Padres Prospect Interview: Craig Italiano

San Diego Padres prospect Craig Italiano made a quick impression, landing on the 40-man roster after a dominant performance with Lake Elsinore. He could be fast-tracked in 2010.

Talk about the trade. You come over from Oakland for a major leaguer – was that a surprise for you and what has the experience been like?

Craig Italiano: It was a pretty cool experience. I was surprised but it was pretty neat. I was in Bakersfield, in my hotel room about to go to the game. I was starting the next day. I had a missed phone call from my pitching coach and a player knocked on my door and told me the coaches wanted to see me. I went out there and got the news – it was kind of cool. It was surprising for sure.

What is the first thought running through your head when the coaches want to speak to you?

Craig Italiano: There are a lot of things running through your head. It could be anything. You are kind of blank-headed when the news is delivered. I thought that might be what it was but had no idea obviously. It is something I will never forget for sure.

You came out to Lake Elsinore and were immediately moved to the bullpen where you had success. What changed for you?

Craig Italiano: As a starter, you kind of have to pace yourself. You have to go six, seven, eight innings. As a reliever, you can give everything you have on every pitch. You don't have to pace yourself. From that standpoint it is nice. You can come out and dial it up. It is fun to do that.

Talk a little bit about your stuff and the speeds you throw them at.

Craig Italiano: A fastball, a hard curveball/slider and a changeup. I can sit 92, 93 and bump it up a couple of times.

You have a great height yet seem to throw at more of a three-quarters arm angle. Has there been any talk of going over top to get a different arm angle and change a hitter's eye level?

Craig Italiano: Actually, I was over the top at the beginning of this year with Stockton of Oakland's organization. They were the ones that moved it down a little bit. That is a new arm slot for me. I have had success both ways. I struggled both ways as well. I like where it is right now. It feels really good.

Did you find a comfort zone when you moved your arm down?

Craig Italiano: It is feeling more and more comfortable the more I do it – dry runs in the pen and line drills.

Has there been any changes since you have entered the Padres organization?

Craig Italiano: Not really. No matter who you are with, you have to throw strikes and get guys out. Both organizations are similar as far as philosophies for getting guys out in three pitches or less, pounding the zone, first-pitch strikes. I am sure every organization feels that way.

You talked about the mentality of going all out coming out of the bullpen. How do you pace yourself in the warmup routine when maybe this time you don't go in because the starter got out of the inning?

Craig Italiano: That is something I am still doing – messing around with routines. I kind of like the one I have now. You have an idea of when you might go in. You keep track of a starter's pitch counts and that helps knowing. The mentality – you have to stay in the game the whole time and pay attention to who is up – lefty or righty. That is something I am still getting used to. You have to be ready all the time.

How do you set the tone for an inning? What is the thought process?

Craig Italiano: Pound the zone so they know they have to be ready up there. That is every pitcher's goal. Pound the zone with all of your pitches and make them put the ball in play on the ground. If you come in with men on base, get that ground ball and turn a double play. Attack at all times.

Has it been a challenge to come in with men already on base when normally you are starting off an inning?

Craig Italiano: I have only done it a few times but it does take a little bit of time to come out and work out of the stretch exclusively. I am used to fresh innings because I was a starter. It is exciting too because a ground ball right here can give you the double play and get you of an inning. One of the worst feelings is giving up someone else's runs. It is an extra adrenaline rush.

Has there been a progression for you in terms of control versus velocity. Perhaps in the past you had more velocity but less control and have now found that happy medium.

Craig Italiano: For sure. Control is everything. You can throw as hard as you want and miss the zone. If you don't have control and walk everyone, it does you no good. Getting them out in three pitches or less, throwing first-pitch strikes, believing in it, getting that soft contact is huge.

Every year, the maturation process continues. You see it working for you and get used to it and get more comfortable doing it, trusting in your defense.

In 2006 and 2007 you were injured. When did you really feel like yourself again? There is a difference between being on the mound and trusting your stuff again.

Craig Italiano: Proably instructs of '07. I got hurt early in the year and missed the whole year and only pitched a little in instructs but felt really good when I was pitching. The beginning, all through the All-Star break last year I felt great.

After shoulder surgery, I never really felt like myself and then got hurt again. I had all that time to rest up and get healthy. I felt good at instructs of 2007.

When you get hurt, sometimes you learn something that perhaps you took for granted a little bit. Was that true for you?

Craig Italiano: I think I just learned my body a little bit better. I learned what I could do. It was part of maturing. Getting to know your body is huge – what you can and can't handle, what you need to do between starts, what you need to cut back on. Sitting out of the game and doing the rehab and physical therapy stuff was huge in learning my body.

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