Rajsich on Storm pitching prospects

San Diego Padres minor league pitching coach Dave Rajsich notes that Wynn Pelzer can be even better next year, Bryan Oland struggled in non-save situations, Nick Schmidt will surprise in 2010, and other nuggets regarding the prospects he coached in Lake Elsinore.

Bryan Oland had a good year for you. He had five or six bad outings in succession and then battled out of it. How was he able to get out of the funk?

Dave Rajsich: Well, I think we just had to give him some rest. We didn't try to abuse anybody. There was a point in time where we lost the two starters, and we had to rely a little bit more on the bullpen and pushed them a little bit more than usual. He likes to have the extra day off every now and then, and there were times when it just couldn't happen. We were on a roll and the wild card was part of the usage, and with Italiano, it was just natural because Italiano was a starter. So we really had to protect him from going back-to-back days until he was able to show us he could do that.

So we relied on Nick Vincent and Oland, and if you look they were up in the top five guys with appearances for the year.

The games that he had that weew bad, games that were about half his ERA, were games that were non-save situations. He doesn't pitch well in a non-save situation. He just kind of goes through the motions, the mind-set just doesn't happen. That happens to relievers, to closers especially.

It could be our fault for doing that to him; but there's two ways to look at it. You're trying to get him to learn to pitch in the eighth inning, seventh inning, because as he moves up he may not do the closer, but he's got to be able to learn how to pitch not only as a closer but also learn to pitch in a set up situation or set up as a middle guy and maybe go more than just one inning, maybe just an inning and 2/3 or two innings. I just think that the combination of all those things just kind of built up on him.

He's not, like McBryde, he's not the one who's going to go out and do the extra work. He's a little bit on the soft side as far as doing the training and all the extra stuff to stay sharp, the running and all that. He gets it done, but it's because he has to not just because he wants to. That's part of the learning process, I think both him and McBryde learned a lot this year about maintaining because they both kind of broke down.

You take away those games where it was a non-save situation and I bet you the ERA drops down in the ones.

Wynn Pelzer is a guy that has an exciting arm but perhaps walked a few too many this year. He is another guy that you moved to the third base side of the rubber.

Dave Rajsich: We did that with probably five starts, yeah, I think he had five starts from that side, and we had to convince him to do it, and I think what was the factor was (Mike) Couchee was there one day, and the first day he arrives he sits in the stands, he doesn't let anybody know he's there, and he was sitting up in the stands high at our ballpark, and he was sitting right behind home plate, and he could see the front shoulder fly open, and how the hitter could see his arm so easily from that side of the rubber.

I had been talking to him before about it for like two months and he'd resisted the fact because he did throw a sideline like that in college and it doesn't work. Because Couchee said, ‘Yeah, he needs to move.' And (Tony) Muser, I talked to him about it and he said, ‘Yeah, you've got to get him to go. You've got to get him to move it.'

Muser talked to him and I don't know if he threatened him or whatever, but next time he threw a sideline he was warming up on the first base side and I said, ‘Gosh, here we go again.'

Then all of a sudden halfway through he moved over, and he was experimenting five from this side, and five from that side. I didn't say anything, and I just watched him. I just watched the balls just like I did with Italiano, and he's got such great life, he has so much lateral movement with his ball throwing from the first base side that the ball has a tendency to run because you can throw it from behind you, you can push it to the plate. Well the ball's up and it has lateral movement.

When you move over to third base side, you've got to finish the pitch more, which makes you push your hand through the ball and now you're going to get more sink and less lateral movement, and the right-handers can't see the ball coming out of his hand as well.

All I said was, ‘Don't worry about the walks, just pitch from there.' It was an experiment so let's see,

I said, ‘As you get higher up, The first of the year you were 5 and 1, now all of a sudden you are 5 and 6. The hitters have adjusted to you and know what you've got. Your slider comes in straight to the plate and breaks it and you leave it up and it kind of belly's up and it just hangs. If you move to this side you've already created the instant angle, and then when it breaks it's still sharp and they don't have a chance.'

