Padres Prospect Interview: Mike DeMark

An integral part of any pitching staff is the work of the middle relievers. They are the unsung heroes – they take the ball in tough situations and attempt to hold the lead until the closer can finish it off. No one did it better than Mike DeMark in 2008.

You began the year in Lake Elsinore and ended up in San Antonio. Talk about the experience in both of those leagues and what led to the overall success. It was downright dominating.

Mike DeMark: As far as a career standpoint, going back to Lake Elsinore after having a good season last year – I was just excited to get a chance to work with Wally Whitehurst. Me and him clicked from the first time we met in camp. Our personalities meshed really well.

When I went out there, it was so nice. Steve Webber is more like, ‘You are a professional athlete' and he has certain expectations of you. Wally kind of took me under his wing. There were still things I was not aware of – that I didn't really know – to make myself better. He worked with me every day to make me better. It was a great experience. And then talking to Shane Spencer and Carlos Lezcano about hitters and how they try and fool you. It was a great experience for me to go there and work on things.

As much as I am in a rush to get to the big leagues, I don't want to rush up there and get it handed to me. Step by step and having these different coaches that obviously know what they are doing has been helpful.

Coach Webber had the best bullpen and arguably the best staff in minor league baseball. That is a credit to what he has been able to do. Coach Whitehurst – there was something that he said to me early in the year about competition that stuck with me. Great surroundings and a lot of guys pushing me.

What was it that Wally said about competition?

Mike DeMark: He just said, ‘You are a competitor. When you go out on the field, what we learned in the bullpen don't take with you in between those lines. You just compete and compete to win. If you do that, everything will fall into place.' That is how I always was. When I heard it from him it kind of made sense.

Why were you so good against right-handers and what do you need to improve the consistency to left-handed hitters?

Mike DeMark: Me and Wally talked about that at about the halfway point in Lake Elsinore.

The reason I think I am successful against righties is the fastball/slider mix I have. An 85-87 MPH slider and a pretty hefty fastball. I am able to be deceiving because I throw from the right side of the rubber and the ball is going away from them. That works to my big advantage.

The lefties – that is where they got me. The changeup is big in the organization and that is a pitch I have grown accustomed to using a lot – this year more towards the second half and when I got to San Antonio. Once I gained confidence in that pitch, that helped me be pretty solid in the second half.

That changeup was a pitch we spoke about in Spring Training as a pitch you wanted to improve. Is there a point where you can't control it and fall back to the old combination – because it was ironic that you walked more left-handed hitters this year, which would say you threw the pitch more but weren't as effective with early in the season?

Mike DeMark: A lot of times they would call the pitch and I would say, ‘No, I am not going to throw my third best pitch.' I was more about getting outs and getting my name out there in my first season.

This year, I evaluated myself and said, ‘The minor leagues are setup for a reason. That is why you are in the minor leagues. You can't just go to the big leagues and throw fastballs by guys and expect that to work.'

As far as a developmental standpoint – if guys are in scoring position, I am not going to go to that pitch as often and will try and get them out with my best stuff. But, early, I knew I had to refine that pitch. They explained to us in Spring Training that if you can command the fastball and changeup it is a ticket to Double-A.

If I can command this fastball and changeup and I have this slider in my bag, there is no telling what could happen.

I struggled with it at first and kept using it and using it and the more refined it got. Towards the end of the season, it was one of my most effective pitches. I saw a lot of lefties with the (Frisco) RoughRiders and all those teams coming out in the end. When I was coming in during key situations, I knew I needed to throw something other than a fastball. Working on it in the beginning of the year and now having it for the rest of my career is a big bonus.

You mentioned coming in during key situations. You came into the game with roughly 30 inherited runners and only a handful scored. Talk about the mentality you approach it when there are other pitcher's men on base.

Mike DeMark: As far as that, I take it in one piece. ERA is so not in our favor. Keeping your earned runs down is always a bonus but I think the inherited runners is really what we are designed for. We are expected to hold the fort down and have that damage control in that situation.

When I go in, I feel like those are my guys. If those guys score, it is just like me starting off an inning and giving up a run. I go in there with the best frame of mind. ‘What is going to be best for us. Me getting a strikeout with guys on second and third.' That makes me feel good like I fulfilled what I was supposed to do.

Like you said, I was able to do that this year. At the beginning when I was out in San Antonio, I was running when we are up by a lot or down by a lot. I had to gain the coaches respect. More towards the end, as I had some success, they were putting me in key situations with runners on and I could help.

This off-season, you are down in Arizona – and this is the second year in a row you are out there. What can you accomplish while you are out there during the off-season?

Mike DeMark: They have that great facility, and I am a mile away so I can walk there and don't have to worry about driving. Getting in the gym, staying active, working with whomever is down here at the time since there are guys in and out of here all the time. With the Fall League, some of my friends are around. I have been throwing the ball around with them. It keeps me in it.

If I go home to Pittsburgh, I love being home but the weather is not permitting me to be outside. I think getting outside and throwing the ball around to get used to your surroundings is key. Guys who are working strictly indoors – there is an adjustment period when they go back outside. I don't have that adjustment period. Being at it and never really forgetting what I did the season before. I did have a good season so I want it to play right through straight into next year, as if it was one giant one.

How can you build upon it and take what you learned from last year. You are in Double-A, are close to the majors, and have had success – what do you build upon?

Mike DeMark: Keep having a positive mindset. I believe one day I will be in the bullpen with the Padres and if not with them than someone in the big leagues. I keep that mindset, and focus, and competitive edge and push myself to become better and better.

When I said I wasn't in a rush, I don't want to rush up there to let them down. I want to go up there when they know what I know and believe as a pitcher, and what they know and feel in me as far as a pitcher – I want it to be agreed upon so we both know and are confident in my performance.

It is not going to be for a September call-up. It is going to be lasting – a long stint.

Before long, things could go my way, and I have to keep a positive head on my shoulders and keep my focus forward instead of looking backwards.

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