MadFriars' Interview: Jerry Sullivan

SAN ANTONIO, TX: For most Padres' fans the 2009 draft is not going to engender pleasant memories as San Diego's top two picks, outfielders Donavan Tate and Everett Williams have flamed out without ever getting close to PETCO Park.

However there are a few players remaining from that draft that are still around and on the verge of helping the big club in outfielder/infielder Cody Decker and pitchers Keyvius Sampson, James Needy and Jerry Sullivan.

Sullivan, a six-foot-four 200 lbs. right-handed pitcher out of Oral Roberts University who just turned 26 may be the closest with his success out of the bullpen.

After a first half that saw him go 1-3 with a 6.28 ERA as a starter for the Storm in 2012, he was moved to the bullpen in mid-June and everything change. Getting away from starting played more to his strengths where he posted a 2.32 ERA in the hitter-friendly Cal League with a 49 to 3 strikeout-to-base-on-balls ratio with less hits (34) than innings pitched (42.2) after the all-star break.

Despite missing all of 2013 with shoulder surgery, Sullivan is back to putting up solid numbers again with a 1.17 ERA and 19 strikeouts in 15.1 innings through mid-May.

We caught up with him to talk about the change to the pen and working with Trevor Hoffman.

How did you get to Oral Roberts from New Jersey?

Jerry Sullivan: I played for a guy named John Wilson, who was a scout for the Twins' organization, who went to high school with Rob Walton, who was the head coach for Oral Roberts, and that is how I ended up out there.

That must have been a bit of a cultural adjustment coming from New Jersey to Oklahoma?

Jerry Sullivan: A little bit but it really wasn't bad. People are great out there and the weather was really nice. It is seventy degrees out there until late November and then the same weather pops up again in late February and early March; so it's a little different than New Jersey.

In the second half of 2012 they moved you to the bullpen and you really put up some great numbers. What was it that clicked so much for you with that move?

Jerry Sullivan: Some guys can handle only playing every five days and I just think for me it was a better fit in the bullpen. It's a better fit for my mentality of getting a chance to play a lot more.

I was able to go from a windup to a stretch, which meant less moving parts. I developed some more consistency and added a splitter. It helped me to relax, which is always going to help your game.

I started to throw harder, which made my secondary stuff look better and was more successful which is going to build up anyone's confidence.

When I have spoken with other pitchers like yourself that have moved from starting to the pen and they claim that the change allows them to focus more on just getting batters out instead of worrying about pitch sequences.

Did you find that to be true too?

Jerry Sullivan: Absolutely. Different situations come into play and I can remember as a starter that you really want to be fastball dominant through the line-up the first time while at the same time you are thinking about the second and third times as well.

When you are coming in as a reliever you are looking at weaknesses in an individual player and maybe what you have seen during the game as well. Coming into the game you try to get a feel for the game and make the best pitch for the situation. You can come in there with one pitch and get out of a jam and the inning is over.

What do you throw?

Jerry Sullivan: Both fastballs, slider change and split.

How even are you on your four-seamer as compared to your two-seamer?

Jerry Sullivan: I'm two-seamer dominant. I can work it at the knees a little more efficiently than with my four-seamer.

You had the best numbers of your career in the second half in Lake Elsinore and then you get hurt. Can you describe how that happened?

Jerry Sullivan: It sucked. I got invited to big league camp and a couple weeks before I was about to leave I felt some soreness in my shoulder and it kind of nagged and wouldn't go away.

It happened just playing catch. I did some exercises and it wouldn't go away and had a minor scope and then started to go right back after it. It was kind of late in the year so we didn't push it because rest was more important.

How tough was it to rest when you really wanted to do more to get out on the field?

Jerry Sullivan: You have to know that in situations like that if you rush back with the game adrenaline you can find yourself hurt again. It made a lot of sense to me and tried to embrace it as much as I could.

The hardest part was just staying mentally in the game.

When we talk to guys that are just coming back from Tommy John surgery they say the velocity comes back before the command. Is it the same way with the shoulder?

Jerry Sullivan: It's kind of weird. Everyday just playing catch it was more of just convincing myself mentally that I was ok. When I went back out on the mound I was ranging from 90 to 95 MPH, which is where I usually was. As for my command it is where it was before I got hurt.

I haven't gotten into the upper half of the 90s yet but its still early in the year too.

Your numbers are very good in the first month, so that has to make you feel pretty good?

Jerry Sullivan: Yeah, and as I said that was a mental battle. The transition to being on the shelf to remembering of where you were and just keep fighting for it.

Talking with all of you guys here, whether they are position players or pitchers, it seems that nearly all of you have the skills to play in the big leagues. It is just a question of being mentally prepared to do it on a consistent basis.

Jerry Sullivan: That is the biggest part. And when you talk to guys like Trevor Hoffman and Phil Plantier, my manager at Lake Elsinore, they will tell you that. The difference is big leaguers make adjustments from pitch-to-pitch as opposed from out-to-out.

You always here that this is a game of adjustments but at the same time if you make to many adjustments the line is that you are "a tinkerer" and you need to trust your stuff?

How do you strike a balance?

Jerry Sullivan: To me I would get in trouble as a starter overthinking things. In the second half I started to realize there were certain things that I couldn't control and when I simplified things more, it helped me out much more.

How has it been working with Trevor Hoffman?

Jerry Sullivan: It's been great. He's so positive and has such a work ethic. He's making sure that we are timed on our sprints because it is a way to compete with yourself and keep your edge.

He's running outside here by himself battling the clock still now.

Hoffman arguably has the greatest change-up in the history of the game. How does he coach someone on how to throw a change-up.

Jerry Sullivan: I think Hoffy has a great feel for the game and understands that everyone is different. He has a way to adjust his teaching to what you need help with even if you don't throw a changeup the same way he did.

What were some of your biggest goals coming into the year?

Jerry Sullivan: I really want to make a push for the big leagues. Last year I had to deal with injury and what I'm trying to do is keep on applying pressure on the Padres by getting more outs.

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