Padres Prospect Interview: Craig Italiano

San Diego Padres prospect Craig Italiano was added to the 40-man during the off-season. It was a wise choice, as the right-hander has been dominant since arriving in the system.

You were added to the 40-man roster in the off-season. How did that feel?

Craig Italiano: It was exciting. Getting that phone call is something I will never forget. Being able to share it with my family was all pretty special.

What was the major league camp experience like for you?

Craig Italiano: It was great – an experience that I have never had and something I will never forget. Being around those big league guys and seeing how they do things and learning from the big league staff. Going through a day as a big leaguer, watching the games and seeing how they play – you can't put a value on that.

Do you feel like someone took you under their wing while you were there?

Craig Italiano: Everyone was really nice. I couldn't point out one guy. They are all really approachable. You can ask them anything and they will help out. They were real eager to help out.

What advice can you take down with you as you continue on your journey to the major leagues?

Craig Italiano: All of it. You can't let the little stuff bother you because it is a long season. It is easy to get down on yourself but you can't. It is a long season. If you let something both you, it is going to stick with you. Let it roll off your shoulders. You are going to get another chance to fix it.

Lake Elsinore manager Carlos Lezcano said you ‘go about his business professionally.' What does it mean to hear something like that?

Craig Italiano: That feels good hearing that. I try and go about it professionally. Hearing that they recognize that you are doing things right, you like hearing that as a player.

Last year, you were working on a changeup. Is that something you still want to focus on?

Craig Italiano: Yes, I still need to mix a few in here and there. I have only thrown a couple, but it is something I am working on. It is a useful pitch. When it is on, it is useful to lefties and righties, especially lefties. It offers some deception so I am definitely still working on it.

Do you feel like you are too predictable with the fastball/slider?

Craig Italiano: Even if you are predictable, if you make your pitch, they are still going to have a hard time hitting it. I think, to a certain degree, every pitcher can be a bit predictable. If you make your pitch, you should be ok.

Do you feel finally settled into the routine of being a relief pitcher?

Craig Italiano: I felt really comfortable last year once I got into it. Once I get going, you settle right in. I like that role.

Did the off-season change at all now that you are on the 40-man?

Craig Italiano: No, I did almost the exact same thing as I did the year before. One thing was I started my throwing program a little bit earlier knowing I was starting earlier. It was – not weird – trickier with the weather and starting two-three weeks earlier. Knowing I was going earlier, it was tricky to get pens in. Nothing else changed.

One thing that Razor (pitching coach Dave Rajsich) said was the ball explodes out of your hand. What does that mean?

Craig Italiano: I think maybe he means it looks easy. Maybe, when it comes in like it does it looks even faster, if that makes sense. At least that is what I take from it.

You are on the third base side of the rubber. What is the comfort level throwing to right-handed hitters when you are on top of them.

Craig Italiano: I don't even really think about it. I might hit a couple of guys. If the ball gets away from me, it gets away from me. I don't think the side of the rubber has a whole lot to do with it.

It helps me more than it hurts me.

Is hitting guys almost a good thing? Obviously, hitting a guy isn't what you want to do but does it almost scare people?

Craig Italiano: You don't want to hit them, obviously, but you don't want them comfortable either. If you back up your feet a little bit on a pitch and then come right back in there, they aren't going to be as comfortable. They are not going to feel as comfortable as they would if I never came inside.

You had a lot of success last year with runners in scoring position. Is there a different approach with men in scoring position?

Craig Italiano: I really have the same approach with however many on, however many outs. I am trying to get ground balls. Getting ground balls helps with runners in scoring position. We have a lot of really good infielders. Everyone makes great plays. You get a ground ball, you have a great chance of getting out of it.

Every time I go out there, I am trying to get them to hit in on the ground. If I am missing, it is frustrating because I want them to hit it on the ground.

How has the slider improved?

Craig Italiano: Hopefully, it continues to improve. When I get better tilt on it, it is a better pitch – when it is not sweeping across the plate. I am trying to throw it harder instead of a get-me-over. I am trying to make every one have that sharp tilt. It is getting better.

What are the 2010 goals?

Craig Italiano: Help the team win and have a good season.

Everyone wants good numbers when they play. I want to throw strikes, walk as few as possible and keep the ball on the ground.

Is there such a thing as too many strikes?

Craig Italiano: I don't think so. If they are hitting it – hard – you have to mix something up. Every pitcher's goal is to throw strikes on every pitch. I don't know if there is such a thing. You have to pound the zone. It speed up the game. The defense appreciates it. It helps you as a pitcher, too, you get in a groove and go with it.

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