Rajsich on Storm pitching prospects

Lake Elsinore, CA: Pitching coach Dave Rajsich has been put in charge of perhaps the best San Diego Padres pitching staff ever assembled at any minor league level. With names like Jeremy Hefner, Cory Luebke, Corey Kluber, Jeremy McBryde and Wynn Pelzer coming through – they are making him look awfully good.

We're three months into the season. Are you comfortable with knowing the strengths and weaknesses of the staff and how to tweak them here and there?

Dave Rajcish: Yes absolutely. I'm a little disappointed that they haven't had more success already because of their ability. They are just starting to show me why they're at A ball, at this level. But their upside is so tremendous that maybe I over exaggerated where they were. But now we've narrowed it down and we're working on the weaknesses that we found.

So take a guy like Cory Luebke who had a bunch of great outings before moving to San Antonio. What's been the turnaround process for him?

Dave Rajcish: Confidence. The biggest factor was getting him to understand the fastball, and the first couple of days that we've been here, we found that the league is really dominant to a ball down and a ball away - they really like to extend. They really like to dive. There's a lot of two-strike approaches to this league and these guys can really hurt you in those positions.

So we've really turned that around by going fastball in. Getting him to have the confidence to throw the fastball and trust it. We found several starts ago that he's a fastball/changeup guy to right-handers and a slider guy to left-handers. So we're trying now to incorporate all three pitches to both sides, right- and left-handed hitters. He's had success with it. Both games were against Lancaster. He tried it up there. He started using the slider to righties and he struck out three or four with that going to the bat, and throwing the changeup to the lefthanders.

So, now, he's no longer a two-pitch guy. They can't guess 50/50. He's using all three.

I didn't think his last game (here) was that good. He's had better stuff. But because he has those three pitches and they can't just zero in on it. He's even admitted that ‘with the stuff that he had last game, I wouldn't have survived last year. I would have blown up' and now he's starting relax, learning how to use other stuff, starting to go through the process of how to correct himself. This was a game that he played without his good stuff and he won. So maturing is coming a long way for him, that's critical and it's really nice to see.

Corey Kluber has really taken quite a slide at times. Spring training, he started out great.

Dave Rajcish: Spring training was absolutely superb. His changeup had such bottom to it and grip. It had a great feel. I think he lost the feel for it, because he started over throwing. In spring training he was right about 90. 88-90. And now he's throwing 93 and up. I think he's trying to do too much. He's trying to blow through that balance point and he got too deliberate and he lost the feel for the changeup for a while. That's not him. So, he's been hurt a little bit and we've been picking that process up.

Wynn Pelzer has been a little bit sporadic, up and down at times. Is that the progression of the two-seam?

Dave Rajcish: No, he's more of a max-effort guy. But he's not completely a max-effort guy, he's more controlled. But when he starts a game, he has trouble opening his first inning. He gets so hyped up. He's throwing 20-30 minutes in the bullpen.

When he goes out on the mound he adds that extra intensity and the ball starts to take off on him. It takes off on arm side. So we've move him to finishing the last ten pitches on the inner side to lefties and get that extension and let that thing take off and run so he's not so amped up and hyped and he has it now, so he's been better. Every once in a while, he'll walk two in a row because the ball just starts taking off on him.

He's got a great feel for his mechanics and he understands and he knows how to fix it, he knows what he's doing wrong. It's just controlling that outstanding body he's got.

How is the changeup of Jeremy McBryde. I know that last year it wasn't until he started using the changeup that he saw success.

Dave Rajcish: Well, same thing. He's such a power fastball guy. You know he had that little problem with his back where he tweaked it in spring training. He's come out with fastball slider, heavy sink to his fastball. His slider is sharp.

