After a disappointing debut season in Eugene in 2011 the Padres moved Barbato to the bullpen where he was dominated the Midwest League coming out of the pen and throwing 73.1 innings with a 1.84 ERA, finishing second in holds. The big Floridian has a fastball that will catch everyone's attention with 84 strikeouts in 73.1 innings pitched.
This year after experimenting with him in a variety of roles, including closing where he still leads the Storm with 14 saves, the Padres returned him to the starting rotation where he has shown the promise that made the organization give him first round money in 2010.
After a rough debut in his last three starts Barbato has only allowed two earned runs in 15 innings pitched with 14 strikeouts against three walks.
What is it like going back to starting?
Johnny Barbato: It's like riding a bike. I didn't have much success with it in Eugene but now I have better command of my pitches hopefully I will be better.
I'm starting to figure things out on the mound, so its coming along.
Did you lobby the Padres to start or did they approach you?
Johnny Barbato: In spring after I was sent down from the big league camp I sat down with Buddy [Black] and some of the other guys in the organization and they said they wanted me to become a starter again.
Once I got stretched out and there was an opening I was in the rotation.
As a relief pitcher you were one of the rare guys who kind of pitched better throwing multiple innings than just one at a time.
Johnny Barbato: I always enjoyed just going out there. The first inning you kind of go out there and see where the pitches are. In the dugout you get a chance to make adjustments.
So yeah, I always liked throwing more than one inning.
I'm going to use your own words against you. In Fort Wayne you told me being in the pen you didn't have to worry about conserving energy or setting up hitters, you just went out and threw your best stuff.
Now you are going back to being a starter, how has it changed?
Johnny Barbato: I can still go out there and give it my all as a starter.
On the physical side I've gotten a little stronger so I think that I am better equipped to be a starter now. The schedule also allows me to lift more now that I have a pretty good idea of when I am going to pitch.
Mentally I think I'm better at watching and understanding the game now. I chart the hitters and have an idea of what they are trying to do and what I need to do.
Mentally you seem more comfortable with pitching in general. You had such success in Fort Wayne last year it has to be in the back of your mind that you can do either role.
Johnny Barbato: I think that I have shown the Padres that I can do it from the bullpen and now I would like to prove it as a starter.
Compared to Eugene you said you have more command. Is that with your four-seam fastball or your two-seam fastball?
Johnny Barbato: I mainly throw a four-seamer but I will mix in two-seamer too. My change-up is much better along with my curve.
When you can throw all three pitches for strikes it makes it much easier.
When you look at your numbers here, the ERA is high but the peripheral numbers, hits/innings pitched, walks/strikeouts are pretty good.
Johnny Barbato: The ERA is high and everyone has a "fun" game in the Cal League. I've only had a few bad outings but its something I need to improve on.
For me its about getting that first out and trying to stay away from walks. The big innings that I've had have all been because of that. When I pound the zone good things happen.
How will becoming a starter affect your off-season workouts?
Johnny Barbato: I will probably start throwing a little earlier in the off-season. Last year because I was in the pen I started a little later and had to work to build up my arm in spring training.
Pitchers hit in AA. Are you going to be ready to hit next year in AA?
Johnny Barbato: [laughs] My dad is a high school coach so sometimes I mess around in BP a little. Maybe this year I will take it a little more seriously.