Q&A with Aaron Shafer

Chicago Cubs pitching prospect Aaron Shafer has made a strong case to be the ace of the Class-A Peoria Chiefs' rotation. The right-hander and second-round Cubs draft pick from Wichita State a year ago won his first two starts to open 2009, tossing 12 innings and allowing just two earned runs for a 1.50 ERA. Shafer had notched nine strikeouts while issuing one walk in his first two outings.

Q: You're off to a good start. What did you have working for you in those first two games?

A: I think the main thing is I've been locating my fastball pretty well. I'm working ahead and I'm getting guys out with my curveball late in counts; that's what I'm getting strikeouts with. Other than that, really, in counts I can make guys guess and throw my changeup over the plate. When I throw all three of my pitches over the plate for strikes and get good strikes, I think that's a big part of my game.

Q: That sounds like your style of pitching, so to speak: attack the zone without necessarily overpowering hitters.

A: Yeah, exactly. I'm not a guy that throws overly hard. I'm not going to blow the ball by very many people unless I catch them guessing. So I pitch to contact, let them hit the ball and try to miss barrels so that they're not hitting it hard. When I'm doing that and they're (swinging) early in counts, I feel like I have a definite advantage.

Q: What are you and pitching coach Rich Bombard working on at the moment?

A: Right now, they've just told me to go out and attack, pitch your game and get out there and get strike one. That's been the main thing, the main focus right now. There is always little goals in between there, but mostly it's just go out there and do your thing and be you. It's my first season and they understand that, so they're just letting me do my thing first and then if it's not working out, I'm sure we're going to adjust.

Q: What mechanical issues have you worked on ironing out this season?

A: It's the same stuff. I've really improved on keeping my head still and right now I'm just working on getting better tilt on the ball, whether it be finishing a little better or just staying back more. So I'm just trying to keep good tilt and downhill tilt. Other than that, that's about all I'm doing right now. It's nothing revolutionary; just the normal little tweaks that you make.

Q: How has your arm felt after your first couple of games in this weather?

A: You know, it's been fine. I'm used to throwing in cold weather, being at Wichita and being around the Midwest. You get used to it. Once I get loose, I'm pretty good about staying loose. My arm's been fine as far as that goes. It's early and it's been chilly and hopefully it gets warmer soon, but it's not been bad.

Q: Were you a little surprised when they let you go seven innings in your second start? Most guys this time of year, especially in the minor leagues, they don't really turn them loose that much.

A: Yeah, I was (surprised). I figured after the sixth they were going to take me out. I was surprised to go six because I'd talked to [Cubs Minor League Pitching Coordinator Mark] Riggins the day before and he talked about if I go out there and get six innings with 85 pitches, he goes, ‘That's a great outing.' And I said ‘OK, well six is a goal.' And then they sent me out in the seventh because I had a real low pitch count; I only threw 80 pitches in seven innings. I liked it a lot just because it showed they trusted me to go out and get outs, and that's a big deal to me.

Q: How have you liked playing for Marty Pevey thus far? Have you and the rest of the players formed a good rapport with him?

A: You know, Marty's a really good dude. He's really funny. He really keeps it loose. He doesn't talk a lot to pitchers, pretty much like (most) managers do; they don't talk a lot to pitchers very much. But he puts his two cents in about the hitting side of things and that helps out, too. Like I said, he keeps it loose. He's a really good dude. He seems like he knows the game really well … He's always got a little comment for everything. He's always talking and sharing a little bit of something. He may not be trying to be funny, but the way he puts things together is not something you hear all the time.

Q: How important would it be for you to get to Daytona by the end of the year?

A: I think it's really important to me. I really thought I was going to be there to start the season, but they moved me down to the (Peoria) team actually the day before we left (spring training). The main thing is I feel like I belong there; I feel like I could have pitched there. But I'm out here, I'm doing my job, and hopefully they notice and move me up. But if they don't, I'll just keep doing my job. It's out of my hands and out of my control. All I can do is take care of things on the field and hopefully they notice and get me moving forward, because the goal is not to be here at the end of the season; the goal is to be closer to the big leagues, and I want to keep striding forward.

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