The six-foot-six right-hander has been among the leaders in the organization in innings pitched and ERA in his past two seasons in High-A Lake Elsinore and Double-A San Antonio with his sinker/slider combination. This year in Triple-A El Paso he took a step back with a 7.17 ERA in 75.1 innings.
However, he has turned it around with the Missions reverting back to the pitcher he was last year, only a little better. In five starts he is 4-1 with a 2.72 ERA and has thrown seven innings or more in all of his starts, with the exception of one where he threw six.
We called up James to find out what didn’t work in El Paso and what has in San Antonio.
You are pitching much better now than you were in El Paso, what happened?
James Needy: I tried to change who I was up there too much and got away from my strengths. Mainly, I was attacking hitters in a different way than I did last year. I started trying to throw harder and challenging guys up in the zone with a four-seam fastball, which isn’t me.
The hitters are a little better in the PCL and some of the parks are definitely more challenging than the Texas League; but I also didn’t give my chance to be successful. I’ve always been a guy that threw a lot of sinkers/two seamers, slider, change-up and an occasional curve. I had success by throwing all of my pitches and not trying to blow people away.
I got away from that.
Your splits in El Paso are kind of strange. You had a 3.24 ERA on the road, where there are some much more unfriendly parks to pitchers, and a 9.12 ERA at home. Is there anything to this, or is that just the way some games played out?
James Needy: I wasn’t really aware of that until I left and talked with my Dad. Was I doing something different at home as opposed to the road? I don’t think so. I can take away that I did pitch well at times in the PCL and it was helpful to get to that level; because I know what I need to do to get better.
When I got back in San Antonio that was my main goal, to get back to where I need to be.
You only went six innings twice in 16 starts, in San Antonio, you have gone six innings only once in five starts and seven or more in the rest. Are you being just more efficient?
James Needy: There are a few factors. One, they let me go 100 pitches here which helps you go deeper into games. Also, I’ve gone back to attacking the zone the way I used too, but a little differently. At times in Double-A you can get away without using all of your pitches and still get guys out, but that doesn’t help you at the upper levels. So I have really been concentrating using all four of my pitches and attacking every hitter.
One of the bigger mechanical adjustments that I made was just focusing on my stability. As a tall pitcher if you don’t have that it can really throw you off. When I began focusing on that concept in everything I was trying to do; being explosive, where my stride was along with other things - the results got better. I stopped getting into bad counts and cut down on my walks.
In 36.1 innings the opposition is hitting .201 off of you. Obviously the organization is going to want to bring you back up to Triple-A. What will you do differently this time?
James Needy: I’m going to continue doing what I am doing now, which is going to give me more confidence. If I was pitching in El Paso like I am now, the results would have been different. It’s just about realizing who I am and attacking hitters with the weapons that I have.
When I went back down I spoke with Mark [Prior, the Padres Minor League Pitching Coordinator] and he pointed out that I battled for three months up there, but something needed to change and they thought this could be it.
Sometimes you just try to make too many adjustments and get away from what worked for you. I like how I am pitching now, not only the results but also the approach. In the end, this is going to help my career.