MadFriars' Interview: Colby Blueberg

FORT WAYNE - Regardless of what anyone does or does not feel about the value of the save statistic, in modern day bullpens the closer is usually your best pitcher.

He is the pitcher that is trusted to finish the game and get the win. He works hard, fast and is coming right at the batter.

Colby Blueberg, 22, whom the Padres selected out of the University of Nevada-Reno in the twenty-fourth round of the 2014 draft, occupies this role for the TinCaps.

“He throws strikes and goes right after hitters,” said Fort Wayne manager Francisco Morales. “His mentality is if you are going to beat me, then they are going to have to do it with my best stuff.”

Last season in his debut with the short-season Eugene Emeralds he only allowed two runs in 18 games. He had a sub-1 WHIP, and a 10.1 strikeouts per nine innings. While he is a right-handed pitcher he held lefties to a .121 batting average, allowing only seven of the 35 lefties he faced to reach base.

This season with Fort Wayne the former University of Nevada-Reno star has a 1.35 ERA in 26.2 innings and is 10-14 in save opportunities. He has the strikeout-per-inning ratio that you look for in a reliever with 27 and has issued only nine walks. The Midwest League batters are hitting only .183 against him.

Blueberg, like former San Diego great Trevor Hoffman, is a converted middle infielder who relies on a good fastball and a “curider” - more on that later.

We caught up with Colby at the end of May on our annual trip to the Summit City.

Lets go over your background.

Colby Blueberg: I’m from Carson City, Nevada, born and raised. I got offered a full ride scholarship to WNC [West Nevada College], which was a pretty good place for baseball. I was going to go there and be a second baseman and wasn’t going to pitch. Up until then, the only pitching I really knew was from my Dad, who played eight years with the Mariners and Yankees in the minor leagues and was a pitcher his whole career.

It’s odd with the arm that you have you would be a second baseman instead of a shortstop.

Colby Blueberg: I was a shortstop in high school but they wanted me to play second at WNC. I think because they already had someone penciled in at short, but either way they wanted me in the middle infield.

UNR [University of Nevada-Reno] came knocking on my door after the summer of my senior year. They saw me play summer league when I hit two home runs playing against a Delta College team.

They ended up giving me a full ride, but I also had an offer for a 70% scholarship from the University of Hawaii. But the idea of being stuck on an island - even though I love going there for vacations - just didn’t appeal to me. I also thought it might be a little easier to focus on baseball at UNR.

So they saw you hit a pair of home runs and they wanted you to be an infielder too. Did they want you as a pitcher too?

Colby Blueberg: Yeah, they also saw my arm and wanted me to go as a two-way player. When I started at UNR I began to hit the low 90’s off of the mound and it kind of sealed my fate.

They already had seniors and juniors in the infield so the quickest way to get in the game was being in the bullpen and I had a decent year out there.

In college is where I really learned how to pitch, not just throw. Having my Dad close by also really helped out a lot.

You were always in the bullpen, never a starter correct?

Colby Blueberg: I started a few games in high school - and even threw a no-hitter - but I wasn’t really pitching. As I said, I was just throwing it as hard as I could down the middle. That can work in high school.

I thought I would pitch my freshman year and then get the bat back in my hand for my sophomore season but it didn’t really work out that way. I did a good job in the bullpen - and I liked playing as much as I could - and being there was my best opportunity to get in the game.

I kind of found my niche and things started to come together.

You were recruited as a two-way player in college, and your teammate T.J. Weir pitched and played shortstop at Ball State. Why aren’t there two-way players in the pros?

Colby Blueberg: When they draft you they have a pretty good idea of what they want you to do. Could I play the infield right now? Sure, I think so. Would I be rusty, yes.

How much extra work would it be for you?

Colby Blueberg: A lot, really a lot. You would be taking infield, going to the cage then coming out here and getting your running in - and then bullpens. It would be quite a bit.

If you really wanted to do it, maybe. The big thing would be if you could hit.

All pitchers think they can hit.

Colby Blueberg: [laughs] That is true and I’m one of them.

You came out and had a good year in Eugene. What was the big change for you from college to the pros?

Colby Blueberg: Honestly, not much. I had a really good junior year at UNR. I had the most appearances in a single season and had the lowest ERA with at least 50 innings, so I was pretty happy with what I did.

My pitching coach at UNR - Coach Long - worked with Mark Prior at USC and he just got back into coaching because of his relationship with our manager Jay Johnson. I learned so much from him in one year. What he really helped me the most with was how to prepare to pitch before you get on the mound.

So when the Padres drafted me after my junior year, I knew this was the best opportunity for me to go.

What do you throw?

Colby Blueberg: I throw a four and two-seam fastballs. I have a slider, but I hold it with a curve ball grip. My Dad said we would just call it a “Curider”. Although I hold it with the curve ball grip it comes out with a slider rotation. It sounds weird but it has really been an effective pitch for me.

I also have a change-up that I have been working on for the past two years. I didn’t really have one until I went to Eugene, but if I get on a high mound I can make that thing bite pretty well.

I am always amazed they expect to you guys to have a change-up coming out of high school or college. If you can blow something past someone consistently, why would you throw something slower?

Colby Blueberg: Honestly a change-up is one of the best pitches in baseball. The whole thing revolves around your delivery. If you can have the same one, its a great pitch. If you don’t - and when the batter can spot a noticeable difference - it’s going to get hammered. That is the big reason why so many pitchers can be a little reluctant to throw it.

But if you have a good one, you can get people out all day with a fastball and change-up combo.

You always read about guys coming out of the bullpen and they don’t want to throw off-speed, but it sounds like you do. What is your fastball mix?

Colby Blueberg: I go four-seam fastballs to right-handers away and two-seamers inside to them, and the opposite with lefties. The curider is my big secondary pitch. Coming out of the bullpen, you have to be aggressive and get outs quickly.

You are replacing a starter who has already established the strike zone. If he has had a good start, they are used to seeing him. Because of that I don’t see the point at nibbling at hitters. If I throw good strikes where I want to throw them, they are going to make outs. What I don’t want to do is beat myself. If someone is going to beat me, they are going to do it.

Make them swing the bat. The hitters are good, and get better at every level, but you also have to make them earn it. Many guys are going to get themselves out.

You seem to have much more of a mentality of bullpen guy than a starter. After speaking with you I can’t see you waiting four days between starts.

Colby Blueberg: No, that is not my thing. To be a starter is where the money is but with me being a competitor I like being out there. My main goal is to get to the major leagues any way that I can.

The best way I know is to make the innings quick, six to eight pitches and get out of there.

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