Rajsich on Storm pitching prospects

Dave Rajsich has been considered one of the best pitching coaches in the San Diego Padres farm system. He handled the Lake Elsinore staff in 2009 – perhaps the best one ever assembled by the Padres.

What was the progression you saw in Anthony Bass after having him in Eugene last year and did cutting back on his innings throw him out of rhythm?

Dave Rajsich: Well I had him as a closer last year in Eugene and this year he was starting all season and he had great success up in Fort Wayne. When he came to Lake Elsinore it looked like he was just a little tentative and the two innings I think threw him out of kilter of what he was doing. It's a lot like what happened to Carrillo when he came back from Double-A to do the two inning, three inning type thing and they just kind of get a little bit side tracked and lose their focus.

I thought that he didn't attack the zone like he had in the past. Once he got back on track and started getting into the three and four inning type of things I thought it all started to come together again; the rhythm, the intensity, his pitching style came back.

So he had the walks early and I think that was just a little tentative he was pitching away from contact trying to be too fine because he was at the high level, trying to do more. It's the same thing that happens to guys when they go to the big leagues. All of the sudden they start to doubt their stuff that got them there and he has plenty of stuff to pitch at that level and beyond and he had to find out the hard way. There's nothing wrong with him, he's fine.

Aaron Breit seemed to find confidence this year, something that has been missing in subsequent seasons. You put him in the rotation and he thrived, outside of his last start.

Dave Rajsich: Well he's interesting. He's got such great stuff and he always manages to just pitch good enough to lose and it's like how do we get him to get over this edge and get over that edge of just pitching. He can pitch behind all day long, 1-0.

You give him a lead and he gives it right back. You give him a lead and he gives it right back. I don't know if it's concentration or he now he's trying to protect it, but he's got such great stuff. His record doesn't show how good he is, and his last game of course it kind of skewed his stats, but you should look at his overall stats going into last game, he was one of the best pitchers we had all year, as a middle reliever and as a starter.

Jeremy Hefner is a guy who is always in the decision. That is a good trait. It means he is going deep into games. He was a workhorse for you.

Dave Rajsich: He was. He was probably the most dependable and that's why we had him scheduled, because in game three we knew once he took the ball he probably had the most mature, professional approach that we had on staff. He's grounded very well. He's got his head together. He knows what he's doing.

He had a lot of changes that he had to do this year as far as pitch selection, pitches that he was using, and how he was using them. He had to learn get through the fact that he was tipping pitches early in the year with his glove and with his wrist and we had to get through that stage. A lot of things that happened that he was able to overcome and get through. I thought he had a hell of a year. He learned a lot about himself.

Craig Italiano came to you via trade. What were your thoughts on him and was there any thought to moving his arm slot to more of an overhand to utilize his height?

Dave Rajsich: Well his arm slot was high three-quarters before and that's where he pitched from. When he came over they had moved it down to a low three-quarters probably a month and a half to two months earlier. When I pulled up his stats for what he had done in Oakland I said, ‘Now when did they switch your arm slot? Show me where your first game was.' You could see the progression of how he was starting to come together with that new arm slot. So their was a period of him adjusting.

The only thing that we adjusted, you're not going to change something that you haven't seen, and this guy's throwing 92-96, consistent at 94, balls exploding, tremendous run, and sink. The only thing that we looked at one day was in Lancaster - he was throwing in the bullpen and I said, ‘have you ever tried throwing from the other side of the rubber?' Because he was throwing off the far first base side of the rubber and from that arm slot the hitter sees his arm like right directly to the plate. I don't know why that reasoning was, but I said, ‘Try throwing some balls from the third base side so now that you're throwing from behind a right-handed hitter. It puts more pressure on him to stay in the box because we're creating angles.'

He moved over there and I looked over at it and I'm like, "Oh my God. It's the difference between night and day.' Now he has to get more extension out so the ball has more later sink and life; the slider was sharper. Everything just fell together,

With Heffner, I said, ‘You saw what I saw. Talk to him about it.' I said, ‘He can pitch where he wants but I'm just thinking if he moves up to the higher quality of hitters this is going to be beneficial for him.' And the numbers tell it all. They were hitting 60-percent less on the right side than they were when he was in Oakland.

We don't know exactly when the switch was made, how many games he had before we tried to do that, but the numbers might be even bigger than what they are.

I am very impressed with this kid. He's got a great makeup: size, strength, goes about his business very professionally, and I think he's got a very bright future with the organization.

Corey Kluber didn't necessarily have great stats and ran into a few big innings. What was the progression of Corey with you this season?

Dave Rajsich: Klubs, the biggest thing was he always has a tendency to become too methodical, too mechanical. He was really slow and deliberate, and once we picked up his tempo, you could really see him catch on fire and get into a better rhythm. The game just kind of took off. I think he gets to the point where he gets a little "grouse" is my analysis type of thing.

