Padres Prospect Interview: Mike Ekstrom

San Antonio, TX-- In 2006 Mike Ekstrom, 23, established himself as one of San Diego's top pitching prospects with a very good year at Lake Elsinore, a traditional graveyard for talented pitchers.

He quieted a lot of critics who wondered if he would turn into a long line of college pitchers the Padres have previously drafted that had success in Eugene and Fort Wayne, then proceed to get shelled in the California League.

That didn't happen with Ekstrom.

Instead, he went 7-4 with a 2.30 ERA, striking out 68 batters in 82.1 innings while only allowing 76 hits. In addition, Ekstrom proved that he could throw in the low 90s, change speeds to go along with a very effective sinker. He struggled in Mobile after being promoted in late June, but bounced back in August.

This year has also been challenging for Ekstrom going 1-2 with a 4.71 ERA for San Antonio, allowing 55 hits in 42 innings with a 28/9 K/BB ratio.

"What has hurt him more than anything was he wasn't able to get his in his innings during spring training as you would like," said Glenn Abbot, the pitching coach for the Missions.

"The big leagues always need pitchers and we only have a two week window for games. They just don't want any pitchers; they want someone who's pretty good. He missed out on some innings that he needed, so he's really now just getting caught up."

When he is on, Ekstrom is a doppelganger for Clay Hensley, with his fastball, slider and change all down in the zone. The key for him, as with Hensley, is to be able to pound the zone with strikes early in the count and force batters to chase his pitches in the dirt when he is ahead.

Last year we had you as our pitcher of the year at Lake Elsinore. What were the reasons behind your success?

Mike Ekstrom: I did a pretty good job of keeping the ball down and trying to get early contact. I really try to get the batter to hit my pitch and get a ground out.

Lake Elsinore is a pretty tough place to pitch and going to Mobile in the middle of summer had to be a little difficult?

Mike Ekstrom: Yeah, Elsinore is a pretty good pitchers park for the California League because it's so deep, but it really does re-enforce that you need to keep the ball down in places like Lancaster, High Desert, and really everywhere else. And it did get a little hot in Mobile [laughs].

When we wrote about you in Madfriars we thought the pitcher that you were closest too on the Padres was Clay Hensley in how both of you keep everything down and throw in the low 90's and seemingly can go up and down, in and out in the zone.

Mike Ekstrom: Yeah, I'm not as concerned with up and down as I am with in and out. Maybe elevating the ball occasionally in spots. The biggest thing for me is too keep the ball down in the zone and hopefully it will be sinking and result in a ground out.

You throw a fastball, slider and change correct?

Mike Ekstrom: I mainly just throw two-seam fastballs, maybe a couple of four-steamers if I'm trying to elevate. I'm pretty much trying to get the ball to sink or cut all the times. When you see a home run that is one that didn't sink or cut, and was probably up in the zone and straight. [laughs]

Last year you came up with Mobile and you just had some very tough luck, losing a few game 1-0, 2-1, how did you deal with that?

Mike Ekstrom: It was frustrating for sure. I think I got shut out three games in a row where I thought I pitched well. When I would get runs, I would get run and it was in Mobile, which was bad enough by itself.

I remember at one point I was looking up at the scoreboard and I was 0-17 at the plate and 0-7 on the mound with a five ERA, so I said ‘C'mon this has got to change'. So we worked on stuff, and some of it was bad luck, some of it I wasn't pitching well. It is what it is; your last start. You have just to be concerned about your next start.

So what did you try to improve upon in the off-season?

Mike Ekstrom: Basically the same stuff just trying to get my changeup more consistent – that is the big thing. Mainly just keep doing what I'm doing, only more consistently and better.

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