Ekstrom out to prove consistency in relief

PEORIA, AZ-- It was a tale of two seasons for San Diego Padres prospect Mike Ekstrom. During his days as a starter, something was off. When he moved to the pen, the right-hander shined.

You did some work on varying your looks with a runner on first base – how can you improve even further on keeping runners close?

Mike Ekstrom: I guess I'm not the fastest guy to the plate – I'm not super slow, but I'm not super fast. I'm middle-of-the-road probably. And so, what they tell us to do is just hold the ball and vary your times. That's pretty much all you can do. And I need to get a better pickoff move for sure, so I've been working a little bit on that. It's [basically just] keeping the runners guessing.

When you moved from starter to relief, your stuff improved. What was the difference?

Mike Ekstrom: Well, at that time I didn't really have anything to lose. Well, if I pitched bad, I guess I would lose my career! But I was just going out there and whatever happened, happened. I was letting every pitch go 100 percent – instead of when I started, when I was babying balls too much. Out of the pen, I'd aim for more of the plate and try to keep the ball down – get back to what I was doing when I was successful as a starter. Since I was putting more into the ball, stuff got sharper and harder – I just had better stuff.

You were called up to the majors and struck out the first batter you faced. What was that feeling like?

Mike Ekstrom: I didn't actually strike out the first batter I faced; I got a ground ball. My first inning I just got three grounders but that was cool in itself!

So was it a perfect inning?

Mike Ekstrom: Yep – three up, three down. I just wanted to make it through the inning! I knew I kept a couple of fastballs down and got some groundballs, and then I was done with my inning.

There is always talk of pitchers setting up hitters but did you feel like hitters are evening the gap and beginning to setup you as a pitcher to throw a certain pitch at the highest levels?

Mike Ekstrom: I haven't really seen that too much – not yet. I'm sure guys do it, and I'm sure the hitters are smarter as far as their guesses, what they think is coming, and what they're looking for. So you've got to be careful with that. But when it comes down to it, I think if we [the pitchers] make the pitches we're trying to execute, we're going to win most of the time. If the guy's guessing fastball away and you put the perfect pitch down and away, you're probably going to win. He might get more hits than if he were looking inside or looking for a breaking ball, but if you can execute your pitch, it's going to work out most of the time – not all of the time, but most of the time.

You received an invite to major league camp. In what ways has it and will it benefit you?

Mike Ekstrom: Well, you can learn from the guys, see what guys are doing even more. I got a taste of it in September, but now to see it every day – guy's routines, how they go about their business – hopefully I'll take bits and pieces from certain guys and see what works for me and take that as my career goes on, just to be more efficient in my work and my approach. It's great to ask questions from all the different coaches and all the veterans. So you just get a more rounded look at the game and how guys go about their work.

Your foursome came in first in the golf tournament against Seattle – is there a career in golf coming up for you?

Mike Ekstrom: (Laughs) No, we just went out and played. We were playing against Seattle. [It wasn't really competitive] for us. We played real well and it was fun. I didn't expect to win, but Inman's real good, Buschmann's pretty good too, and I'm getting better. We got some lucky shots and made some putts.

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