Padres September Call-Ups: Mike Ekstrom

No matter what type of season you had the previous year, a bad year changes everything in the life of minor league player. Unless you were a high draft pick, most players are only allowed one bite of the apple.

Mike Ekstrom had a big year in 2006 at Lake Elsinore and then he never really got on track at San Antonio in 2007. So when he was removed from the starting rotation in early June, it was a pretty big moment in his career. If he didn't perform in the bullpen, there was a good chance he wouldn't be back.

After going 2-5 in the first half with a 6.52 ERA, Ekstrom turned it around in the bullpen, going 9-3 with a 2.34 ERA. He pitched anywhere from one to three innings at a time, even winning two of three spot starts.

Ekstrom pitched well enough to earn a September promotion to San Diego where two tough outings against Pittsburgh and Los Angles inflated his ERA 7.45 in eight appearances. Still, he was impressive enough to have an outside shot at making the roster next year, and, at the very least, he should bounce between San Diego and Portland next year.

In 2006, you had a very good year in Lake Elsinore. Last year, you struggled in San Antonio and were kind of going down the same path this year in the first two months. You turned it around - what was the big change?

Mike Ekstrom: The biggest change obviously was going from starting to relief, which is something that I had never done. I kind of looked at it like a blank slate because the first two months were terrible.

Hey, I didn't want to say that.

Mike Ekstrom: [laughs] Well, it was pretty obvious. I just flushed it away and started like it was a new season.

That is a lot of mental discipline and seems much easier to say that you are going to do it than to make it happen.

Mike Ekstrom: At that point, I really didn't have anything to lose because my season was in the tank. When I went in the pen, if I would look at my stats, I would only look at the ones that were in relief.

Your relief stats were pretty good. From what we've understood is in the pen your velocity increased and you were able to keep the ball down better. Was it just being in the pen that allowed you to just let it go and not worry about pacing yourself?

Mike Ekstrom: I just would throw the ball 100 percent as hard as I could and try to keep it down instead of hitting spots and it seemed to get me some grounders, which is what I want.

Were you ever that worried about how long you would be out there or was it just three batters and let's go?

Mike Ekstrom: I don't know. I really wasn't that worried about it when I was starting. Out of the pen, you don't have to pace yourself as much or worry what you are going to do the next time you see a batter. If I wanted to throw a slider, I threw a slider. I didn't have to worry about pitching sequences.

You also had three starts after you were moved to the bullpen and that also went pretty well.

Mike Ekstrom: Yeah, that went pretty well too. At the end, I wasn't pitching as a starter. I would tell the catcher that I'm a reliever making a spot start. If you think I should throw three fastballs or breaking balls in a row do it. Don't worry about setting guys up or sequences.

If I needed to throw a guy fifteen sliders to get someone out or fifteen fastballs I would do it. The main thing was just to focus on getting the guy out in front of me.

Do you sometimes over think out there?

Mike Ekstrom: No, it's just a question of making the right pitch at the right time. Sometimes, I might throw a changeup to a righty and it might work for me 55 percent of the time while a low fastball down and away will work about 80 percent of the time. I throw it because I need to develop that pitch, even though it's not as successful for me right now. Out of the bullpen, you can just throw the pitch that is most likely to get the guy out.

You don't have the same changeup quota out of the bullpen?

Mike Ekstrom: I don't think so, but then again since I've been up here I've been throwing more changeups. It's kind of funny how its worked out; and my changeup has been much better up here than it was in the minors.

I've always thought you were more of a guy that throws everything down and that your slider is a type of sinker that moves away?

Mike Ekstrom: Yeah up here, it must be something with the balls, it's moving more than ever. I've just been trying to hit spots and keep it down. It's strange on the video it almost moves too much, kind of hard to control.

And you pitched well in the majors.

Mike Ekstrom: Yeah, the strike zone is a little smaller and the hitters are better so you have to be a little more precise. I've nibbled more than I like, but overall I'm happy with how it went.

When you are coming up for the first time is it tough not thinking, ‘Wow I'm facing Manny Ramirez?'

Mike Ekstrom: For me, it was in Milwaukee when I first got called up with Drew [Macias] the first two games were unbelievable, but I didn't get in the game. By the time I got in a game, we were back in San Diego where I felt more comfortable since I had played there in college. I just got settled a little more. From there, it was just a question of executing pitches.

I mean, you see these guys on television so you know a little more about them than in the minors, but as long as you focus on the lower deck it's not that different. You don't worry too much what is going on with the Jumbotron.

Is the preparation different since you don't have video in the minors?

Mike Ekstrom: In the minors, we know what the guys do, especially in the Texas League because we play each other so much. I can tell you what each guy on Midland can and cannot hit. Here, they have it on video, on the computers and so many stats it's amazing.

How much information do you try to take in without getting overwhelmed and getting away from what you are trying to do?

Mike Ekstrom: I see what the guy hits. If he has a tendency to swing at the first pitch, that is big, where he likes the ball; but then again I'm not going to get away from my strengths unless he absolutely crushes sliders down and away. You kind of mix and match and go from there.

I'm sure you hope you can stay up here next year, what is the biggest thing you need to do to make it happen?

Mike Ekstrom: Fastball command is the biggest one and getting lefties out. Just getting the fastball located to both sides and getting the slider away from them, and the changeup. Always need the changeup.

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