Thompson looks to get mechanics in order

Matt Thompson entered the season having issued only 37 walks in 210 career innings, but he is having some surprising struggles with the strike zone in the early going. Lone Star Dugout caught up with the 21-year-old to discuss his recent mechanical work and overall development.

Over the last three seasons, right-hander Matt Thompson has earned a reputation as one of minor league baseball's best strike throwers. Between 2009 and 2010––with short-season Spokane and Single-A Hickory, respectively––he issued just 33 walks in 201.1 innings.

And that's what makes Thompson's early-season results so surprising. He has issued 10 walks in 12.2 innings through his first three starts of the campaign.

In Thompson's latest outing––on April 21––he yielded five runs (four earned) in 3.1 innings. Although he gave up only one hit and struck out five, he walked a career-high six batters and unleashed a pair of wild pitches.

Thompson didn't give up six total walks last season until his sixth start––on May 7. He entered the campaign having issued more than two free passes in a start just twice in his career.

After the Burleson native showed hit-or-miss command of the strike zone in spring training, his funk appears to have carried over into the regular season. In the following interview, Thompson goes in-depth about what has led to the recent issues.

The 21-year-old attacks hitters with an 88-92 mph fastball, an advanced curveball that helped lead to 130 strikeouts in 129.1 innings last season, and a developing changeup. His 6-foot-3, 210-pound frame, clean arm action, and stuff make him one of the Rangers system's more intriguing under-the-radar projection arms.

While Thompson has a base for three solid pitches and posted more than 5.6 strikeouts per walk last season, he surrendered 167 hits in 129.1 innings. The prospect knows he'll need to become less hittable, and––as he discusses in the following interview––he believes his pitch sequencing has improved. He has also added a two-seam fastball and cutter to his repertoire in order to give hitters different looks from his four-seamer, which has good velocity but can be straight at times.

Lone Star Dugout caught up with the righty pitching prospect to discuss his unusually high walk total and his new pitches, among other topics.

Jason Cole: Tell me about your spring training and how you felt it went for you.

Matt Thompson: Spring training, for me––I came in physically the best I've ever been at. It was the most in-shape I've been. I felt like I threw the ball okay. I wasn't completely pleased with it. But I've been working hard since then––fixing some things that I felt like I was not doing correctly in spring training. We're working on getting those things addressed.

Cole: Overall, when you look at your first three starts with Hickory this season, what have you taken and learned from them?

Thompson: My delivery hasn't been repeatable like it was last year. I feel like my sequences are okay. I feel like my thought processes are okay. Like I said, we've been working hard. That's one of the things that we've really been grinding out––just to repeat my delivery and to get my fastball consistently where I want it and when I want it every time that I throw it.

Cole: Have you made a change in your delivery to make it less repeatable for the time being or are you just in kind of a funk?

Thompson: I really haven't changed anything. I think it just has something to do with the offseason and just having that time off. I think that possibly could have done it. But I just think it was a funk. Lately, this past week, it has been better. We worked together to fix and adjust the things that I needed to fix. It's definitely on the right track.

Cole: I'm assuming that's what has led to your command coming and going from inning-to-inning so far this season.

Thompson: Definitely. I'm not going to say it's the only reason, but I think it's the big reason––just not being able to be consistent with my fastball. Every time I throw the fastball, it'll do something different. It will have a lot of cut to it sometimes. And when my delivery is good and when I'm clicking the right way, it's consistent. I can know what it's going to do, and I can throw it where I want at all times.

Cole: Over the last two years, you had walk rates that were probably among the best in all of professional baseball. Can you talk about the frustration involved when you have a start like your last one, where you only gave up one hit but walked six?

Thompson: It's frustrating. But I don't let it get to me. I look at it like––the first three innings I pitched, it was effective. I know that walks aren't necessarily me. That's just something we're working hard to fix, and we will get it fixed so I can command the ball in the zone again.

Cole: Does the fact that you've consistently thrown strikes for so long help with the confidence factor even when you are scuffling?

Thompson: Definitely. Last year was a real long year for me. For the whole year, I was able to command the ball in the zone. I feel like my problem last year was bad sequencing and pitch selection. I feel like I'm in a funk right now, but once I come out of it, I feel like I'm pitching smarter and thinking more. I feel like I'm being more efficient with my pitches. I feel like, once we get it fixed, that it'll be good again.

Cole: When your mechanics are out of whack, as they have been a bit so far, what exactly are you doing and how are you correcting it?

Thompson: It's mainly that I'm being rotational––I'm flying open and not getting to a good starting point to base the rest of my delivery off of. The other night, in that fourth inning, I was completely flying open and stepping across my body––the whole thing.

In the couple bullpens since then, we've really worked on staying back and coming up and over the top instead of having the front side leak and fly open. In turn, that gives me better command on my fastball.

Cole: And you said that you feel those bullpen sessions since the start have been very positive, right?

Thompson: Definitely. It's a confidence booster and I'm able to command my fastball better than I have all spring and so far this year. That's definitely a good thing and something that I want to continue.

Cole: I want to touch on the pitch sequencing that you mentioned. As a guy with an advanced curveball, were you falling into the trap of throwing it too often last year?

Thompson: Actually it was the opposite. I felt like a lot of times last year, I got guys down 0-2 or 1-2 and tried to pitch for the ground ball––the double play or something––instead of the strikeout. I was doing that when I could've gone to the curveball or a more effective pitch on the corners or low.

Also, I feel like I threw too many fastballs for strikes down the middle. Not really in the middle, but just too good of a hitter's pitch and not making it a pitcher's pitch in the count that I needed to. I feel like I was predictable and the hitters––most of the time––were able to know what I was throwing when I threw it. That's something that I worked hard to fix in the offseason.

Cole: Sometimes you hear the cliche that a pitcher can throw too many strikes. Did you feel you were doing that in a sense?

Thompson: In a way, I think so. I think I was around the zone all the time, and hitters got comfortable. They would just swing at everything that I threw. I wasn't able to control the inside part of the plate like I wanted to, and that's something I'm working on this year. Just kind of getting rid of the comfort factor that they've had and making them think more about what's coming and when it's coming.

Cole: You told me in spring training that you were working on both a cutter and a two-seam fastball to keep hitters off-balance. Are you still working on those?

Thompson: I am. I've thrown both pitches in the games this year, and when I'm throwing them for strikes, they are pretty effective. I don't think any of them have gotten hit hard so far, so that's a good thing.

Cole: About how often are you throwing those in games right now?

Thompson: Anywhere from five to 10 times per game, probably, with each pitch. I'd say when the situation calls for it––when I think it could be pretty effective.

Cole: From the time you picked up the two-seamer and cutter to the present, how do you feel they've progressed?

Thompson: They've definitely progressed. They were both pretty new pitches. The cutter was completely new. I've had good times and bad times with both of them, but I think they're progressing. I'd like to continue to work on those through this season and into next year. I'd like to see if I can get them consistent and command them in the zone just like my four-seam or any other pitch.

Cole: I know some guys throw cutters right around their four-seam velocity, and others––like Nick Tepesch––throw more of a cut-slider in the low-to-mid 80s. Which one would you say yours is closer to?

Thompson: Well right now, it's kind of both. I haven't really honed it in yet. Sometimes I'll be kind of an upper guy with less movement, and sometimes I'll kind of get around it and cut it in the lower-to-mid 80s with slider action. I like them both. When they're working, both can be pretty effective. But I'd like to get it to where it's upper-80s and looks more like a fastball. I think that'll kind of set up my curveball a little more, with the speed difference.

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