This week, SFDugout.com talks with Dave McKae, one of the starting pitchers who has helped lead the San Jose Giants to an early lead in the California League. McKae, a Bay Area native from Danville and former UC Davis Aggie, was named the California League Pitcher of the Week for the week ending on April 22. Through games played May 2nd, McKae has a 2.08 ERA and a 2-1 record on the year.
SFDugout.com: So Dave, tell us how it felt to win the California Pitcher of the Week award last week.
Dave McKae: It was a great honor. I just came in here this season trying to prove myself at each level. I think I'm gonna have to do that every step of the way. I'm just trying to play as well as I can and let everything happen.
SFD: You're one of the older pitchers on the team, and one of the older pitchers in the league. What sort of advantages do you think that gives you, if any, pitching in the league?
McKae: Well I definitely had some quality instructors in the past, one of them being Matt Vaughn at UC Davis. I think I really learned a lot about how to be a successful pitcher from him, and I was fortunate to have been at UC Davis for five years to absorb all that information. I red-shirted my freshman year there, and played four before being signed by the Giants. So yeah, I think the experience definitely helps, especially when you don't have a rocket arm.
SFD: Why don't we talk about Davis for a bit. You were there while they were transitioning from Division-II to Division-I. What was it like to be there for that sort of a transition?
McKae: Well, we definitely felt like we were ready to make that move. The year before we made the transition, we set a number of school records like the consecutive winning streak, and we were pretty dominant in the CCAA, which is that Division-II league we were in. The first year in D-I we wanted to prove we belonged in that league, and our goal was to go above .500 that year, and we just missed that mark in the last weekend. We had a shot to do it, but we faced some pretty good talent: Long Beach State, (Cal State) Fullerton, (UC) Irvine, (UC) Riverside, Cal Poly. And among those teams you had some top draft picks that year: Troy Tulowitzki, who's already in the show, Cesar Ramos, Brian Anderson, who's with us obviously, Ricky Romero. Just a long list of guys that are pretty good athletes.
SFD: When you were at Davis, you took a line drive to your face. How did that affect you in terms of your pitching?
McKae: It didn't really affect me that much. The next outing I came out, I started the next week at Long Beach and threw over five perfect innings and one of the best outings that year. And it just happened to be in front of the Padres general manager, so they got a good look at that. Yeah, it hasn't really affected me, I just try to go out there. I don't try to miss the bat now anymore than I was before. You just throw to your location. The chances of something like that happening are pretty slim.
SFD: After Davis, you signed as a fifth-year senior. There was a report that there were at least 10 teams after you, and that you were acting as your own agent in negotiations. Why the Giants?
McKae: Well Greg Bruso played at UC Davis, and he signed with the Giants in '02. He was a pitcher who throws similar to my style. We are both command pitchers, we don't have a lot of velocity, but we're still able to get outs. They gave him a really legit chance here, and that's what I was looking for: A team that was showing a lot of interest, and who was going to give me a chance to compete for a spot in the majors leagues. He made it up to Double-A before he had some arm problems, and they ended up trading him straight up for Eric Young, Jr. Yeah, I was just looking for a team that would give me a chance to make it to the major leagues. And it was also the team that I grew up rooting for in the Bay Area. It kind of all came together, the whole package.
SFD: Let's talk about what you throw. You've noted that you're not the hardest thrower. What sort of pitches do you have? What really are your strengths when you're on the mound.
McKae: Well I throw a cut fastball, a changeup, which is more like a sinker, I guess, and I also throw a curveball. I guess my strengths are my ability to throw any one of those in any count. I'll throw ‘em first pitch or 3-2. It doesn't make a difference; Keep hitters off-balance and keep them guessing, ‘cause Steve Decker always tells our pitchers that ‘A comfortable hitter is a good hitter.' So you keep them off-balance and that's what we're trying to do.
SFD: Let's talk about last year a little bit. You were with a great Augusta team. You didn't get a start on your season until late-May. Was there a particular reason for that?
McKae: Yeah, I was hanging back in Spring Training. I had some soreness in my arm and they wanted to give me a few extra weeks. A few extra weeks turned two months, but when I got to Augusta, I found my rhythm. We had a very strong team down there.
SFD: What was it like going on that run late in the year?
McKae: That was great, every day. Even with this team, every time we come out here, we expect to win. It's pretty much the same guys we had, plus we get a couple of the guys who were in Salem last year on a championship team, so it's only going to make us better. It's a great feeling, just coming out here every day expecting to win, guys are feeling relaxed and just executing when the game is on the line, so we're winning the close ones.
SFD: Over the offseason, you wrote a book with Nick Pereira. Why don't you tell us a little bit about what the book is, and what you put into it?
McKae: Well back in 2005 when Nick and I signed, we had a lot of time to talk on these bus rides. So we were trying to come up with ideas of what we could do in the offseason, and one of the things we thought of was to write a book. So we finally had the time this last offseason. I was doing some pitching instruction out in Danville, and just found that there was a strong need for a book that younger kids could understand that explained pitching mechanics and training methods used by professional athletes or professional pitchers. So I just started writing things down while I was commuting to San Francisco for workouts, and I assigned a couple of chapters to Nick to write, and combined it all together. I had a photographer come out, who just happens to be my girlfriend's dad. I definitely have had a lot of help from friends and family to put this together and make it happen. Lulu.com was the publisher, and just made it real easy for me to write the book, and just upload it in a PDF file online, and there we had it. It's available now. We purchased a domain, pitchingperfection.com, so you type that it, it will forward you right to the Lulu (Web) site. There's an option to buy it right on the page; it's $14.95. So far it's done real well, so far we have close to 700 copies in circulation.
SFD: And there's been a good reaction to it?
McKae: Yeah, the entire Giants organization has seen it, and we've had nothing but positive responses. Bob Stanley and Lee Smith have both commented on it, they're both on the back page of the book. They think it's a great tool for young pitchers to learn how to train their bodies to repeat a consistent delivery and also teach them to throw using their entire body, which a lot of these kids don't. You can see right away that they aren't getting the most out of their bodies.
SFD: You're from Danville, originally, and went to UC Davis, so you have a lot of ties to the Bay Area. What's it like getting a chance to pitch in the Bay Area in the Minor Leagues?
McKae: It's great. I'm only 45 minutes from Danville, my hometown. I actually never made it down here to see a minor league game, but I'd been to some Rivercat games. But yeah, it's a great opportunity to be close to home with family and friends and my girlfriend. I couldn't really ask for a better situation right now.
SFD: Do all your teammates usually count on you and Mike Mooney to tell them were all the hot spots for all the nightlife around here?
McKae: No, they usually go to Anthony Contreras or somebody who's really from this area. I can get around here a little bit. I have an idea of where I am.
SFD: Last thing. While you were with the Aggies, you wrote a journal for the newspaper there, and one thing you mentioned was how you didn't have a chance to win a championship there, since as the team was transitioning it wasn't eligible. How do you feel about your chances to win a championship with this team?
McKae: Oh, I think it's as good as it was last year, with a lot of speed on offense and we're going to put pressure on teams. And if we can get those pitchers on the opposing teams to be thinking about our runners, they're not going to be executing their pitches as well. So far we've done a really great job. We're sitting a couple of games up in first right now, and we hope to extend that lead a little bit here. I think we have a great chance.
"In Pursuit of Pitching Perfection", co-authored by Dave McKae and Nick Pereria, can be purchased online at Lulu.com, or at the San Jose Giants store at Municipal Stadium.
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