Padres prospect interview: Matt Varner

In his first game of the season, Wizards closer Matt Varner gave up six runs and it was unclear how the team would rebound from that game. From then on, however, Varner has been lights out, propelling the team to a second place finish in their division during the first half of the year and a playoff berth at the end of the year – the efforts of Varner being a key component to the success. He is currently on the shelf with a bicep tendonitis.

Talk about that first outing of the season and how you felt afterwards. Did you change anything in your game after that first outing?

Matt Varner: I was leaving the ball over the dish a little too much and they were hitting it. Right after the game I was down about it and I talked to my pitching coach the next day and we made some adjustments. Erased two pitches and added two more, a split-finger and a slider. I dropped my circle change and my curveball. I made that adjustment and (the new pitches) have been good.

Where they pitches you have always had on the backburner and just brought them to the forefront again?

Matt Varner: I had never thrown a split-finger before. I am still working on that. Every day I go out and work on that. The slider I had thrown a little bit in junior college and had worked on it then but just kind of shut it down. It was real inconsistent. I modified the grip from what it had been and it is working now.

Do you have a pitch you consider your "out" pitch?

Matt Varner: I am different when it comes to that. My out pitch changes everyday. It could be a fastball up. It could be a fastball away, fastball in, slider, split-finger. It is really how I feel that day. When you are throwing multiple days in a row you kind of go with the feels. A lot of people have asked me ‘what is my out pitch' and it kind of depends on what day it is.

As you warm up between the eighth and ninth innings, what is your thought process?

Matt Varner: I have been zoned in for a couple of innings and know for sure who I am going to face that inning as far as righty-lefty. One through four (in the lineup), usually I will work a little more on the slider in the bullpen, make sure you get that tight. Later in the order I am just going to go after them a little harder and see where that gets me. I put some thought into it but mainly I have to go out and trust my stuff. If I go out and try to pitch like a different person every day then I will never figure out who I am.

Talk about the mentality of being a closer and who has aided your perception of the role. If I remember correctly, you have been a starter for most of your life.

Matt Varner: I have been a starter pretty much my whole life. Once I got placed in that role I had the luxury – there are some great closers in this organization – and I have talked to (Brad) Baker about it and I even had a conversation with (Trevor) Hoffman, (Leo) Rosales, really not a whole lot with (Dale) Thayer – I knew him but did not talk to him a whole lot about closing. They really helped me out and helped me get more comfortable in closing. As I do it more I feel a little more comfortable doing it.

What kind of advice has each of those players given you and who was most instrumental in your development?

Matt Varner: There is just so much. Baker who was Pitcher of the Year last year let me understand that you are just trying to get three outs. It is no different than any other inning you just have a little more pressure. Things like that pretty much all of them said. Hoffman said, ‘get a routine and stick with it. If you feel it is comfortable it is going to work.' I thought that was pretty important.

Do you feel like you have been up to the Midwest League challenge and are ready to move on to bigger and better things?

Matt Varner: Once the organization feels I am comfortable to go up they will send me. Of course, every day you wait for that call up. I don't know any person who isn't in the Big Leagues that isn't looking for a call up. The Midwest League challenges me some days different than others. I am still getting stuff out of this league. I am not owning this league. There is a challenge around every corner in life in baseball or anything.

Luke (Steidlmayer) got called up and you see the guy going and you wish him the best. We are not trying to stab people in the back here. You become friends with most of these guys and you want to see them succeed but you do not want to be left behind at the same time.

Talk about your relationship with catchers Colt Morton (who has now moved up to Lake Elsinore) and Matt Lauderdale.

Matt Varner: We are figuring each other out. Earlier in the year it seemed like I was shaking a lot more. Maybe I shouldn't have been, maybe I should have been. That is very important.

Are you a pitcher that likes to take control on the mound and dictate the pitches that are being thrown?

Matt Varner: Sometimes – I call it a gut feeling – because everyone is different. You trust them but it is your ERA and your all that stuff. You have to weigh the odds but I have not shaken them in a long time and when I have they will go back to it and that will definitely tell me they are confident in what they are calling.

They have called great games for me. They have done very well, Lauderdale and Morton.

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