Q&A on Matt Durkin

San Jose State head coach Sam Piraro recently took time to talk with NYFansonly.com regarding Mets second round pick Matt Durkin. Find out what many teams, and scouts did not know about Durkin regarding his struggles pitching this season, and also whether or not Durkin will return to San Jose State in September, or sign with the Mets this summer. <b>(Free Preview of Premium Content)</b>

NYF: Can you just give us a little scouting report on Durkin. What pitches does he throw, which pitch do you feel is his strongest, and which pitch he needs to work on to be more effective?

Coach Piraro: Matt is a power pitcher, his best pitch is his fastball, and he has a very easy motion, arm action which is very difficulty for hitters to evaluate so the ball really gets on a hitter in a hurry. With his fastball he can hit the 94-95 range, however he usually pitches in the 89-91 range in a game. He can get it up their higher, however he does compromise his control when he does pitch that hard, and tends to lose the strike zone when he does that. His second pitch right now is yet to be determined. He has flirted with a curveball, and a slider, but what he has ended up with is a slurve, and it is a pitch he has to develop as he moves into the professional level. We wanted him to throw a hard breaking ball because it came off his fastball, that is what we wanted him to do. However, he got trapped in between the curve ball, and the slider, and it ended up being somewhat of a spinner. If he can get the hard breaking ball in the hitting zone it would really help him, because his fastball is just really explosive, and hitters chase it out of the zone, especially up in the zone. It really is a hard pitch, his high fastball for hitters to lay off. He flirted a little with the change-up, however he really did not have the confidence in it to use it in crucial situation. Basically right now leaving San Jose State, he is a three pitch pitcher, but his fastball is his money pitch.

NYF: Matt excelled in his first two years at San Jose St. winning 18 games with a 2.72ERA, and had a 3-1 strikeout to walk ratio. This year he struggled a bit. Can you just briefly walk us through his season, and what you saw as far as the reasons he did struggle?

Coach Piraro: To me three factors contributed to that, and the third one nobody outside our team knew, and we didn't want anyone else to know. First he was under tremendous scrutiny from the scouts this year. He couldn't pitch a ball game without 50 guys following him, and chasing him every step he made. Now I asked him if that was a problem, and he told me it was not because he also dealt with that in high school, but who knows. I don't know if there was an anxiety with that or pressure. Secondly, the hitters really concentrated on him hard, and Matt is a notorious high pitch count guy, and I had to remove him in 3/4 of his starts before the 7th inning, and not because of ineffectiveness, but because of pitch count. It was not unusual for him to have a 25-30 pitch inning, and those really did not end up being run producing innings, but guys working the count, and fouling pitches off, because they knew they could get him out of the ballgame early, so hitters did a great job against him being able to lay off pitches, being able to foul off pitches, and things of that nature. Thirdly he had a shin problem, he had a slight break in his shin, and he never used this as an excuse which is why I just had so much respect for him because his landing leg was compromised, because of that, and as a result it didn't make his pitches be effective. When a pitcher can't step through on the pitches he makes, especially a power pitcher like Matt is, it really will hurt, and to me that was a major problem. He rode a stationery bike for his conditioning because he just could not run. Very rarely would he participate in team drills. Occasionally he would participate in bunt routes, and running to, and covering first base, however that was the most of any workout we really had him doing.

NYF: Matt was drafted out of high school in the 10th round by the Diamondbacks. Are you aware of the reason he decided on going to college, and not straight to the professional level?

Coach Piraro: I think he just felt he had a long way to go. When we saw Matt in high school he basically had little command on his pitches. He basically just overpowered everyone. In other words he threw the ball at a guys eyes, they swung at it. He threw the ball in the dirt, they would swing away. His line at the end of the game would read 7innings, 2 hits, 1 run, 7 walks and 13 strikeouts. Also his parents wanted him to pursue an education, and they felt it would be good for him to get into college, and have that as a backup, just in case professional baseball did not work out, so I am convinced those were the two reasons for his decision.

NYF: If you had to compare Matt to a major league pitcher, who do you think he most likely resembles?

Coach Piraro: I'm trying to think of someone....I would really have to give it some thought...You know it would have to be a guy that throws hard, and has some control issues. Someone who can just dominate a game but at the same time could get in trouble every inning because of his control.

NYF: What do you think is Matt's best quality on the mound as a pitcher?

Coach Piraro: He can pitch out of trouble. I think that is an unbelievable quality to have. If there are two guys on base it just won't be a three run inning. "Durk" just really has some great escapability in him. He could really get out of trouble if there are guys on base, and he does not get scared in those situations.

NYF: Now besides pitching, what is the best quality that Matt brings to a team?

Coach Piraro: He is real loose. When he is not pitching he keeps guys real loose. He is funny, guys like him. When he is pitching he is very determined but on rest days he just is enjoyable to be around.

NYF: What is your most memorable moment of Matt?

