Padres Interview: Clay Hensley

"Its unbelivabale," pitcher Clay Hensley said of his promotion to the San Diego Padres on Monday. "I wanted to play in the Big Leagues ever since I started playing baseball as a kid."

"I don't know if it has hit me yet. Maybe when I get to the stadium or when I get in uniform. The whole experience has been surreal."

His 2-2 record with Portland doesn't produce the awe it should. Clay Hensley has been the best pitcher in Portland all year long. He has consistently given the Beavers a chance to win and the run production simply hasn't been there. Now he takes his show to San Diego.

Ten of his 14 starts have produced two earned runs or less and he has won just one of those. It is just the season that he was having in Portland.

The Padres saw behind the façade of a 2-2 record and promoted him to San Diego on Monday.

Have the Padres explained your role in either the starting rotation or bullpen?

Clay Hensley: I don't have any details of what my situation will be. They just told me to get on a plane to New York.

Do you worry about it being a brief callup and getting sent back down to Triple-A?

Clay Hensley: I am not trying to think about it like that. If it is a brief callup then I will make an impression. If it is permanent so be it. I am not looking at it as a situation that if I get sent back down to Portland. I am here to help the team and will do so anyway I can.

When we talked to the Padres, they said had you been on the 40-man roster you would have been called up long ago. Talk about that stumbling block.

Clay Hensley: That situation with me not being on the forty man I knew it was going to be tougher. My goal this year was to have them put me on 40 and get a Big League callup.

You have been pitching quite well since the beginning of the year. How did you feel early on with the challenge of a new league?

Clay Hensley: It is going pretty good (especially with the Big League call-up). I came in a relief appearance and my nerves were a little wracked. Once I realized that these guys are just like everybody else, if you keep the ball down and hit your spots you are going to have some success. I kind of relaxed and just started to attack that.

How important is it for you to keep solid mechanics and how has your pitching changed through the years?

Clay Hensley: We had to hone my pitching. My whole career while pitching, prior to Double-A, I didn't really pitch I just kind of threw the ball and it was more of a straight over the top action as opposed to now where I have a three-quarter arm and a little more take on the ball.

In Portland, there have been a bunch of veterans that have been on the roster. What was it like having veterans around who have pitched in the Majors?

Clay Hensley: It has been huge. That has been the biggest thing. Anytime I have been around any Big Leaguers, especially now that I get to play with those guys who have gone up and seen what it is all about. It is all about trying to pick their brain and finding out what you need to do to get to the next level.

When we had Steve Sparks here, that was huge. Fortunately, I was with him for about a week and we are from the same area, he is from Houston as well, so we got to talking. We sat down after a few games and we would just go over pitch by pitch why someone should be throwing this pitch in a certain count and what you should be thinking in a certain count. He actually helped me with a breathing pattern you should have while you are pitching, whether there is 5,000 people out there or 30,000 people. That kind of stuff is crucial in learning to get to the next level.

Pitching coach Gary Lance followed you up from Mobile, how instrumental has he been in the process and is there something to be said for continuity?

Clay Hensley: It is always good to have him around. When we reworked the delivery, he was the pitching coach to work with me and basically did it in Mobile. Having him here, it helps out. He definitely knows where I need to be as he taught me last year and he can put me back in the position I need to be.

At the same time, is it tough not knowing who will be in the lineup from day-to-day as people get called up or shipped out and not knowing if you will be pitching to the same catcher?

Clay Hensley: That is the truth. That is why it is really important to know your game as a pitcher that way – I will be with a catcher now and what is to say he won't be in the Big Leagues tomorrow. Those are the things you have to go through as a pitcher and realize you are going to have to call some of your own games. A lot of the guys that may catch you aren't going to know you or know your tendencies so you have to be on the ball with what you do.

Talk about your time in the Giants organization and is there any differences between them and the Padres?

Clay Hensley: I was only with the Giants for a little over a year. When I was with them I was in the developmental stages of baseball. I got to talk to some of the guys and they seem to work with you pretty good. I would say the biggest difference is the way the Padres take care of their players in spring training. The spring training facility that we have now is absolutely world class. It is definitely night and day as far as the spring training facilities go and the way they get you prepared for the season.

Rumor has it you were a Giants fan growing up?

Clay Hensley: I was a fan of them but I don't think I had a favorite team. I was a big fan of the Astros and when I got drafted by San Francisco I learned a little bit more about the team. When I first came into spring they had some seminars and taught us about the history of the team and I got a little bit more respect for the organization.

Now that you are on the way to the Majors, do you feel you have more reliance on your secondary pitches than perhaps you did in the past?

Clay Hensley: I think now more than ever I am starting to realize the strike zone is a little bit tighter than it was last year and guys don't have a problem hitting your fastball. Being behind in the count and being able to throw your off-speed stuff for strikes is crucial.

You were a closer when you first began your career. How did becoming a starter come about?

Clay Hensley: Whenever I originally started playing college baseball I came in as a closer and going into our first conference game one of our starters went down and I was asked to do a spot start. Ended up doing the spot start and from then on I have been a starter.

Being called up to the Padres, is there any preference on where you would like to pitch?

Clay Hensley: If they want me in middle relief, whatever I need to do to get it done. I will love being able to help the team out.

Having done both, how does the preparation differ between starting and relief?

Clay Hensley: When I get ready for my start it doesn't take me more than ten or 15 minutes to get loose. Gary Lance always jokes around saying I would make the perfect reliever.

If I go up there and start, that would be ideal but I would be happy to just get up there.

How does the relationship you have with the catchers influence your game?

Clay Hensley: The relationship between the pitcher and the catcher is crucial because you definitely have to be on the same page. It always helps if he throws down the sign and you are 100 percent in agreement with him because then you know you have 100 percent confidence in the pitch. When you start second guessing and he throws down a sign and you don't feel it is something you should be throwing and you may not have 100 percent confidence in it so you may not hit your spot when you need to. The relationship ideally you have to have to be on the same page where he is throwing down signs and you are hardly shaking him off, maybe once or twice during a game.

What kind of work do you do beforehand to get ready for your next start?

Clay Hensley: The preparation we do is a chart. The day before a game I get to see the hitters and see a little bit of their tendencies. I get to see what some of the weaknesses are and attack them.

What is the biggest stat for you in terms of measuring your success?

Clay Hensley: The biggest stat for me is to keep my walks down and keep the average down. But keeping the ERA down is pretty important and tied to keeping the walks down.

Have a question about a prospect in the San Diego Padres' system. Send Denis an email at Denis@sandiegosports.net. Some questions will be forwarded and answered on air during MadFriars.com weekly segment on the flagship station for San Diego Padres' baseball, The Mighty 1090. The show airs each Friday at 10:35 AM PST with Brian Wilson and Ernie Martinez.


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