Lone Star Dugout Q&A: Keith Comstock (Part 2)
At various points of each season, Lone Star Dugout gets first-hand updates on the Texas Rangers' ailing pitchers from the organization's rehab pitching coordinator, Keith Comstock.
In part one of this two-part interview, Comstock discussed Martin Perez (left wrist), Sam Stafford (returning from shoulder surgery), and Justin Miller (Tommy John surgery). Part one can be viewed at this link.
The second part of the interview, found below, talks about Tommy John rehabbers RHP Matt West, RHP David Perez, LHP Greg Williams, and LHP Chad Bell, in addition to hard-throwing righty Roman Mendez.
Jason Cole: You mentioned Matt West. He had Tommy John surgery in August of last year. Where is he at in his rehab?
Keith Comstock: Matt has done a lot of growing up. He's not the same kid anymore. He's just got so much maturity now. He doesn't have that exterior kind of stand-off kind of guy. He's very open now, and he's very humble.
He's probably one of the strongest lower-half guys I've seen in that weight room. I mean, he's squatting 500 pounds right now. And that is a beast. I'm just amazed by that. And he is just getting after it. I'm really looking forward to him and when he gets on the mound. He realizes that there's some issues he's going to have to clean up with his delivery.
But for the most part, he's going to be exciting when he comes back. Because he's already got a big league facade as far as, ‘Here's the baseball, hit it.' There's really no game plan or anything like that. He really has that mental aspect of mano y mano, which boils right down to it––it's what you've got to have to pitch up there.
But he is probably going to be around late August. Hopefully we'll get him in the Fall League. That's what we're shooting for with Matt. We want to get him some kind of pitching in this year.
Cole: Having the surgery in August, West was also out here for a good chunk of the offseason. He'll obviously be out here for the entire regular season, as well. How difficult is it to keep guys focused when they're in Arizona at the complex every day for so long?
Comstock: It is. And we realize that when they hit the peak, it's hard to maintain it. There is some fall. We just try to stop it as much as we can. And because of their workouts that we develop, we increase the floor. We always raise the floor so they don't drop as far anymore.
They'll develop their workouts and accountability, and then they'll fall. Wilmer Font is a good example of this guy. Because he would work, and then he would just get this, ‘I don't want to work this week,' kind of mentality. So he would fall a little bit. But he would be able to stop himself and get back up again.
But that's why we try to liven things up––especially in October, November, December, and January when nobody else is here and it's just us four grinding through it. It's me, (strength and conditioning coordinator) Napoleon Pichardo, (medical coordinator) Dale Gilbert, and (rehab coordinator) T.J. Nakagawa, and then whoever is there with us. So we just try to make things really loose at that particular time. I like to throw football passes to get their mind off baseball sometimes.
But the bottom line is that, if you want to be mentally tough in this game, you've got to go through mentally tough times. And right now, you're going through mentally tough times. It's going to strengthen you, but you've got to use it as a plus.
Cole: Was that a difficulty with West at all, given the fact that he was in big league camp and––by all appearances––on his way to the major leagues when he went down with the elbow issues?
Comstock: Exactly. His first rehab, we tried to do without surgery. It didn't go well. Matty was bucking the system a little bit. He didn't really buy into some of the arm stuff and the strengthening stuff that goes along with it. But I'll tell you what, this time around––after this surgery––he's buying into it. And when he bought into it, it just took off. He knows that he can get back on to that path again.
I just tell him that ‘When you come out of rehab, you can't come out walking. You have to come out hitting the road running.' Because some people have caught up to you, and some people have leapfrogged over you. That's the reality of rehab, as well. To make up that ground, you have to hit the ground running. And every single one of them has done that––unless you're a big leaguer.
If you're a big leaguer that comes down, the chances are that you're going right back to the big leagues. That's like a Scott Feldman, like I've had before, or a Mark Lowe. Those guys were going to go back to the big leagues either way. But a West, a Font, a Miller––some of these guys that were on their way and then got this hiccup––they're going to find that––not too many people pass them over, so they're going to be okay. But a few people have caught up to them.
Cole: The one major leaguer I want to ask you about is Joakim Soria. He's been throwing bullpens throughout camp. How is he developing?
Comstock: Oh, he has come along great. He is really going to be a factor. I hate giving him up because he works so hard, and he takes the other Latins with him. He comes down here and takes them out to dinner or lunch. But if they're in that weight room, they have to work just as hard as he does. And that's including Neftali Feliz, that's including David Perez. They have to work, because he's putting in his work.
Cole: That's kind of what Endy Chavez was like with the younger Latin American players when he spent a year rehabbing out here, wasn't it?
Comstock: Yes. Chavez was like that. Willie Eyre was like that. Scott Feldman was like that. I've been really lucky with the big leaguers that they've had down. They have been quality guys that take the time to talk to these guys. There's no entitlement or egos or anything like that. I've been really lucky.
Cole: You mentioned David Perez. He had Tommy John surgery last summer, but a big part of his struggles over the last two years had been more mental than physical. When I interviewed you last season, you talked about how when you have guys in rehab for a year, the staff really works hard to develop the mental aspect of a player's game when they're in the training room. How is that coming along with Perez?
Comstock: Real good. He's a guy that is a lot like Wilmer, where you'll get him and then you'll fall. You try to get him not to fall as far.
David's big hiccup came when he had to go back to get his visa, and he couldn't get his visa on time. It was no fault to anyone––that's just the way that works over there. So he had spent longer time in the Dominican than we wanted to. He ended up spending a month, so we lost a little bit.