He was able to survive to this level pitching off the opposite side. He's had great success and it's tough to try and convince the guy until he fails to move.

He's a little stubborn, but I'll tell you when he made the move he noticed it. All the games, except for the walks were, there were like three of them that were shutouts. It was pretty damn impressive.

But the walks and getting the comfort and the feel for it. As he moves to higher levels, the hitters are going to get better, and the angle is going to be critical for his success. He has got electric stuff and I think it is just going to get better from that side, but he had to experience it.

When he comes into Spring Training, I'm just going to look and see where he's at. I'll know if he's worked and how he's worked in the winter, which side he's been on, and how the ball comes out of his hand. He's really got some kind of electric arm.

The biggest thing that showed me that he might be a possible reliever at the big league level was the All-Star game, because he pitched two days before in six innings, had one day off, and then pitched an inning and he was still a 95. That was scary, that was like, ‘Oh my God, we might have a reliever here!' and at the big league level.

Don't you want to keep him as a starter?

You are absolutely right, you want to keep him as starter because you want him to develop that third pitch. You don't want him to keep that fastball/slider. You want him to develop the changeup. As long as he can, and as long as we can keep pushing him as a starter and build that arm up, it's just going to get better and better. I don't think he's ready for the bullpen yet, but I'm just saying, down the road, as starters and relievers go to the big leagues and there's a need, he's the guy that potentially could do both and that's a great swing.

Nick Schmidt – just tired at the end of the year?

Dave Rajsich: I don't think it was tired. I think it was the surgery of first year players. I've had pitchers in the past that came off surgery the first year and it was basically classic the same thing. Their fastball shows up, the command not as, not there yet, but the velocity's there. The command's not there and then it wavers and the breaking ball just kind of rolls. So I think that's what happened with him, and when a game came up, he was pretty much – because when you look at his numbers at Fort Wayne they're outstanding – he had 20 innings, if shutout ball.

I just think he got worn down, and when he did come up, he was already getting to the backside of the peak factor. He hadn't pitched in over a year. Our goal was to get him to 100 innings, and we did that. He took a beating and found out how tough the league was, but when he'd warm up in the bullpen, you'd see the flash in the stuff that he's got. You would see him go out on the mound and take it out there, and the way he pitches, and he wants to pitch or pitch away and throw these pitches and his sequences and spot patterns were right. He just couldn't do it yet consistently. He could do it for a batter or two or even for an inning or two, and then he would lose it and get frustrated and get beat up.

This guy, he's got some big time upside. I really like him. We've worked on a lot of things, mechanically, once we convinced him the delivery had some flaws in it. We videotaped him in the bullpen, and I emailed it to his computer and all that, he was able to look at it and review it and see it from every angle, from the side angle, from the front angle. We did simulated games. I think he learned a lot and next year, he's the kind of guy you really wait for, for him to come out of that funk of two years of arm problems and just come out and have a monster year next year.

You mentioned Nick Vincent earlier. He doesn't have the overpowering stuff but managed to strikeout more than a batter an inning.

Dave Rajsich: He pitches down on the knees very well. He keeps the ball down. He doesn't make mistakes very often. And the lefties had a thing about getting hits off him late in the year that he started getting a mental thing about it and having a little trouble with lefties.

His stuff really plays. He's got a nice crisp fastball. He hides it well. As he gets tired, though, he kind of has a tendency to want to do a little too much with the body and do a little too much over turning and torque-ing. That helps create even more problems with the command, but velocity, you have to say he did a great job.

I don't think he gave up a run in the month of July. He just had a hell of a year. He was pretty consistent. What happened at the end of the year, well, that's part of playoffs baseball. Live and learn and carry it on. He's another guy that needs to learn to use the changeup. Develop the changeup because it will really help him against lefties.

