Padres Prospect Interview: Jeremy Hefner

LAKE ELSINORE, CA: Jeremy Hefner, 23, was drafted in the fifth-round of the 2007 draft by the Padres out of Oral Roberts University, and for the past two years has been the best pitcher on both teams that he has played for. With the Eugene Emeralds in 2007, despite a 2-5 record, Hefner struck out 74 batters in 62.1 innings against only 20 walks and 51 hits.

In his 11 starts, he averaged nearly six innings a game and less than three earned runs an outing.

Last year in Fort Wayne, he was the Wizard's best pitcher, going 10-5 with a 3.33 ERA and striking out 144 batters in 140.1 innings pitched and again allowing less hits than innings pitched, 140.1/117, as he again showed an ability to eat up innings averaging nearly six innings an outing.

Hefner thrived on being able to throw all three of his pitches, fastball, slider and changeup for strikes at any time in the count. While the Padres were obviously impressed with his success, they believed that the 6-foot-4 right-hander could become more effective by substituting his slider for a curve and relying more on his fastball, which comes in the 89-92 mph range.

With the move to the curveball, this season has been an adjustment for Hefner.

After two great years, you have been struggling a little up here. What has been the biggest difference?

Jeremy Hefner: They took my slider away, which was my best pitch. I now throw a curveball which has been somewhat of an adjustment. I'm starting to get the feel for that and learn how to locate it and trying to locate my fastball better.

Why did the Padres take away your slider?

Jeremy Hefner: In the big leagues, and the NL West in particular, the hitters don't hit the curveball that well; so its more of a down the road thing.

That must make you feel good that they are thinking that far ahead.

Jeremy Hefner: Absolutely, its all for good and the adjustments can be easily made.

On the positive side, it doesn't seem to have affected your control. Your strikeout to base-on-balls ratio is pretty good, its just your hits per innings is up. Is it that hard to control the curve?

Jeremy Hefner: My fastball location is the biggest problem right now. I'm not walking people, but I'm giving up a lot of hits. I need to locate my fastball better to both sides of the plate.

It seems like you are still throwing strikes, but the key is the quality of strikes.

Jeremy Hefner: Exactly, its where the strikes are located. A lot of people can throw strikes and give up 100 hits, but its the quality of strikes that will get you to the big leagues.

I'm supposed to say the hitters are better, but in reality it seems like you are trying to become a whole different pitcher?

Jeremy Hefner: The hitters are better, its a hitter's league and some parks are tough; but you can't use that as an excuse. I can see how people can say that, but I don't buy into to it because when you start to do that it becomes an excuse. My numbers are my responsibility. If I make the pitch that I want to make in the right situation, the pitcher always wins.

From an academic perspective, if you throw 100 pitches and 90 are great pitches that is outstanding under any criteria. However, here that is enough to get you beat. Is that frustrating or is it just pitching?

Jeremy Hefner: It's frustrating, especially when you struggle, but you also learn a lot more. I had two pretty good years and I learned things, but not as much as I am now. I'm learning now how to pitch when my stuff really isn't that good. It's been a learning experience for me on how to make adjustments and looking at it as an opportunity. I try not to be too negative.

It seems like you are saying that the curveball is coming along, but right now the big problem is fastball command. Is it mainly working on mechanical things in bullpens.

Jeremy Hefner: The deal with the curveball is that I could throw my slider for a strike anytime I wanted, so I didn't have to rely on my fastball as much. Now its forcing me to throw my fastball more for strikes because I can't throw my curve for a strike 75 to 80 percent of the time. What I think is a good fastball when they get a hit, I need to make a better pitch to get these guys out.

I see what you are saying. In Fort Wayne you could mix a fastball, slider and change for strikes anytime you wanted too, and you did. They take away the slider, it doesn't give you the same variety.

Jeremy Hefner: Yeah, now I need to make better pitches with my fastball as compared to relying on the slider for 30 percent of my pitches.

What is the percentage of curves that you are throwing?

Jeremy Hefner: It's not 30 percent. I can't keep flipping it up there, it's more around 15 percent with around 20 percent changeups and the rest are fastballs.

On the positive side, your numbers aren't bad, not what you are used too, but still not bad. It must be nice that you are doing this at this level as compared to trying it in Triple-A or the majors.

Jeremy Hefner: Absolutely. [laughs].

What are you trying to do to improve so you can get into that nice pitchers' park in San Antonio?

Jeremy Hefner: Oh yeah, I'm looking forward to that. [laughs]. I try not to worry about what the hitters are doing, right now I'm just trying to do what I do best. Mixing my pitches and executing them.

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