Q&A with Brian Bannister

Brian Bannister has proved impressive for reasons other than his sharp 12-to-6 curveball and a pair of victories over the Nationals and Brewers. An intelligent and personable right-hander, Bannister appears to be adjusting to life in the Major Leagues with aplomb. He joined Inside Pitch's Bryan Hoch earlier this week for a two-part Q&A (Premium Content):

If I had told you in January that not only would you make the Mets' rotation out of Spring Training, but you would be 2-0 in your first three starts, what do you think your reaction would have been?

The only way I would have expected to be here was if something had opened up due to injuries or some situation like that. This is what I've been preparing for, for a long time, having pitched well in Triple-A last year, especially with the help of Dan Warthen, who was the pitching coach at Triple-A last year and who's now with the Dodgers.

He told me, "At this point, you can pitch in the big leagues. Whether you're successful or not, that takes a lot more. But at this point, I'd be confident at least putting you up there to see how you would fare."

I never thought I'd be in this position. I fully expected to go back to Norfolk and I was ready for that scenario. But it's been a blessing and I'm not one to waste opportunities.

Having made the rotation and gone undefeated in your first three starts, was that a surprise to you? How do you react to that?

I don't claim to be anything special. My thing is that I'll try to find a way to win every game, whether it's ugly or a very good game. I've had the full spectrum in my short pitching career, but the big thing is that I feel like every time I go out, if I get at least one run, I have a chance to win the game.

That's been my attitude. Pitching, you can look at it by the stats each game, but if your team only scores one run, your job is to give up none. If your team scores five, you don't want to give up four, but if you keep it under five, you're going to win the game.

That's the irony of pitching. You have to pitch to game situations; if it's a one-run game, they're bunting, they're not going to be swinging away. Stats don't always tell the truth about the game; as a pitcher, you're just trying to keep your team in the game. That's what defines me as a pitcher and what I strive for.

After your last start, Willie Randolph and Rick Peterson were throwing around a few grades for that appearance. Willie called it a "C-minus" and Rick called it a "D-plus." If you took all three of the starts and put them together, what grade do you think you'd get?

(Aaron Heilman, standing nearby, comments: "A 'G.' He'd get a 'G.')



"I now understand why it's so difficult to start off your career as a starting pitcher in the Major Leagues without any time out of the bullpen and without a September callup. I know that's why they start guys out there, because it is difficult."


We'd come up with a new letter. For me, evaluating myself, my first outing was a 'C.' My second outing was a 'B,' and my last outing was a 'D-plus,' honestly, because I haven't been happy with how I've pitched.

I now understand why it's so difficult to start off your career as a starting pitcher in the Major Leagues without any time out of the bullpen and without a September callup. I know that's why they start guys out there, because it is difficult. There are a lot of jitters and mental obstacles that you need to get over to be successful at this level, especially in this town. It's not easy.

I definitely know that having been through it now, it would be easier to start off in the 'pen or with a smaller-market team where there's not as much analyzing every outing. All those things go into it.

But I'm dealing with it, so far. Rick worked with me [this week] and he felt my timing was out of whack, with my hands and my legs. That's one of the first things when you're nervous; when you feel pressure out there, you have to rely on your timing and your rhythm as a pitcher.

Sometimes your legs are shaking and you can't feel the ball, and you have to trust yourself. You're trying to hit a half-inch 60 feet and six inches away, and it's the difference between a home run and a great pitch. You have to trust yourself.

It's going to be constant fine-tuning and I don't expect to be good all of the time. I totally expect failure because every team and every player has failure in this game. I've probably pitched average but came away with wins for my team, and that's all that matters to me.

Now that you've done it, why do you think the jump from Triple-A to the Majors is so significant?

I firmly believe the Minor Leagues are where you develop, and the Major Leagues are where you perform. You have to continue to develop here, but it's all about success. At this point, people don't care how you do it – if you win and you're successful, that's all that matters because that's all this level is about.

They don't put players on the field that aren't going to help a team win games. That's why you see a full spectrum of players here. It doesn't matter how big or fast you are, if you help your team win games, they'll put you on the field and believe in you.

That's what's great about this game. It goes from development and instruction, to totally success-based. There's TV, there's fans, there's the media, and it went from everybody supporting you to get here, to everybody's criticizing you on what you're doing out there. It's as much a mental jump as a performance jump.

Has that impacted your day-to-day life in the couple of weeks since you got up here? Do you find yourself doing things that you wouldn't normally do if you were at Triple-A?

I've just tried to relax more. It's hard. I just try to relax with my wife (Megan) and try not to take what I've done on the field – good or bad – back to the home.

It's been difficult the last couple of weeks. Even though I haven't dealt with failure yet, I know I haven't pitched the way I pitched in the minor leagues. I consider myself a control pitcher. I've already walked nine guys here and that's not my game. It's been frustrating to me. I know I'm going to get back to that pretty soon and I'll be who I am. But in the meantime, I've been battling to get there.

Part Two of Brian Bannister's exclusive Q&A with Inside Pitch Magazine will appear on Saturday, April 22, 2006.


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