When he came back, he didn't have the same drive, the same motivation, and the same attitude. So we had to get that going again. And then unfortunately, when spring training starts, there are so many bodies and so many things that some of the rehab can fall through the cracks as far as, ‘Are we watching him as well as we can?' Well, we can't because I'm all over the place, Dale is all over the place, and T.J. is all over the place.
And we warn these guys that this is what happens during spring training, so don't ever think that you're going totally unnoticed––because the unnoticed is noticeable to us. And David has tried to go unnoticed, and we noticed it. So we just had to get him back on track again.
Again, the best thing that has happened to David has been Neftali. Neftali has taken him and said, ‘Hey, come with me. You're going to come work with me.' And Nefi is a big son of a gun. I don't know if you've stood next to Nefi, but that body is big. I had him in '07, and he wasn't that big. So he has really taken his weight room to another level.
Cole: I think Feliz is bigger than he was last year.
Comstock: Yeah, you're right. No question.
Cole: Is the hope for Perez to be back into game action around instructs?
Comstock: Yeah. I don't think we'll be able to get him into the Fall League, but instructs and then Dominican instructs––get him going in there and get him back.
David is a sleeper. He's kind of gone unnoticed the last couple months because of what has happened. But if he ever comes out pitching the way he can––this guy was 94-96 with a breaking ball and a changeup––and a good breaking ball. If we can get him back to that, and I know we can with a better body, better makeup, and more character and less personality, he's going to be a factor too. He's going to be a sleeper.
I like for him to be underneath the radar right now. There's not a lot of people asking questions about him, which is good. Because I like to use that to my advantage when I'm working with him. Because if he's ever working slow or not working enough, I say, ‘David who? David who? That's what they're saying, David who? It's not David Perez anymore. It's David who?' And so that pushes him a little bit (laughs).
Cole: You had Roman Mendez out here a little bit last season and again to start this spring. Did you guys make any adjustments to his delivery?
Comstock: Yeah, we've done a little bit of that. But mostly (minor league pitching coordinator) Danny Clark and (Double-A pitching coach) Jeff Andrews have done a nice job with that. Mostly it wasn't rehab per se. And I felt it was good enough––that he was strong enough to have other coaches work with him if there was some kind of mechanical stuff. They increased his stride, and I think that has been the hugest thing. Jeff and Danny were doing that, and it has really taken off.
Cole: What has the increased stride done in terms of benefiting Mendez on the mound?
Comstock: I think it has helped him with his command, confidence, and I think it has put a little velo on, too. He was rip-roaring and firing in that prospect game the other night.
Cole: Yeah, he was up to 98 mph.
Comstock: Yeah. He was cheesing it. Let's face it––if you get that 6-foot-4 body closer to the plate another inch or two, it adds a little something to it.
Cole: The last guy I wanted to ask about was Greg Williams, who kind of broke out last year. As a lefty reliever, even though he struggled with command at times, he was showing plus velocity with plus sink.
Comstock: Yeah, plus-plus sink.
Cole: I'm sure that was disappointing for Williams to undergo Tommy John at the end of a breakout year, having the surgery at the end of instructs. What stage of the rehab process is he at right now?
Comstock: He has done a great job. He came in––they're all depressed. Every one of them is depressed. So we give them some time for that. You're not sure if you've lost your career or not. Sometimes it feels like there's a loss or a death in the family. I know that seems like it's kind of extreme, but sometimes it feels like that for them.
So we let them go with those feelings because we always want to bring them back to those feelings sometimes––like, ‘Hey, remember what it was like a month ago? You're not there anymore, and you're in this place.' So we kind of use it. And he was like that. So I just had to tell him that we had to work on the mental toughness part. This is where mental toughness comes in.
And once he got past those first two weeks, he started saying, ‘Okay, I can start working up a sweat now. I can start doing it.' And his body has changed. He has gotten a little bit broader shoulders now. The pecs are sticking out of his shirt. This guy could be Matt Harrison, to me, in my opinion. You look at Matty, and he's parallel to that kind of body, that kind of sink, that kind of movement. He might not have the breaking ball––the slider––that Matty has right now. But he's 94-95 with some hard sink.
My projection is for him to be––maybe not in the starting rotation––but the same kind of stuff that Matt Harrison has. He throws harder than Richard Bleier, but he has that Bleier movement. Bleier has some big sink, too, but Williams has that same kind of sink with big velocity.
Cole: Williams had surgery in October, correct?
Comstock: Yeah. So what we'll do with him––we'll probably get him going and then if we have to bring him back in that early January program. He might not be able to see a hitter. I don't know if he'll see a hitter or not. We might sneak him into that Fall League if we can, if he's around that time. It might be too late. We might send him into the Dominican to get some work pitching.
Cole: Stafford was kind of like this, where he was ready to begin pitching to hitters again right in the middle of the offseason. How tough is it for guys like that––when they're ready to throw, there's nobody to throw to?
Comstock: That's the hardest part. There's nothing you can do. It's January or it's December. We couldn't send them to Puerto Rico. They aren't ready for that, and they won't let rehabs in there. So that's the tough thing about that part.
That's why Chad Bell made the decision to have the surgery now. We said, 'Here's the benefit of having the surgery now as opposed to waiting.' Because if you want, then it could be a year and a half. If we do it now, it's like Justin Miller––you'll be back next May. You'll be at spring training throwing in front of people and stuff like that. For me, what I've learned in the past seven years on this job––boy, that Tommy John in March is good.