SeattleClubhouse Q&A: Rusty Shellhorn

A native of Liberty Lake, Washington, and former Washington State Cougar, Rusty Shellhorn talks with SeattleClubhouse's Rick Randall about his whirlwind debut season where the left-hander chosen in the 31st round pitched fantastically at three different levels and experienced playoff baseball.

A 2.75 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 9.1 SO/9 and 3.62 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 75 1/3 innings while climbing two levels is a strong debut season for any draftee. Numbers befitting of a high draft pick with textbook size and stuff. But when you consider that draftee was actually the "undersized" 31st rounder, left-hander Rusty Shellhorn, those numbers across 14 games (13 starts) become even more impressive.

Rusty took the time recently to talk with SeattleClubhouse's Rick Randall about shifting colleges, being drafted by his hometown team, and being in a few pennant races.

SeattleClubhouse: Thanks for taking the time to talk with me today, Rusty.

Rusty Shellhorn: Not a problem, Rick, thanks for having me.

SC: You weren't the highest draft pick, but this season has seemingly gone very well for you as you've pitched your way into two promotions and had some action in some important games for your teams. A bit of a whirlwind, I'm sure, but not a bad experience for your first season, right?

RS: Oh yeah, it has been awesome. I'm just thankful to have the opportunity to be drafted at all, and the fact that it came with my hometown team makes it all that much better. And it's been a great ride this summer as every level that I've been at has been involved in pennant races.

SC: That certainly makes the grind a lot easier.

RS: Definitely.

SC: Three different environments and three different climates that you got to play in this year between Arizona in the fun summer heat, Clinton, Iowa and Everett.

RS: Yeah. Arizona was hot, hot and hotter. Clinton wasn't too bad here at the end of the year, and being in Washington, I was used to that since I grew up here, so Everett was a nice break.

SC: Back before the draft, you're originally a Washingtonian and you went to Washington State out of high school before transferring to Texas Tech, where the Mariners selected you in the draft this year. Can you elaborate about the transfer and why Texas Tech?

RS: Well, I originally went to Washington State out of high school as that was kind of my dream college, the hometown school, I suppose. Unfortunately things just didn't work out baseball-wise as far as playing time. So I decided to transfer to kind of refresh my baseball career. I actually played for Andy Jarvis, who is a Washington native also, the summer after my freshman year in a summer league and he is a volunteer assistant at Texas Tech so that is the way that I wound up at Tech.

SC: And you played with Jamodrick McGruder at Texas Tech -- where he led the club in hitting and you ranked 2nd in wins this year -- and in Everett.

RS: Yes I did. Funny how that worked out.

SC: Well you mentioned the hometown team and growing up in Washington I assume you were a big Mariners fan even before you were drafted by them, correct?

RS: Yeah, I grew up a huge Mariners fan, a huge Griffey fan as a kid, so they've always been my team.

SC: Well you've had great success for that team this year after a low-profile draft selection. You haven't performed like a late-round pick as you've cruised through a few stops. What has allowed you to succeed so well this year?

RS: I think that I pitch with a bit of a chip on my shoulder. I'm not the biggest guy, I don't throw 95-miler-per-hour and, like you said, I'm not a high-profile draft pick, but that stuff doesn't really matter to me. I just go out there and compete every single day. I know it is an uphill battle for me and that's no problem. That's how I succeed, actually, is when I have a tougher challenge. I try to pound the strikezone, attack hitters and work hard. And I also try to outsmart hitters. I may not have the best stuff out there but I just work hard and outsmart them.

SC: Let's talk about your drive and motivation. Do you use some of that stigma against smaller guys to help give you some extra motivation game to game, start to start, inning to inning?

RS: Absolutely. When you're small, like I said, you need to pitch with a bit of a chip on your shoulder. And it's been that way ever since I was a kid. When I was younger I was by far the smallest -- and probably the worst -- player on my team, and I think that really helped motivate me to work harder and succeed at the level that I am now.

SC: And what does your repertoire look like that you use to outwork and outsmart those bigger hitters.

RS: I work with my fastball, a change-up and a curve. My curve used to be my big pitch but right now my change is my best, most effective pitch.

SC: Who would you count as the biggest influence on your career as a pitcher to this point?

RS: I don't know if it is just one guy that I can point to. I think that it is a collection of all of the coaches that I had in college, high school and on down. Dan Spencer at Texas Tech helped me a lot with my curveball and my command. Cibney Bello in the AZL, Andrew Lorraine here (in Clinton) and Rich Dorman in Everett, all three of those guys have helped me a lot since I've been in pro ball. Obviously my family has been huge for me and their support for me has helped me a lot.

SC: Being a college draftee that pitched this year, what has the change from pitching on six, seven or eight days rest at times to pitching every five days been like for you?

RS: It's been different, but I think I've handled it pretty well. Having those extra days of rest in between starts can be nice, but really there were times in college where you would get in extra throwing because of the extra days, but I think I've adapted well to this and I think it is easier to get into a pretty set routine that helps breed the self-confidence. Once you develop a good routine it isn't too big of an adjustment.

SC: Getting back to draft time, I believe it was Larry Stone that said when you were picked that it didn't even matter what you did on the field, what an absolutely fantastic name: Rusty Shellhorn. What is the origin behind the name, if anything?

RS: (laughs) Well, my dad told me that when he played baseball as a kid he played with a kid named Rusty and he always liked the name, so that is where that came from. Nothing more than that.

SC: Do you set in-season goals to help keep you on track start-to-start as you work your work to improve your game?

RS: Definitely, I set goals for the short-term and long-term. My biggest thing going into each start is just to get a quality start and give my team a chance to win. As far as long-term goals, I don't say things like, "I want an under-3.00 ERA," I just want to continue to get better and learn things and get better and progress as a pitcher, mentally and physically. If I can do that, the stats will take care of themselves.

SC: The mental aspect of the game -- from preparation to execution -- that you just touched on a bit is really something that separates players in the minor leagues. Obviously there are a lot of talented players throughout the minors, but it isn't always the guys with the best talent that make it the furthest. That mental side of the game often works as a separator. What do you do from that side of the game to give yourself an edge?

RS: Obviously, being not the biggest guy like we've talked about, I've faced a lot of adversity and I've grown a lot mentally. When I first went to college, I...I don't want to say I was immature, but I was really. I wasn't mentally very tough. I think I've grown a lot over the last four years or so in that aspect. I've worked hard to try and bring the exact same emotion and demeanor to the game every day. I don't want to get too up or too down -- if you get too up or down then your outings are going to be everywhere, too. So I'm working to just bring a consistency from the mental side as well as the physical side every time out.

SC: The 2012 season has seen a lot of that consistency from you, Rusty.

Thanks again for your time today and best wishes on a healthy, productive offseason and we look forward to seeing more consistent results from you in 2013 and beyond.

RS: Thank you Rick, I appreciate it.

Looking for more Mariners prospect player interviews, news and articles? Want to keep up with which prospects are hot and cold for the M's? "Like" SeattleClubhouse on Facebook and follow SeattleClubhouse's Rick Randall on Twitter at @randallball.

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