Right-hander Nick McBride couldn't have scripted a better finish to his first professional season.
McBride began his summer with inconsistent results from start to start, leading to a 5.81 earned-run average through his first 11 outings.
Then––beginning with his August 18 start against Salem-Keizer––the focus points McBride had been refining all summer began to fall into place.
The 19-year-old quickly became Spokane's most reliable pitcher during the season's stretch drive. He surrendered only two earned runs over his final five starts for a 0.67 ERA in 27 innings. The hurler allowed 20 hits while walking four and striking out 15.
As McBride explains below, his sudden dominance could be attributed to a culmination of things––the mental aspect of pitching, a new curveball grip, and his ability to keep the fastball down in the zone.
Listed at 6-foot-4, 180-pounds, McBride has an ideal pitcher's frame and he projects to add some velocity as his body matures. His fastball consistently sat in the 88-92 mph range this season, and it ticked up to 90-92––occasionally touching a bit higher––late in the year.
As is the case with most tall pitchers, McBride has trouble leaving his fastball up in the zone––making him more hittable––when he doesn't throw the ball on a downward plane. He struggled with leaving the ball up in the zone at times this year, particularly early in the summer.
But when McBride keeps the ball down, the angle and natural sink and run on his fastball made him difficult to hit. Overall, he induced nearly two groundouts per flyout with Spokane.
Though the former fifth-round pick rarely used a changeup in high school, he began to develop confidence in the pitch during Extended Spring Training, throwing it more often than his curveball at times. He flashed the ability to throw the 77-78 mph pitch for strikes and used it to both left- and right-handed hitters.
Lone Star Dugout caught up with the young prospect on the first day of Fall Instructional League in Arizona.
Jason Cole: You just finished off your first professional season, getting 15 starts at Spokane. What were your thoughts?
Nick McBride: Overall, I felt like I made some great improvements. Obviously my record wasn't like I wish it would have been. But I thought I pitched better than what my record would say.
It was an up-and-down season, but I definitely went in expecting that from my first professional season. All in all, I hate the way our season ended. But I really clicked at the end of the season and was on a roll.
Cole: You allowed one earned run or fewer over your last five starts of the season. What was it that clicked? Was there a mental or physical adjustment that led to that success?
McBride: It was like a mental click. I just kept telling myself to stand up taller and have a good down angle on the ball. That was like a mental adjustment trying to make a physical adjustment, which I did. It helped out completely.
Cole: Before the last five outings, it seemed you were running hot and cold in stretches of two or three starts. What was leading to the inconsistency and how were you correcting it?
McBride: Before I strung together all the good starts, I just kept trying out a bunch of different stuff with (pitching coach) Justin Thompson. It would click and then I'd go a couple games and start messing with a little more stuff, then I'd fall off and have to re-boot it up like a computer. I'd have to try something else out.
Then, finally, toward the end of the year, JT more or less told me what I needed to work on. So I did that and he just let me be––he let me figure it out on my own.
Cole: What were some of those things you had been working on all summer?
McBride: Really trying to have my body stay up tall and throwing on a down angle toward the plate. That allowed me to keep the ball down in the strike zone with good sink on that down action. I was trying to stay back to let my arm separate so it could stay together with my body and not drag behind.
Cole: And I'm guessing when you didn't get that down angle, you were leaving your fastball up in the zone, making you more hittable?
McBride: Yeah. I had a game or two where I had a couple walks, but really my command of the strike zone was okay. I was definitely getting hit around because a lot of balls were left right down the middle of the plate thigh-high.
Cole: Is that a product of being tall and not getting downhill enough at times?
McBride: Yeah––that's what I felt like I was doing. I felt like I was getting too far out, trying to push too much to the plate. When my arm would come through, it was more or less coming through on a level plane and making it easier for the hitter.
Cole: Being a guy that threw in the low-90s in high school, did you ever run into that issue at that level? Or was it not noticed as much because you could blow your fastball by hitters?
McBride: In high school, it wasn't really something I noticed in games. I mean, I did personally, but the results were fine because––like you said––I could more or less overpower the hitters. But my high school coaches both played professional ball, so they saw it and I saw it. We both worked on it in my bullpens.
Cole: When I saw you pitch in Extended Spring Training, I noticed that you were throwing your changeup more often than your curveball. It seemed that you were gaining a lot of confidence in the pitch. What were your thoughts on the changeup development through the course of the year?
McBride: My changeup definitely became my go-to pitch. It was something I never threw in high school much because I had the overpowering fastball and never had a good feel for the changeup.
My senior year, I told myself that I would need a changeup if I wanted to go into pro ball. I found a grip I liked, I fell in love with it, took it, and ran with it. Ever since then, I haven't looked back and it has just really started coming around.
My curveball––I had good games with it and bad games with it. I just have to keep finding that consistency with it. I found a new grip up in Spokane that really worked out good for me at the end of the year. I've just got to keep it consistent.
Cole: The new curveball grip––did that change the break on the pitch much, or was it basically the same pitch but easier to get a feel for it?
McBride: It changed the pitch a lot. It became more of a 12-to-6 and it came a lot faster instead of being a more loopy slurve-looking ball––just real slow. It looked like I was casting it out, but now it's faster and more of a 12-to-6.
Cole: You said the changeup became the go-to pitch. Did you have more confidence in it than your curveball?
McBride: When I was struggling with the curveball, I definitely had more confidence in the changeup. But at the end of the year––every time I would go out––I felt like I had all three pitches going just as good. I had my fastball, curveball and changeup and could throw it in pretty much any count.
Cole: Fall Instructional League kicked off today, and games begin next week. What are you looking forward to working on in Arizona?
McBride: I'm really looking forward to just trying to keep the mental side I was working on the last couple games in Spokane. I'm just trying to keep that going and take that into next year. I really want to stay consistent with all my pitches––throwing the pitch I want in whatever count. I just want to have command of all my pitches.
Cole: The Rangers are expected to announce their affiliation with the Myrtle Beach Pelicans on Friday afternoon. Since you're from the Carolinas, how much does that excite you?
McBride: I think it's awesome. Growing up three hours from Myrtle Beach, I remember going down there with my family every summer. Maybe we'd catch a Pelicans game or maybe not.
But my home town is Winston-Salem, and Myrtle Beach comes and plays them every year. I remember every time I'd go to a game, for some reason they were playing Myrtle Beach. It's funny watching those guys play while I was growing up, and now I'll have an opportunity to play for them.
McBride satisfied with strong finish
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