Whitehurst on Wizards pitching prospects

Fort Wayne Wizards pitching coach Wally Whitehurst didn't get to see a whole lot of Nick Schmidt or Matt Bush but they each left an impression. Two relievers, Dylan Axelrod and Allen Harrington, came in late and were impressive. Whitehurst also talked in-depth about starters Nathan Culp, Stephen Faris, Andy Underwood and Aaron Breit.

One of the things that might be difficult for you as a coach is when things don't go as you expected, how do you keep up the morale and everyone working towards the common goal?

Wally Whitehurst: We started off OK and by the midpoint of the season we had lost a couple of players to injury and sent some guys to Elsinore and got younger guys and newly drafted guys – You shouldn't have to motivate all that much being a first year player. Most of our guys handled it well. They came to play everyday. That was a pretty good testament to the way Dougie (Dascenzo) handled the staff and the players.

We had some good kids. Some of them didn't have the kind of years we hoped for but there were a lot of good things that happened. When you send up as many players as we did to Elsinore you have to look at it as a success.

Nick Schmidt was only with you for a brief stint. I don't even know if you can get a good picture of who he was because of the injury. Could you make any assessment?

Wally Whitehurst: I saw one sideline and two innings of a start in Kane County. That is all I saw.

Two innings and one sideline – it wouldn't be fair for me to make a judgment on him or say plus or minus about him.

His size is a big bonus. Being left-handed is a bonus. We all hope he turns out to be the guy he can be for the position he was drafted.

Does the same hold true for Matt Bush who had one and a half batters?

Wally Whitehurst: Seeing him for seven pitches and in the bullpen – his stuff is pretty electric.

It is unfair for me to say too much.

Dylan Axelrod came to you late and simply threw strikes. Was there something else that allowed him to have success?

Wally Whitehurst: On the head – he came in from day one and threw strikes. Anytime you can get a guy out of the bullpen, whether things are going good or bad, come in and pitch to contact, have them put the ball in play – like he did every time out – is an added bonus.

I think he was physically worn out by the time the end of the season came around, but he took the ball every time we asked him to and went out and threw strikes and pitches to contact. That is what we preach: change speeds, pitch to contact, pitch efficiency – he was all of the above.

Allen Harrington was a fierce competitor for you down the stretch and seemed to be a go-to guy. Why was he so good?

Wally Whitehurst: He was a big boost for us in the pen at the end of the year and then again when we needed a fifth starter he came in and is no-nonsense. He comes in and is very aggressive. He throws strikes.

He worked hard on his changeup during the time he was there and by the end of the year it was a plus pitch for him.

He is not a real tall kid but his aggressiveness makes up a lot for that.

Aaron Breit struggled through most of the year but had a great finish and stuck with it throughout. He lost confidence but seemed to bounce back at the end?

Wally Whitehurst: He really did. There were some things we changed at the end of last year. We tweaked some of his mechanics trying to get him to stay taller. Sometimes you do things that are good for down the road but for the moment it might not be that good for the player. He stuck with it. He battled and we battled.

Mentally, it was frustrating for him but he kept plugging away and by the end of the year he was pitching again like he did at the end of last year. You could see it change in the way he came to the ballpark. Not that he was in a bad mood – smiling a lot, the confidence back. He is going to be fine.

I think a lot of him and I know a lot of people in the organization like his stuff and his makeup.

You hope that no one goes through something like that but you all do at some point and hopefully this will be it for him at the lower levels.

Nathan Culp apparently didn't like you and Doug. He doesn't seem to stay with you guys for long before getting promoted. What enables him to have success?

Wally Whitehurst: (laughs) We tend to run off a lot of them.

Culp pitched well for us. He is crafty. He can throw four pitches for strikes. He changes speeds. He knows how to pitch.

Coming from a four-year school and pitching in the (College) World Series helped him a lot.

His fastball might be a tick below average but he uses it well with his cutter, slider, curveball and changeup. He spots his fastball real well and that is the big key for him – change speeds, keep the ball down.

Stephen Faris quietly had a good year for you and came up with some big wins. As a control pitcher, what does he need to continue to have success?

Wally Whitehurst: We brought him into the Instructional League to really work on his curveball to tighten it up. He did that. He got a feel for it.

His whole problem was the curveball would get a little bit too big. We worked on it hard with Bob Cluck and (Mike) Couchee. He did a good job.

He has a good changeup, a fastball that sinks, he can pitch to both sides of the plate. He is another college kid who came from a good program. He wants to be out there and he wants to learn.

He had a pretty good Instructs. There are guys who are looking at him to possibly pitch higher than he did this year. He had a good year for us.

Andy Underwood underwent some mechanical changes through the year. How and why did you guys feel that was necessary?

Wally Whitehurst: We really didn't do too much with his mechanics.

He didn't pitch last year in Eugene. He had pitched a lot of innings and we let him go home to rest. We brought him back to the Instructional League and his velocity still wasn't back so we shut him down there. Coming into Spring Training, the first half of the year – and without stuff that really lights you up – was having a great year.

He was the Pitcher of the Week for two straight starts at the end of June. All of a sudden, something went haywire. He had trouble getting his pitches in the strike zone and his velocity dropped. We didn't understand what happened. It was a mental thing – anyone who goes through that the only way to get out of it is one way, yourself. I don't know if anyone can help.

I sure hope he comes back with the confidence he had in June.

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