The changeup, he's adding it more, but he's finding out he's having success again without it. His fastball is so heavy and it's dominant power in that he's like, ‘well they're not catching up to my fastball,' and I'm like, ‘I understand that but you've got to understand to throw it,' but when he adds to his fastball you can see his wrist position come up, his arm slot gets a little bit higher and that ball just explodes out. So he's had some very nice games, where he's had some good stuff. At times, he'll struggle a bit from the stretch, holding the runners but its been addressed. And he's coming along nicely.

Bryan Oland in the closer spot has gotten more inning plus saves than anyone I've seen in a long time.

Dave Rajcish: We had trouble in the eighth inning there for a little stretch, but (Nick) Vincent was a little tentative and got in trouble, and Carlos (Lezcano), because we started out 1-6 felt the urgency that we need this win brought in Oland for two innings, one and a third, one and two-thirds, to get us through that stage. Now, Vincent has started to turn around and Hynes is a situational lefty.

The eighth inning is not a question mark, but a situation where if we do need Oland for four outs, we're not afraid to do it.

He's very good. He was better last year than he is this year because he had more downward tilt to his fastball and it was a little crisper. This year his off-speed pitches are so dominant that these hitters still struggle to catch up to that changeup with the bottom that he's got. The slider is just enough to be good so that when he does have his fastball tilt – he's got all three pitches working. The other day he struck out three up three down and in the ninth, he hit them with a fastball, slider, and his changeup.

So what about Aaron Breit? Here's a guy who's had a bright future. Yet at the same time he hasn't been able to clear that hurdle.

Dave Rajcish: There was a lot of self doubt in his stuff. The way he pitched. When I saw him last year, he came back too extended, he was choking the life out of the ball. He was squeezing it so tight. There was so much tension in his hand that the life just wasn't there in the ball so we got him to loosen up the grip and throw with a lighter hand. It was tough to do. Then talk to him about the mechanics and why they break down and this and why he's cutting the ball of from the stretch. He cleaned those things up.

All of a sudden, when he went back to Fort Wayne last year, he had great success with it. Then it was off and on, off and on, come and go. Now that he's starting to understand that on an everyday basis, where his hands need to be, how the arm comes through, how the body functions, his fastball has been tremendous and his curveball has got great bite. He'll still have games where he'll pitch well, then all of a sudden come out of the stretch and start to collapse the backside, and the ball flattens out and he'll get hit.

But overall from last year to this year, if you look at the difference, he's made tremendous leaps in pitchability. He still has those lapses but not like he did before and the confidence is coming with maturity. A lot like Luebke. Now, they're understanding that the world is not caving in around them. They have pitches that they can get out with.

Jeremy Hefner, may be a first time struggling here with a couple of bad outing and a couple of good outings at the same time.

Dave Rajcish: Hefner was last year's Pitcher of the Year. He was a fastball/slider, showed the curveball, changeup. They've taken the slider away because his curveball is so good, and he has such a higher upside with the curveball than with the slider. Because you can already have a fastball/slider guy, but a curveball pitcher is pretty special, especially with the curveball he has.

Now, he's learning how to locate the fastball and use his curveball, and how it works against right-handed and left-handed hitters. He's been hurt more this year by lefties than righties. Last year, it was the righties that hurt him more. So it's about learning how to pitch with those three pitches, but in a different text.

He had been tipping his pitches. We've seen to where the glove turns when he comes set. The way it's closed, it's open, and the hitters from the other teams have recognized it, and we caught it so we've addressed it. We worked on videotaping it and looked at it and made the adjustments. The other day, he warmed up in the bullpen and I thought he was going to go a good seven or eight innings and he didn't even get out of the second. That's how good the stuff was. He had to be doing something wrong, but in the game, the pitches were still there and the hitters weren't biting. So that tells you something's up.

How often do you guys catch another team's tipping pitches?

Dave Rajcish: You really want to know? Quite a bit. This year more so than ever before. (Hitting coach Shane) Spencer is very good at it. The players are staring to look for it and find it. They're sharing information. Its been very helpful for us.

Talk about this story on our subscriber-only message boards

MadFriars Top Stories