LAKE ELSINORE, Calif. -- LHP Eric Lauer is one of those players who is viewed as a franchise cornerstone. The 25th overall pick in last June’s draft made quite an impression in his pro debut, pitching to a 2.03 ERA in his pro debut between three stops in the Padres’ organization.
“He’s done a great job of pitching with his fastball, which he has plus command of and he’s not afraid to use it. He learned a new change grip at the end of spring training and his curveball has been much improved since spring training,” said Lake Elsinore Storm pitching coach and former Padre Glendon Rusch.
The southpaw has been just as impressive in his first month in the California League, pitching to a 2.22 ERA in five starts. The former Kent State star is averaging nearly 11 strikeouts per nine innings and has worked seven innings in back-to-back starts, throwing a professional-high 97 pitches last time out.
Lauer talked to us before a recent game in Lake Elsinore.
MadFriars: Going back to instructional league, many of the players I have talked to commented on the player-to-coach ratio and how much they benefitted from the closer attention. How did you benefit from that experience?
Eric Lauer: I really liked it because you didn’t have to really worry about results at all because you were there to work on stuff. Having so many coaches and so few players you got a lot more specific attention to what you needed. Every coach knew what you needed; so it wasn’t like coaches were telling you different things. Everybody was helping you work on your off-speed or your mechanics or something.
So the biggest benefit is that you got more individualized attention and the communication was consistent and easier to follow?
Lauer: Yeah, it was easier and you saw the same people every day. Sometimes people might be on different fields like in spring training and you won’t see the same guys every day. It was the same coaches, same coordinators, so it was nice because they were always with you and you could ask the same people the same stuff and they keep giving you consistent information instead of hearing multiple things from different people.
With the rotation that is here in Lake Elsinore with yourself and guys like Cal Quantrill and Joey Lucchesi does it make you feel like you need to elevate your game because your teammates are so talented or do you just worry about yourself?
Lauer: I think the friendly competition in it is good. I mean obviously everyone wants to do well. Cal (Quantrill) and I would talk about all the time when we first got here is that we weren’t going to root against each other to make ourselves look better. I want him to do really good when he pitches and when I pitch I want to beat him. I want to do better than him but I don't want him to do bad for me to look better. Everyone is pushing each other to do better than the last person.
Coming out of college the scouting reports all said you have four pitches that flashed above-average. What specifically have you looked to improve over the last year in this organization?
Lauer: A lot of changeups. I am a lot more comfortable with changeups. It was probably my worst pitch so now I feel like I can use that more as a weapon so I truly have four good pitches to work with. I’m trying to make my slider more consistent and get better action on it more often.
You have had a couple of strong outings in a row. You just talked about working on sliders and changeups. Do you feel like your improvement with those pitches is helping you get deeper into games and getting better results?
Lauer: This year I have struggled a bit with command more than usual and I have been walking more people than I’d like. I have been focusing on a little too much mechanical things to where it was kind of messing me up so I have kind of gotten back to where I was in college in my last outing as far as mechanics go.
My location was a lot better because I was back to my normal mechanics. My curveball was really working in my last outing -- that pitch can kind of be on-and-off. If I have either my curveball or slider I can usually work with it. Other than that it hasn’t been anything special; I was just trying to throw strikes.
One of the most interesting dynamics for me is the transition from college to professional baseball, in terms of pitch counts. Some guys will throw over 130 pitches in college but in the minors, you typically throw less than 100 pitches in a game. Is there a huge adjustment when you pitch in the minors since you only have so many pitches to work with?
Lauer: It puts more emphasis on throwing strikes. You really want to throw the zone up because you want to get outs faster. You don’t necessarily want to strike everybody out. You want to try and let them hit the ball and get outs that way because it lets you extend your outing.
In college, the most I ever threw was like 124 or something and that was my no-hitter. They had to let me go in that one. In college I was around 100 pitches -- that was my limit. I would fill up the zone better and hitters were a little less patient, I guess. They would swing at a few more balls and I would get some more strikes. It just puts more emphasis on consistently throwing strikes.
Your strikeout totals so far this season have been impressive. In your start against Lancaster this year, you had really good stuff but a couple of balls dropped in that weren’t hit hard. Is it more frustrating to have an outing like that or an outing where the other team just hits the ball hard consistently?
Lauer: I think it kind of changes for me on a daily basis. If I feel like I’m throwing really well and I’m just giving up little dink hits and that kind of stuff, it’s okay -- it’s just baseball. It’s going to happen, they are going to get dink hits but other days if you are throwing bad and they are just knocking you around the park, that’s when I get a little more upset because that is a little more on me. I’m not forcing them to put bad swings on it, they are getting good swings off me.
In regards to your strikeout totals, I know you talked earlier about improving your changeup but what do you think has been the biggest pitchfork setting guys up and getting the strikeout?
Lauer: I don’t know (laughs). I try to be a command pitcher, so I try and move the fastball in-and-out and up-and-down. I love high fastballs just to let it ride right at the hands. You get a lot of swings and misses because they think it looks like a watermelon and you can usually get a little more oomph on it when it’s up.
Other than that, just curveballs and sliders, mixing those in just to throw them off-speed more than anything. The slider hasn’t worked like I wanted to this year yet -- we’ve been working on grips but like I said last outing my curveball was on so I was using that. But some days its curveball, some days its fastball or slider; it just changes by the day.