Interview with Padre RHP Zech Lemond

LAKE ELSINORE, CALIF. -- Coming into the 2014 draft, Zech Lemond was a wildcard. After working primarily as a reliever at Rice, he stepped into the rotation midway through his draft year, then was shut down with forearm pain. When the San Diego Padres used their third pick to call the Houston native, it was widely seen as an aggressive play to get a high-upside pitcher.

After limiting his action for the remainder of 2014, the Padres have again been aggressive with the big righty, jumping him to High-A Lake Elsinore for his first full season. We caught up with the 22-year-old to talk about the journey over the last year and what lies ahead as he settles into the role of a professional starting pitcher.

MadFriars: To be at the point you were last spring and then come down with arm pain, how did you approach it and what was your thinking headed into the draft?

Zech Lemond: I got really mental about because I’d never been hurt before in my life and I was like, wow, what do I do now. And every time something would come up and I’d get really worried, somehow, somebody would send me the verse Phil: 4:16 and every day, it would come up in my life somehow. And so I just had to keep leaning back on that over and over again. That’s how I got through it.

So, after the long year from college into the minors and then out to the instructional league, what was your offseason like?

Zech Lemond: I took two weeks off before I started working out again, and then I didn’t start throwing until about January. I was at Fairchild Sports Performance.
It was more intense of course because I had a couple of months of just straight working out. It was different than working out, doing school and doing the fall ball baseball, so it was a little less taxing on the mind because there was nothing else to worry about but just getting your body ready to go.

Is there anything, for you, that you approach differently between the two roles?

Zech Lemond: I think about it the same, because pitching is always pitching; if you make a good pitch, you’ll get somebody out. Closing or starting, that’s the same thing. So the mind frame didn’t change much, you just have to go out there and give it your all and try to make your pitch. The thing is, now you have a better routine because as a starter you know when you’re pitching, and you keep rolling through the season. Every fifth day you know you’re on the mound instead of, any day you could be in there.

Up here, you’re dealing not just with more advanced hitters than you faced in college, but having to navigate a lineup multiple times. Have you had any issues game-planning for that?

Zech Lemond: Not really. I honestly don’t know yet because it’s still early in the season and I’ve only faced guys a couple times here and there. As a closer role, it’s a lot easier to go out and throw three pitches and go on to the next guy then the next guy, instead of, now you’ve got to set hitters up from their first at bat until their last, and everything’s a mind game. It’s a little more interesting and a lot more fun, because you’re constantly thinking about that chess match.

How do you balance the need to think through scenarios and be in that chess match, without getting lost in your head in a way that blocks you from just being able to go after it?

Zech Lemond: It’s pitch by pitch. Every one sets up your move for the next pitch. So if you win every single pitch, then the game just starts rolling through and you’ll be in the seventh inning before you know it.

Obviously, the Cal League is a different experience than just about anywhere in the game, and you’ve already drawn a start in High Desert. Does the environment factor in to how you go about preparing for a game?

Zech Lemond: Not really, because if you make a good pitch, it’s going to get somebody out, no matter where you’re playing. So if you keep the ball down, you can get the ground balls. Of course up in High Desert, they’re really trying to lift everything so you’ve really got to focus on trying to keep the ball down. But most of the time, when you’re trying to make your pitch you’re trying to do that, so you can stay low.

What are the key development goals you have for yourself through this first year?

Zech Lemond: I’m really focusing on fastball location. Everything starts with your fastball. I just want to be able to pound on that corner and pound inside and really command it in all parts of the strike zone. And then, because I throw a really hard curve ball over and over again, I’m trying to bring a slower one just to mess with the hitter’s hips and get them leaning. And really focusing on, with every single pitch, throwing it with more conviction.

Clearly, you didn’t need to work with change very much in college. How do you feel as you incorporate it into your game now?

Zech Lemond: As a closer, you didn’t really have to too much, but I always felt it was my best pitch for some reason because I loved throwing it. I started getting a lot of easy outs when I jumped into the starting role, but now I have to still continue to work on it because I haven’t felt it as much as I should have. I have a relatively good feel for it – I can throw it for a strike when I want to. But I really don’t have the bite I really want from it to get the quick groundouts.

With all the time you each had with the coaching staff out in Peoria, was there any one thing that you’re really wanting to bring out of the bullpen and side sessions into your work here every fifth day?

Zech Lemond: Really our big focus was command the fastball, just pound the low and away corner, because if you hit that, bang that dot, nobody’s going to hit that. If they put a good swing on it, it’s a ground ball and if they take it it’s a strike.

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