Lone Star Dugout Q&A: Danny Clark (Part 2)

FRISCO, Texas – In part two of this two-part interview with Texas Rangers minor league pitching coordinator Danny Clark, we discuss two recent MiLB graduates currently pitching well in the majors––Nick Tepesch and Joseph Ortiz––and two hard-throwing Double-A Frisco hurlers––Neil Ramirez and Roman Mendez.



Part 1 of the Danny Clark interview (discussing Grimm, Buckel, Vasquez, Leclerc, Valdespina)



Jason Cole: I know every player development and pitching guy in the Rangers' organization is really happy to see Nick Tepesch pitching in the major leagues. First of all, did you get a chance to sit down and watch his debut against Tampa Bay?

Danny Clark: I actually got to see two innings of the outing. I did text him afterwards. He texted all the pitching coaches. Obviously Nick has good roots, and we're obviously very happy for him. He's a guy who was nurtured through the system, and getting to the big leagues, making his debut, and getting a win was huge for all of us.

Cole: I want to talk about his cutter. Around the middle of last season, it began morphing into more of a true slider that he can kind of manipulate the break and velocity on. How big has that been for him?

Clark: I think the cutter has been a big pitch for him, but I think more important is his curveball. His curveball is his most important pitch. I think that––the curveball––allows him to set up the cutter. And the cutter, to me over the last year and a half––especially in Frisco––as you can see, it has gradually gotten better and better. He is obviously getting more confidence in it, and he can get it to both sides of the plate.

Cole: What was the key to that curveball coming along? I know he struggled with it in Hickory two years ago, and it seemed to take a big step forward in 2012.

Clark: I think it was the pitching coaches putting more of an emphasis on it––him throwing it more. Obviously he has good aptitude, and he applied it. I think (Frisco pitching coach) Jeff Andrews really pushed on him to throw it more. And the more he threw it, the more confidence he got. You could see how tight the rotation got for him. So I think it was a combination of some things that went along as he got more confidence in it.

Cole: Joe Ortiz made the Rangers' bullpen out of camp this year. What were your impressions on his spring?

Clark: I thought he had a really good spring training. You know, Joey––the attribute he has is that he's fearless. Joey is not intimidated by any situation. He's going to be able to throw his slider for a strike in any count, so that's obviously a luxury to have.

The thing that a lot of people overlook is that Joey has very good command of his fastball. You can look back at the records––his stats in years past––and he has always had good control. But the biggest attribute is just that he's not intimidated by any situation.

Cole: Where does that fearlessness come from? He's a tiny guy but clearly doesn't care who's in the box.

Clark: I think it's what you just said. I think it comes from his size. Growing up––and obviously coming from the background he came from in Venezuela. He came from a rough neighborhood. He has been a battler all his life; he has been a grinder all his life.

He and I first encountered each other in Clinton, Iowa, when I was the pitching coach in Clinton. He came straight from the Dominican and came to Clinton. We were basically going into the playoff run. So I've been around Joey a lot. Joey is a fierce competitor, and he is a very likable young man.

Cole: It was a good outing for Neil Ramirez the other day, as he threw strikes and his velocity was sitting around the 94-95 mph range. You were here to see it. What did you see out of him?

Clark: I think the biggest thing for him is that he went out and looked relaxed. He looked like he had poise on the mound. He wasn't sweating. I saw four pitches out of him yesterday. I thought his slider was a very important pitch for him yesterday. It seemed to really synch up all of his other secondaries. I was really happy to see him go with his changeup right-on-right.

I just think––Neil is at the point right now of his career where he's ready to take that next step. I think, being in the bullpen in spring training and even at the end of last year, has kind of helped him evolve a better routine––a more crisp routine. I think a lot of combinations of that have really helped Neil evolve. In my opinion, you're going to see a lot of good things out of Neil this year.

Cole: As you mentioned, Ramirez was working out of the bullpen in spring training, going one inning just about every time out. What was behind the decision to flip him back into the starting rotation during the regular season?

Clark: I think everybody has always seen Neil as a starter. When we didn't see the results last year, we were kind of like, ‘Okay, we see the ability there. Do we look at him in a different role, in the bullpen?' Because we do that with a lot of starters. And that was kind of the decision coming out of spring training.

He voiced his opinion that he wanted to be a starter. We still thought he was a starter, so we were like, ‘You know what? Let's give him that opportunity again. Let's take a step back and go to Double-A. Let's prove ourself again.' And I think Neil, right now, is in that mindset where he has got to reestablish himself.

Cole: Roman Mendez is a guy who started for most of last season but finished in the bullpen at Frisco. He's in the Frisco bullpen to start this year. Is he going to remain in that role?

Clark: Yeah, I think the organization sees Roman as a bullpen piece. Obviously the velocity is there. We have been working to find his delivery so he can repeat. His biggest thing is that he just doesn't show consistency right now.

Cole: When I was speaking with (Rangers rehab pitching coordinator) Keith Comstock at the end of spring training, he mentioned that some adjustments were made in Mendez's delivery. What exactly did you guys do?

Clark: One thing that we're trying to do with him is being able to get him––when does he exert his velocity? A lot of times he gets really rotational in his delivery, and we're looking more at his hand path.

As long as his fingers stay over and above the ball, then he has a chance to be able to drive the ball down. A lot of times we see his wrist get under the ball or to the side of the ball, and then that allows more of a side-to-side––it becomes flat in the zone. That's one of the biggest things we're working on.

Cole: When he's getting under the ball, how much does that hurt his slider?

Clark: It gets big and it gets really flat in the zone. It doesn't really have any tilt to it when he's doing that.


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