Lake Elsinore Storm

MadFriars' Interview: Chris Huffman

LAKE ELSINORE —RHP Chris Huffman, 23, is not the type of pitcher that is going to light up a radar gun or post big strikeout numbers.

But what the former James Madison University star can do, is eat innings and give a team a chance to win every time he takes the mound.  Last year for the Low-A Fort Wayne TinCaps posted a 3.28 ERA and worked 107 innings across 18 starts and four relief appearances. He ended up second on the team in overall innings pitched.

This year with the High-A Lake Elsinore Storm he had a 2.95 ERA in 16 starts, before a recent downturn in his past three.  He’s leading the team in innings pitched with 105 with the opposition posting a .259 batting average against. 

When he’s on the former Dukes star is a classic “pitch to contact” hurler in that he relies on his ability to hit his spots with command and movement to force the batter to swing at something he doesn’t want too.

We caught up with Chris before a recent start to find out how to survive as a pitcher in the California League.

You have posted a good ERA in a very tough league for pitchers.  What has been your secret?

Chris Huffman: Just getting ahead of hitters and keeping my walks down.  I try to have faith in my defense that when the ball is put in play they can get the outs.  This year they have really been great behind me.

I’ve also really been helped out a lot by my pitching coach Glendon Rusch and have been trying to take what he gives me in the side sessions into the game.

A lot of us can talk about getting ahead in the count, but how are you able to do it without serving up a lot of fat pitches?

Chris Huffman: A big thing is I do a lot of dry work and visualization which helps me get more mental reps and specifically focused on hitting the mitt.  I don’t want to be in a zone, but in a specific spot.

You are not someone that has big strikeout to walk ratios, but you also tend to pitch a lot of innings.  It’s a bad term, but do you see yourself as a “pitch-to-contact” pitcher in the sense that you want to force the batter to swing at something he doesn’t want too?

Chris Huffman: Yes; I remember I was chatting with Ben Fritz [who is now the Dust Devil’s manager but last year was in the AZL] and he told me to not use that term but “pitch to get outs”.

I try to miss barrels and keep the ball low.  I’m looking for holes in their swings and if I am on the chart that night I want to sit right next to Glendon so he can tell me where the holes in the swings are.  Hopefully, I can use that information the next night when it is my turn to pitch.

I’ve also been taking notes on each hitter and look at them the night before I start.

Are you making in-game adjustments?

Chris Huffman: I haven’t gotten that far yet.  When I am out there I am more concerned about my own execution.  I try to get that type of work done before I go out and pitch.

You have to trust your catcher to do that type of stuff.

You went to James Madison University.  How did you get there?

Chris Huffman: I lived thirty minutes south of there.  The coach, Spanky McFarland’s son went to a rival high school and I think he saw me.  In the Commonwealth Games, which was the summer after my junior year, I ended up throwing the hardest I ever did in my life - I think it was around 94.  It drew some attention, along with a showcase team.

I performed well at both and that helped me to get to JMU.

You get drafted by San Diego after your junior year in the fourteenth round in 2014.  You were in Extended Spring and then you made it to Fort Wayne last year where you threw a lot of innings.  

Can you give us an idea of what you throw?

Chris Huffman: I throw both a four and two-seam fastballs. A slider, cutter and a split/change - which is kind of like a circle change.  

I throw the four-seam a little more than the two; I use the two-seamer to try to get ground ball outs.

What is the biggest part of your game that you want to improve?

Chris Huffman: I would like to have more strikeouts.  Too many times I have not been able to finish off hitters when I have two strikes.  Don’t get me wrong I like the outs and would take the innings, but that is part of my game that could be better.

Always I would like to develop more consistency with all of my pitches so that I can throw them in any count and at anytime.  If I can do that, the strikeouts will come.

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