Burke puts name on prospect map

SAN ANTONIO, TX: Greg Burke may have seen the writing on the wall. Armed with an eraser, he changed how he was viewed, improving upon his physical strength and rededicating himself to the game. A nasty slider has been a tremendous help, putting him on the prospect map rather than out of baseball.

With a 4.43 ERA across two levels coming into the season, Burke had not separated himself from the pack. He was a control pitcher that relied upon his ability to throw strikes with his two-seam fastball – sometimes too many strikes, as he lacked that pitch to put hitters away.

Things have changed drastically in 2008. He has more strikeouts than innings pitched and outside of a tough July, Burke has had an outstanding season.

You had exactly zero saves coming into the season and had split time between starting and long relief. What was the first save opportunity like for you this season?

Greg Burke: I was a little nervous, I am not going to lie. We had a three-run lead that helped me ease into a little bit. I was going in there trying to pump out strikes, which is usually what I do. I got them swinging and swinging early. Let my fielders do what they do and that worked out for me.

(Several players in the background were yelling, ‘Light's out, Savage' while this interview was conducted.)

You had an impressive scoreless streak early in the year and have had a very successful year overall. What has been working for you so well?

Greg Burke: I have been throwing my slider a lot. I guess it is a slider. It is kind of like a cut-fastball. I have been just throwing it a bunch, throwing it for strikes and throwing it when I get two strikes as an out pitch. It is pretty much the pitch I am going to throw when I am in trouble. I am probably going to throw it anyway.

I get ahead with it and get outs with it.

Is that surprising since last year was predicated on throwing the two-seam fastball a lot for strikes?

Greg Burke: Your right, in the beginning of the year it was a lot of fastballs. As the year went on, my arm got a little tired, and I had to resort to some other pitches.

I guess it worked out because it made me throw those other pitches to help make my other pitches better. My slider got better and my split got better, although I haven't thrown it as much this year. Last year was a learning experience and made me throw other pitches besides my fastball.

We have always talked about you throwing too many strikes. Now, you are throwing this ball which can go down in the dirt as often as you throw it for a strike. It has to have some people scratching their head with the memory that you always are in the zone.

Greg Burke: I think it is a little different than before. Before I was throwing a lot of strikes with my fastball. It was all fastballs. Now, put a little curve into it and you have a lot of missed hits. It keeps people from squaring it up. I am able to throw strikes with my off-speed pitches rather than my fastball.

You have done very well with runners on base this year. Is there a different mentality for you after that initial runner reaches base?

Greg Burke: I think when runners are on base I get a little stingy. Obviously, I don't want them to score. I pitch a little different with men on base versus when they are not. Maybe I catch a little more of the plate when they are not on base. I have to tighten up and pick a little more – pick my strikes.

At some point, hitters make an adjustment to what they are seeing from you and you, in turn, have to make a counter adjustment.

Greg Burke: Yes, like last series when we saw Springfield. I went into the series thinking they had not seen a lot of me and I could go in there and do what I do. They made adjustments quickly with my slider and I had to switch it up a little bit to throw a few more fastballs than I normally would. But, that is the thing – I am throwing a little harder than last year. So, when I do have to make the adjustments with my fastballs, I can get away with it. Last year, I was throwing a little slower and have more life this year. It helps.

How were you able to add a few ticks to your fastball?

Greg Burke: I knew coming into this year that I needed to throw harder, basically. I also needed to maintain throughout the season rather than start off strong and fall off. I needed to put on some muscle and had a good lifting regimen where I was a power lifter for three or four months and the last month I toned down to do more endurance things. It is showing. I am stronger. It is easier for me to maintain. I am also being a lot more consistent with what I doing after the game.

Do you worry about that stamina now that we are in the final month of the season?

Greg Burke: That is why I worked so hard early in the season so it would not catch up with me. Hopefully, I have done enough in the beginning and middle where it will last me through to the end.

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