ST Interview: Matt Wisler

PEORIA - Matt Wisler, 22, enters the year as the top Padres’ prospect for the second straight year despite undergoing some struggles last year in AAA El Paso for the first time in his career.

In 2014 he went 9-5 with a 5.01 ERA but finished strong in August with a 3.60 ERA and a 3-1 record in 35 innings. The 6-3 right-hander struck out 101 batters in 116.2 innings against only 36 walks while struggling to deal with inconsistent mechanics and some of the toughest parks to pitch in the minor leagues.

“You come here and you have to pitch. You are facing guys that are older; many have been in the big leagues and have come back down,” said Mark Prior, who was then the Special Assistant to the General Manager and now is the team’s Minor League Pitching and Development Coordinator, in El Paso last year on the differences between AAA and the rest of the minor leagues.

“Hitters here have a more developed and mature approach when they are approaching Wisler. Matt is forced to make some adjustments he might not have had to make in AA where you might see one guy in the lineup that has that kind of approach.”

Wisler was in big league camp for most of the spring before being sent down late and should be the top starter again for the Chihuahuas along with LHP Robbie Erlin, with either one of them the prime candidates to get the first call of an injury occurs on the big league staff.

We caught up with Matt to talk about last season and the improvements he has made for 2015.

Last year in El Paso was really the first year that you have struggled although you did pick it up in the second half. What was the biggest thing that you took away from the season?

Matt Wisler: I learned a lot going through those struggles and how to handle the adversity to get through it. Right now I think I still have a ways to go mentally to get over the hump.

Last year I think I tried to make too many adjustments from pitch to pitch instead of just trying to let it happen. I have to get to the point that once the pitch is over, it’s over and just go out there and throw and compete.

When I was in El Paso last May you seemed to be getting upset at yourself with some of your mechanics.

How did you adjust?

Matt Wisler: My mechanics early on were all over the place, which is why I was getting frustrated. I didn’t start to feel they were where they needed to be until the end of the year, and even then they weren’t where they were two years before.

I overdid some adjustments too much last year instead of just throwing the ball.

Any changes in your off-season preparations?

Matt Wisler: I took some time off then I came out here in January. Pretty much got ready the same way and focused on just throwing the ball and trying to not over think my mechanics.

I went out to San Diego a few times too and worked with the big league guys. They changed a few things and I am getting there. The main thing is that they wanted me to be more free and easy.

What pitch gave you the most problems last year. Was it the change-up?

Matt Wisler: No, the change-up is what I found last year. My slider is what sucked. My out pitch was always my slider and that is what I lost last year in El Paso and a big reason for my struggles. I would get guys 2-2 and couldn’t put them away.

Not to make excuses, but pitching in places like El Paso and especially Las Vegas, Colorado Springs and Albuquerque, does the ball not move as much?

Or is it because the air is so thin the ball just flies?

Matt Wisler: It could be a little of that but the main thing is that I was just throwing it poorly. I wasn’t getting on top of it and getting the good spin. The conditions may have played some role in it because it is a little drier and sometimes you don’t get as good a grip to it and it might get in your head a bit.

But if you throw it correctly it will do what you want it to do. As I said, I l just let too many things get in my head last year.

When you are up here working with Darren Balsley what is the biggest thing he emphasizes?

Matt Wisler: Right now to forget about mechanics and focus on hitting the glove and throwing. Last year I was too mechanical, almost robotic, and to let it come out more naturally.

Aren’t you being a little hard on yourself? When you are struggling you are supposed to make adjustments.

Matt Wisler: Maybe, but last year I started to learn what you need to do when you are struggling and what you don’t need to do. To me the biggest thing right now is to just throw the ball and focus on where I want it to go.

To just let it happen.

What is the biggest improvement that you have noticed in yourself compared to last year?

Matt Wisler: I am starting to have better fastball command and getting my slider back to where it was in 2013. I still throw a mix of four and two-seam fastballs, slider, change and an occasional curve.

I’m in a good place, it’s all about learning how to get better.

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