Eugene Pitching Coach Wally Whitehurst Q&A

Wally Whitehurst has been instrumental in developing the young talent in the Padres system. He is usually among the first to introduce the changeup and explain the Padres philosophies on pitching. It is why many of the players he tutored come back to him for continued support.

You have been in Peoria and got a chance to see many of the pitchers who were in extended spring training before you headed out for the season in Eugene. Is there anyone that stayed in Arizona that you were surprised didn't join you in Eugene?

Wally Whitehurst: Most of those kids down there in extended it was their first time in the states and they had some stuff to work on. We did so in extended spring. John Hussey was probably the closest to being up here and it just didn't work out for him numbers wise. There are some very good arms down there and I know Razor is doing a hell of a job with those kids. It is exciting for our future. There are four or five kids down there that can really throw and have an idea how to pitch. It is exciting for us.

How difficult is it as a pitching coach to mold all of these different and likely fragile minds into pitchers while keeping the different mental mindsets in line?

Wally Whitehurst: Especially here in Eugene we have most of the newly drafted kids and they are just coming into their own as far as playing everyday and being at the ballpark everyday. Most of them aren't used to that in college. They automatically have one day off a week and play three or four a week. It is a big adjustment for them. Coming from facing aluminum bats to wood bats is another adjustment.

Getting them to understand the importance of using both sids of the plate, really changing speeds, disrupting timing and the things we are trying to preach to them is get them out as quickly as possible – three pitches or less, pitch with efficiency. It takes some time. The new guys, you don't really want to change anything right now – some guys need a little bit of change and others need a little more – but you kind of let them just go out there and feel their way through it. We might suggest a few things but nothing really drastic at this point and let them go out and get their feet wet and let them come to the ballpark each day.

Is that a little bit of ‘let's see what we have here before making wholesale changes.'

Wally Whitehurst: Absolutely. Guys who have been here for a year or two understand what we are trying to do and what I am trying to get them to do. The new guys you sit back and really evaluate them the whole summer. I am sure some of them have gotten fatigued, although even at 100 innings is not a lot of innings. Those guys are throwing everyday so it is an adjustment. We sit back and evaluate them, mark down some things we think they should work on and of course we will tell them that at the end of the season to be ready for spring training.

You began the year with an 8-man rotation and only slimmed it down because players moved up and injuries occurred. How difficult is it for these guys to make the transition back and forth from the starting rotation to the pen and back again? It is a different mindset.

Wally Whitehurst: It really is. And this is new for me. I never had to do an 8-man staff. Obviously there are a lot of plusses and some negatives. I am still trying to learn my way and it is easier for us to adjust to an 8-man than it is for those guys because you start one day and four days later you are in relief. The game is on the line in the back end of the tandem when they come into the game. They have to get used to not only starting a game but pitching in a situation where the game is on the line and they have to hold the lead or keep it tied or keep it close. It is a benefit, especially to those young kids and being able to pitch in that seventh, eight, and possibly ninth inning.

You had mentioned that you are not trying to changes with these players – but what is the organizational philosophy for throwing in between starts, especially with this weird 8-man rotation.

Wally Whitehurst: Each man in the rotation has one bullpen in between. And you would like to get a little more instruction with them, especially some of the Latin guys who need a little more than a four-year college guy but they get about 25-30 pitches in between and it is mainly getting back on the mound, working on location, commanding the fastball and throwing the changeup and some breaking pitches. I don't know if it is long enough to get a lot of work done. The Padres biggest thing is pitching in the game. It is one of the biggest plusses in the 8-man rotation is every four days they are on the mound and in the game and you are only going to get better if you pitch.

On the side we take it a little bit light, especially with the guys that were just drafted and have thrown a few innings. We are all going through this together.

I have gotten a chance to talk to a number of players in the system – and this is throughout the system at the higher levels – but different players at different levels have credited each of the pitching coaches, including you. When you hear that now from guys who are in Fort Wayne or who have gone on to Lake Elsinore what does that mean to you?

Wally Whitehurst: They better say that because I am threatening them! I wouldn't say it is flattering – they should go through their career as I did and any other player and get bits and pieces from each individual because although we might teach a lot of the same things the verbalism might be different. If they can get something from me that helps them along the way I couldn't be more proud. We all hope they make the major leagues. Obviously, we know that wont happen with everyone. If you can help ten percent of them get there, that is what coaching is all about, seeing those kids succeed at the higher levels and getting a piece of what I was lucky enough to do in my career.

Coaching versus playing?

Wally Whitehurst: Coaching is a lot tougher than playing ever was. I was very lucky and blessed. It was like Christmas every day for me to be in the major leagues. It is something you will never forget, the people you come across, played with, played against. It is an amazing accomplishment and it was a lot of fun.

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