As you speed up his delivery, he becomes more fluid, and he's able to utilize all his pitches. The one thing that I did notice that as the season progressed his body angle starts to change to the plate, and he starts missing arm side out and up, especially with his changeup and his fastball. That's when you have to recognize it. The hips are starting to close off, his strides are starting to get more closed so he can't finish. He's cutting himself off to the opposite side of the plate. When you make those adjustments and make him aware of that, all of a sudden he fixes it and comes back on line. I think that was the biggest thing was just making him aware of his own mechanics and how to fix them and how to get himself back on track.

Cory Luebke – their was probably no better pitcher in the first three innings of a game to set the tone for the rest of the day. What made him so good early in games – and that carried over to the rest of his outing as well.

Dave Rajsich: He just, he has such a quiet delivery that the ball just explodes out of his hand and you don't really see that. It has a natural cut action almost like an Al Leiter. We had to make him aware of using that movement to his advantage.

The biggest thing was convincing him to pitch to the inner half of the plate, which is what he did not do last year. Apparently last year when he came up, he tried to pitch away and nibble and just use his changeup. We just got him to pitch to the inner half of the plate and let him understand that both sides of the plate work, and he had such great success with it the first time.

Unfortunately about three or four games he would try to go away from that plan because he thought that the hitters weren't going to make an adjustment, and they weren't. He was trying to adjust before they did. We had to keep convincing him that until they start hitting you, you don't change the plan.

He tried doing that like three different times in the game, and I said, ‘What are you doing? Why would you go away from what's been successful?'

‘Well, I thought that they were ..'

‘What you think and what they're doing are two different things.'

Once he learned to not panic and change the plan till they show they've adjusted, rather than him adjusting before they had, that it doesn't make sense. The biggest thing that happened was we were able to convince him again to use three pitches to both right- and left-handed hitters. Basically last year all that he threw was fastball/changeup to righties and fastball/slider to lefties. We convinced him to use the slider to the righties and changeup to the lefties and it really opened the door for him as far as a starter and expanded how to utilize these three pitches to those kinds of hitters.

He had better success with the slider to the righties because obviously he used it more, but when he did throw the change up to the lefties, even though they weren't real good ones, he did have success with it. So he knows that now he can do that. Now he has confidence to use them as he's moved up to another level. I'm sure that's what happened.

It almost sounds like you can say the same about Jeremy McBryde in using the changeup more to left-handed hitters and sticking with that.

Dave Rajsich: Well, the priority of the organization is, if you're a reliever you've got to throw 20% changeups. It's about them learning to use it and throw it and trust it.

If you don't throw it, and that's the big thing with Hefner, he had some of his best games where he threw 30 changeups, and they took a slider away from him, which was in his mind one of his best pitches, it was his out pitch, his go-to pitch when he was behind in the count and sometimes he could throw them for a strike and it was just sloppy, swervy slider. Well, they took it away from him. So now he has to pitch with his fastball, curveball, changeup, and it's like, ‘Oh, no! How do I do that?' Well, you use your changeup more.

And there was one game late in the year where we let him go to the slider, he was able to talk Grady (Fuson) into letting him do this the last three or four starts, and we had discussed with (Mike) Couchee and (Bob) Cluck what would happen and how it would happen and what might happen because of it.

Well, it absolutely came out true. I mean right to the bone. He didn't use his changeups, he threw less than 10. He threw 15 sliders, 12 for strikes, but he took away from some of the changeups in those counts where he could have used it, and he through just the curveball as the out pitch, didn't use it early in the count.

So we sat and talked about it and he said, ‘If I can't throw it the way I want to I'm not going to throw it.'

So I said, ‘You've got to throw it more, more changeups and sliders, more throw equal number.'

And he said, ‘If I can't throw it the way I want, I'm not throwing it,' and I said, ‘Fine, you're not throwing it.'

His last two or three games, because now that that was behind him, now it was like, ‘I'm not going to go back to that pitch.' His fastball command got better. He used his changeup more. He got 20 changeups again, 20 to 25 changeups in a game and he was extremely effective. Yeah, it was about him, it was going to be a tough year because they took what to him he thought was his best pitch or his go to pitch in a crisis, the slider, and totally took it away from him and moved him to a hitter's league.

So he had to pitch the fastball, curveball, changeup and learn how to use it, and I think it helped with his fastball command. It helped his changeup. It accelerated the development of his other three pitches, a lot better than if he would have been allowed to throw that slider.

What did you think about McBryde?

Dave Rajsich: I liked him. I love him. I thought he's got a power, heavy sinker. He loves to pitch inside. When he wants to go in with a fastball, four-seamer at 93-94 mph, he gets a little bit more on top and really drives it in there. I really like him. He's got a nice tight slider. His changeup was coming.

It was just unfortunate with the back injury. It is what it is. It took him down for the rest of the year. He had such natural, nasty stuff. I wish that maybe he had a little bit more focus, maybe a little bit more caring about taking care of his body, or maybe a running program or whatever; just better all-around makeup because this guy has some legit stuff. Some power stuff.

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