Colt Hynes is a guy that performed very well for you, especially with runners on base. He was the go-to guy for you guys in those situations. He didn't give up a homer all year. Can his stuff play at the higher levels?

Dave Rajsich: I think it can. He's another one of those guys that pitches on the opposite side. When we moved him, he actually had more failure and more hard hit contact from that side than when he went back over to the other side. His stuff got better.

The way he throws the ball, he hides the ball very well. He added a little stutter-step in his delivery, and I think the only thing that got to him at the end of the year was he became a two-pitch pitcher, and basically a one-pitch pitcher and really got away from the slider and doesn't throw his changeup. I told him the biggest transformation for him next year is to develop that third pitch.

But he learned a lot about, his stride was so short before that he was very upper body oriented. He was just all arm speed and all upper body and didn't really use his legs. His stride was really too short. He kind of had that Rob Nen thing where he would come down pause and hesitate and kind of slide and his whole body would slide with it. We convinced him by staying back and driving the leg down he'd have more going on behind the ball plus create more downward tilt. I thought he had a great second hand.

You look at his numbers, I don't know, for July and August, he was pretty much the go-to guy with Vincent. He was starting to get a little fatigued there because Vinnie was first and second league in appearances.

He was able to step it up with all the left-hand hitters in the league, and it made him more aware of you've got to get lefties out. You want to pitch in the big leagues you must get lefties out. I don't care how you do it. You have to understand how to get them out. Those are the guys we emphasize on. That is how he's going to get to the big leagues is getting lefties out. So, he became more aware of it and started pitching more aggressively. Instead of nibbling with them, he started going after them more and he had a lot of success. He had a great year; a lot of improvement.

What did you think of the job done by Luis Martinez in handling the staff?

Dave Rajsich: Well, I think throwing guys out was imperative. Calling the game I still think he needs to improve on game calling. I think the same with Solis. Their game calling still needs to improve, but they've made big improvements from last year to this year. I've had Solis in the past, and I was very pleased with the way he worked. He and Marty all year in the bullpen were superb. They come and do the work, and it's so much nicer when you don't have to go look for your catchers and be yelling like ‘where the hell are they at? What's going on? Who's next?' They were just great all season.

They showed that they can play at higher levels, despite the batter averages. The biggest thing with Marty was he was able to catch and throw people out, Solis, too, when he caught at least twice a week. He'd come up firing and be fresh when he had to catch every day, slowly would start to get a little sloppy and get into the old bad habits. When he's fresh and catches every other day, every third day or whatever, he gives you everything he's got. He really did a great job. Both of them did.

They were able to make it easier for the pitchers to throw people out and concentrate on throwing strikes without them trying to work on the slide step, because Pelzer used to be 1.0, 1.1 (seconds to home) and they took it away and we wanted them to become more deliberate. Get into a rhythm and timing and get consistency and now he's like a 1.5, 1.6. Well, now next year when he comes back we're going to sneak him back up to that 1.3 area where he's still, he's faster than he was last year, but now he's got a year of development underneath him as opposed to still struggling with a 1.0, 1.1 slide step, but not bringing home strikes. So now we can speed him up from the 1.6 to the 1.3 and get the results we want.

That's what we were able to do by having those two guys being at the plate because they were throwing people out without really having to really focus on pushing these guys into the slide steps.

Jeremy Hefner – I think when he was on the mound they were able to throw out over 60-percent of the runners. Was his move that good?

Dave Rajsich:He varies his look. He varies his look to the plate, and he has a feel for when they're going; and his pitches, he was throwing mostly, you've got to remember, he was throwing mostly fastballs and changeups, and it was hard to read his sequences as much as other guys. Other guys were more readable in what their pitch sequences were when they were in counts, but Hefner was not, and so they were having a little bit more difficulty trying to steal on him. Plus the fact that they weren't getting on nearly as much.

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