Coach Piraro: Probably his freshman year. See I missed his second year fighting cancer so I missed his sophomore year. He had a real turning point in his freshman season. He started the season off in the bullpen for us, and I gave him a start in Hawaii. It was a Sunday game, and I talked to him prior to the game, and I felt he could win just with his fastball because he was that strong. I told him if he had command on it, the fastball would be all he would need. He ended up throwing a 3 hitter, and at that point he really took off that year, but that was just his turning point. I remember the look on his face in between inning that he didn't have to throw 95mph to get hitters out. Those guys just got themselves out, and that's the moment I remember the most.

NYF: Where did you expect Matt to be drafted in the draft?

Coach Piraro: In the beginning of the year, and I told Baseball America this, there was no doubt in my mind that he could be a first round pick. Now as the season went on, and he had some rough outings I was concerned he could drop as low as the 3rd or even 4th round. As I mentioned earlier to you, we tried not to tell anybody about his injury. We didn't want opponents to know number 1, and number 2 we just didn't want to hurt his chances in draft. I give the Mets great credit, and I think it is a great draft by the Mets. The Mets scout out here who followed him was real smart. He knew if Matt could develop a second pitch he could be a very dominate guy.

NYF: You have talked about his command problems, and taking into consideration that he could throw 94-95 mph do you think Matt can have a better future in the bullpen?

Coach Piraro: My opinion on him is that he is a starter. Guys like Koufax and Gibson had tremendous control problems in the minor leagues, and all of a sudden it just clicked in for them. I think Durkin is like that. He is strong, he is a horse, and to me that is a starting pitcher. I don't know if he can be the reliever type of pitcher, having to bounce back, on back to back days. I don't think that is his strength.

NYF: If any, what advice did you give to Matt after he was drafted?

Coach Piraro: The only piece of advice I told him was when he went to pro ball, and they tell you to try something, to try a certain grip or something like that, to just stick with it. Don't give up on it after one day or one week. Just stick with it, and give it a chance because something will break for you. I really do believe that. I could see Matt finding it, and then he will just be one dominate guy. I know the hitters are more disciplined in professional baseball, but I watch guys chase the high fastball. It is just a tough pitch to lay off, and his pitches are a tough read for a hitter so it is not one of those things that you say 'oh that ball is up, I'm going to let it go.' It looks damn good coming out of his hand.

NYF: To this date Matt has yet to sign with the Mets. Do you expect him to come back to San Jose St., and have you talked to him recently regarding his status?

Coach Piraro: No,no,no... I am confident he is going to sign with the Mets. I talked to him ten days ago just to check on him, and to see how he is doing. I am confident he is a Met. Personally I wish he would come back to pitch for us but I really feel he is ready for the next opportunity, and he has a real chance to be something. I just want to compliment the Mets on that draft, and I think it will be real fruitful for them. He will sign with the Mets.

NYF: Would you say his biggest weakness is his command?

Coach Piraro: Right now yes, I would. I have a term with him. It was "stay in the hitting zone." I told him if he stays in the hitting zone he will win. What I meant by that was a place where guys would swing the ball. Now that didn't necessarily mean to throw strikes. The hitting zone for him, was at the letters and at the knees. Not in the dirt, and not in the eyes. The ball up above the letters the hitters took, and the ball in the dirt the hitters took. They swung at every fastball at the letters, and at every breaking ball at the knees. My point was if he just stood in the hitting zone, not the strike zone, but his personal hitting zone, he would be very successful, so that is what he has to master. It can come and go. He can begin the game throwing perfectly, and then just come out one inning and throw 8 balls in a row. I have seen him done that.

NYF: Do you think that is possibly due to concentration, and just losing focus at times? Many strong college pitchers do have that problem have staying focused a whole game because they know not everyone in the lineup can hurt them.

Coach Piraro: Perhaps. I think it could be. As I said before I think Matt has a way to go in terms of a mental game. However, when I say that keep in mind what I said earlier about being a guy who just has great escapability, and can pitch out of trouble, and that is a treat. He can get out of a bases loaded situation without the inning escalating.

NYF: Have you had any conversations with the scout who drafted him or anyone else in the Mets organization or even Matt himself with your contact with him, regarding as to what level he will start this season, and even if he will pitch this year considering his shin injury?

Coach Piraro: No I have not talked to anyone about that. I missed a year due to my health and I also turned a lot of that stuff over to my assistant coach who was the pitching coach and the interim coach while I was gone. He was the guy that had most of the conversations with the Mets scouts so I really do not have much of knowledge about that.

NYFansonly.com would like to thank Sam Piraro for taking the time to talk to us, and we wish his the best of luck with his health, and at San Jose St. We also would like to thank San Jose St. Sports Information Director Lawrence Fan for setting up the interview. To get access to all interviews like this, be sure to sign up for NYfansonly.com Club Access below!

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