that I was willing to put all of the effort into the whole season. I was really happy that I got my record back to the even mark.

You don't register a lot of strikeouts, per se, but with the sinker that you have, is it easier to try and get the batter to pound it into the ground and get the groundball out?

JUSTIN BERG: Absolutely. I would take 20 groundballs in a game versus 10 strikeouts. ... You're not always going to get the guy to hit the ball in the first three or four pitches, but you might be able to set yourself up the rest of the way to pitch through the seventh or eighth inning.

Going into next year, are you thinking ahead to what level you may begin '08, or perhaps getting an invitation to Big League Spring Training?

JUSTIN BERG: I was talking to my agent and he's really pulling for me and trying to get me an invite to big league camp, which would be an unbelievable experience. If I do get that chance, I just want to go out and have a good spring. Even if they don't pick me, just let them know that if there's somebody they need later in the reason, I want to be that guy.


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