MadFriars' Interview: Robert Lara

SAN ANTONIO -- For nearly every player in the minor leagues there comes a time when they are going to be called into an office by their team and told they are being released. Their career and dream of becoming a major league player is finished.

For most this comes when they are trying to make a full-season squad or the jump from A-ball to AA. Last year Robert Lara got the message that his days as a catcher in the Padres' organization were over.

However Lara, 25, had another option.

Blessed with a strong arm Lara had always had potential to be on the mound and had even mopped up in a few blowouts in Fort Wayne and Lake Elsinore. Because of his natural ability the Padres decided to see what the former University of Central Florida star might have as a pitcher.

After a slow start in 2011 Lara has blossomed in San Antonio this season with a 5-0 record and 3.32 ERA.

Although his changeup and slider have improved batters are going to face the heat from his mid-90s fastball that the former catcher has used to strike out 37 batters in 38 innings pitched.

The one negative is that the walks are a little high at 21 but for someone only in their second year of pitching its not bad.

You were drafted and played as a catcher for your first few years in the organization. I always was a big fan of your defense behind the plate. How tough was it to stop catching?

Robert Lara: It took me awhile for it to sink in. I'm a big believer of when something happens, it's for a reason. But still it took me about a day before I could really start up as a pitcher.

So far I'm taking it in stride and a lot of the stuff that I did back there is helping me out on the mound.

Lara was the everyday catcher for the TinCaps and Storm in 2009 and 2010.

When I talked to you awhile ago when you were still catching you always said that it was in the back of your mind that if things didn't work out as a catcher you thought you could pitch.

When you switched over players were telling me that you were throwing in the 90s right from the start.

Robert Lara: There were a couple games in Lake Elsinore and Fort Wayne where I mopped up when the game was out of hand and thank God that I did because they got an idea of what I might be able to do.

In the back of my mind it always was there for that day when they call you in to give you your release you may be able to get one more chance.

Talk about the transformation between going on the mound as kind of fun time when its 16-2 and lighting up the gun to being a full time pitcher who is in there with the game on the line.

Robert Lara: A lot of guys when the game is 16-2 and they see a position player out there aren't sure what is going on. They saw how hard I was throwing and it was like, "Woah, is this guy going to throw strikes or put one in the back of my head?"

That is what I kind of struggled with last year was that as a regular pitcher in that you had to do more than throw as hard as you can. There were scouting reports and other stuff and a different mentality and approach on the hitters.

I had to learn to develop my pitches then and there. Grip it and make it work for me. That is what I did all last year experiment with different things and really started to wonder at times if this was the best thing for me.

When I ran into you last year in Fort Wayne you were having a tough time after struggling in Lake Elsinore earlier.

Robert Lara: Yeah, but you know I wanted to stick with it and I think its starting to work out.

What do you throw?

Robert Lara: Four-seam fastball, slider and split.

How tough was it to get used to throwing a slider for strikes?

Robert Lara: It was tough, especially at first. I kind of picked it up rather quick because so many of these guys had been throwing a curve there whole life I hadn't.

I picked it up quick because I didn't really know anything. I would always ask guys about different grips and just use what worked.

If you had to pick any position to transition to the mound, catcher is a pretty good one.

Robert Lara: I do think it is an advantage because on the mound I still think like a catcher. Even when I am in the bullpen I'm still pitch to pitch with the catcher.

On the mound when I throw a pitch I'm always looking at the hitter and how he's setting up and what his swing looks like. Right now I know where I want to throw the pitch, the big challenge is to execute it.

You always thought about the game quite a bit so how do you not try to outthink yourself?

Robert Lara: I never believed in that theory. If you are thinking, you are paying attention which is a good thing. I try to have positive thoughts. There is a difference in over thinking mechanics because if you do that, then you are in trouble.

I tell these guys please don't tell me about mechanics because I know I'm not going to have good mechanics. My ultimate goal is to compete every single pitch.

What type of information do you want from a pitching coach?

Robert Lara: He knows that I'm not a big guy on mechanics because what I do is just try to throw. Tim Worrell [the Missions' pitching coach] mainly focuses on helping me mentally with the game, getting me to compete to the best of my ability.

Texas League batters are hitting .229 against Lara in 2012.

How have your off-season workouts changed?

I know when you were a catcher you used to do a lot of long tossing. Also you look a lot more relaxed and refreshed than when you used to catch seven bullpens.

Robert Lara: [laughs] I would run and work out. The throwing I've always enjoyed and I was doing that three to five times a week. But yeah, its a little less than I did as a position player.

Mentally how did you get the same passion for being a pitcher as you did as a catcher?

Robert Lara: The one thing I do miss is being behind the plate and calling games. There was so much responsibility of being behind the plate and kind of having the pitcher's career in my hands.

When I pitch I can come pretty close to what I did as a catcher but I'm not directing an infield like I used too [laughs].

But know when you throw a slider in the dirt or see a foul tip off of the body, you must go, "Damn that hurts."

Robert Lara: [laughs] That is one thing I don't miss. I try to throw one or two less pitches in the bullpen because I remember how tough they were.

What is the biggest thing you are working on now?

Robert Lara: Being more consistent and trying to get ahead earlier in the counts.

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