Lone Star Dugout Q&A: Keith Comstock (Part 2)

SURPRISE, Ariz. – Following an inconsistent start his season, hard-throwing righty Roman Mendez was placed on the disabled list and sent to rehab in Arizona. Lone Star Dugout sat down with Texas Rangers rehab pitching coordinator Keith Comstock to discuss Mendez and fellow Myrtle Beach prospect Wilmer Font in the second portion of this two-part interview.

Lone Star Dugout Q&A: Keith Comstock (Part 1)

Jason Cole: I saw Roman Mendez in Myrtle Beach right before he went on the DL and came out to Arizona. His velocity was down a little bit, and he wasn't throwing his slider very often. What exactly is the deal with him right now?

Keith Comstock: The deal with him is that he's had issues that keep coming up on a timely period basis––every eight months, 12 months, or 18 months something is coming up. So we decided––this time with the forearm. And Brad (Holman) does wonders in Myrtle Beach. He does good stuff. He does good work there. And Roman kept getting shut down. He kept having to re-do stuff. Then we figured, ‘Okay, we might have to shut this guy down here.' The higher ups––the guys who are smarter than me––said we're going to shut this guy down and we're going to see if we can get his direction a little bit better.

Being in an affiliate and just having that one-day bullpen session to do that with, and then having to watch his arm and his arm care––sometimes you're handcuffed a little bit in that scenario. So they come down here, it frees them up a little bit, you get them on our schedule out here, and I've got some time––a little bit of time, anyway––to see if we can keep his shoulders from rotating so much.

That causes that slider to give him a little bit of trouble, and then you have to take away his slider––a weapon. That's tough to do when you want to learn pitchability. So now we're just trying to work with his direction and keep a consistent arm slot. We're trying to get this guy––he's a roster guy, so we've got to find out what he can do basically.

Cole: How close is Mendez to getting out of here?

Comstock: He'll probably pitch on July 5. That's his first game. Now, where they want to use him and how––because of what's happening, they might want to do a Tanner Scheppers kind of thing––throw him two innings, wait two days, two innings, wait two days. That kind of thing just to get him through the year and see what he's got. But once he starts pitching, he might get changed––that program might get changed. If they want to develop him as a starter, then we've got to get him to five innings.

Cole: Sam Stafford had his shoulder surgery in February, and he came in here with his rehab program already well in progress. How do you deal with a guy who's already been through part of his rehab with someone else?

Comstock: We probably slow him back down. We've got spring training now. We're going to probably see where he sits and fits. Our program is pretty good here, so we want to see if we can acclimate them into our program as soon as possible––even if it backtracks them a little bit, so be it.

This way we've got a hold on where he's at as opposed to ‘I've been doing this or this.' Well, we haven't really watched you. We haven't really seen you. We haven't seen what kind of work habits you have. But they're good. They're very good, by the way. He's a good kid. He has got probably some hidden leadership skills that he doesn't know about and I'm going to really focus in on it. And then we're going to see what we've got. But he has really jumped in and said, ‘Whatever you guys want, I'll do. If it means pushing me back, then so be it.' And he's fit like a glove.

Cole: Justin Miller was a 40-man roster guy when he got hurt and needed Tommy John surgery early this season. Can you talk about where he's at in his rehab program? Is he throwing yet?

Comstock: No, he isn't throwing yet. He's still a couple months away from that. But he has really done a nice job. He's in a certain part now where he's upset with himself, and he's got no right to be because he's not allowed to do anything. He thinks that his body has gotten big or flabby, but everybody––you should have seen Wilmer (Font) at this time last year.

But now, he's going to be cleared to do more body work. Now he's on his fielding. He's allowed to do more leg work. You've got to remember that I'm out here in September, October, November and December––when people aren't out here. I said, ‘Trust me. If your body looks like this in December, I'll quit because we haven't done our job. Nappy will not allow your body to stay like this, trust me. Dale and myself––we know where you're at. It is what it is. It will get better, and trust me you'll come away with a totally different body.'

His mindset has really been good, too. He came out of this and a lot of stuff happened to him when he got hurt. He got off the roster. The Rangers––we still like him. We made a great offer for him, obviously, to re-sign with us. And I think he knew that ‘If I'm going to do this rehab up until November, and then they can make another decision on me, the least I can do is do it with people I know.' And I think that was really kudos to him, because he knew this program and he saw the success that other guys had. He said, ‘I'll stick around for this. I'll let them get me healthy, get me pitching, and then I'll make a decision come November.' Which he has to, and so do the Rangers.

Cole: In spring training, it looked like Wilmer Font wasn't completely letting it go. Was part of that just the normal process? It definitely looked like he wasn't completely trusting his arm out there, but I know the velocity has gradually returned during the regular season.

Comstock: In rehab, it is what it is. We have comfort levels, and we try to stay out of comfort zones. Comfort zones are real wide. Sometimes they can get as wide as we choose them to be and as high as we choose them to be. Comfort levels are levels that we step up like we're walking up stairs. I choose to do comfort levels in rehab because once I see somebody at that level and it's time to get up another level, then I encourage them to get after it. Sometimes it's got a little bit more forceful tone to me than it is right now.

Willie Eyre didn't want to leave a comfort level. He liked 90-92 mph. I'd say, ‘Willie, you're 95. There is another 95. We need to go to it. We need to get to it.' He'd say, ‘I can pitch here,' and I said, ‘No, you can't. You need to go to 95.' That's just an example––Willie is just an example. But we ended up getting there.

Wilmer got caught in a zone. And he got caught in a zone in January, which is a tough time because nobody sees him in January. So then he came into spring training, and he didn't know what to do. His comfort zone had gotten so wide that he didn't understand. He thought, ‘I don't know how to get out of this now.' Well, we were going to risk breaking it again. That's how we've got to get out of it. We've got to risk you breaking it because we all knew in the rehab department that there was no chance he's going to break this arm. But we had to make him thinking that you're going to have to go break it again.

And that's really the line we pursued with him––the couple conversations we had in person. Because Mike (Maddux) had told me about this, too, in spring training. Mike had said point-blank to me, ‘I think he's in a rehab comfort zone.' Mike and I had talked about it later on, and I had gotten offended by that in that conversation because I don't like zones, I like levels (laughs). But then after watching Wilmer and watching Wilmer, I realized Mike was right. And I made it a point to tell Mike that about that whole conversation.

He was, but he was going to have to work his way through it. Nobody else could do it. We can't go hold his hand anymore because he's a big boy. He's going to be getting married here soon. He's grown up, and we had to let this process happen on its own.

The best thing that happened was him and Brad––and Wilmer just finding it. Once you throw 95 once and it's there and he heard his ‘pop'––everybody hears a pop. They all hear their pops, and he hadn't heard a pop yet. So he finally heard his pop, and it happened on a 95 mph fastball.

Once he heard it and that thing was okay, then it took off. And I was happy to be there––subbing for Brad––when he threw 99 mph that one night. A huge smile came to my face not just because of the 99, but also because of the man that he's turned into. He's really grown up. He has really, really grown up. The work habits have gone through the roof, and the leadership skills are coming in. Him and Brad have just done some great work. It was just so pleasing.

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