Lone Star Dugout Q&A: Terry Clark

ROUND ROCK, Texas – The Triple-A Round Rock Express currently have two of the Texas Rangers' top young pitching prospects in lefty Martin Perez and right-hander Neil Ramirez. Lone Star Dugout sat down with pitching coach Terry Clark to discuss some of the team's top arms.

Jason Cole: What were your overall thoughts on Martin Perez's start tonight?

Terry Clark: He had a great side last week. He had a good warmup before the game. I think a lot of it has to do with what he's trying to do when he goes in the game. I would really like to see him build during the game instead of just try and go as hard as he can from the very beginning. Velocity in the first inning was 94 and 93. And then once he settled down, it was 90-91.

But he just lost his command on his fastball. The changeup was very good tonight. He threw some good curveballs––hung a couple, but the offspeed stuff was there tonight. The fastball command––I think he threw 31 strikes and 24 balls. That's not where you need to be in this league.

The strikes––are they quality strikes or are they just right down the middle? So he needs to just work on his fastball command. I think if he gets his fastball command, he won't have a tough time in this league. But until he gets to where he can throw the ball in and out––and throw strikes with it to set up his offspeed stuff––he's going to struggle like he did tonight.

Cole: When you work with Perez on the side right now, what is the primary focus?

Clark: Basically just keeping his body under control and staying toward the catcher. Being long out front with all his pitches, because he has a tendency to rush down the mound and jerk a little bit. That's what causes his fastball to get out of whack.

He is nice and smooth on the side, and you will see spurts of it in the game when he is real smooth. Then all the sudden the fastball is down and it's on both sides of the plate. And then he gets that anxiety, and he starts pumping up and trying to do too much with it. That's when he loses all command of it and he's just hoping it's a strike.

Cole: Is that something you just attribute to him being 20 years old?

Clark: Oh yeah, there's no doubt. He's in a harder league now. The guys can hit balls down the middle. In Double-A, they foul them off. Neil Ramirez––he had the same problem, and he still does a little bit now and then. It's just growing pains through Triple-A. That's part of the gig.

I told him, ‘You gave up a bullet that almost went out of the ballpark. You gave up a ball that went out of the ballpark. Two months ago, both of those guys were in the big leagues. You're not facing Double-A and Triple-A hitters––you're facing guys that have been in the big leagues. And when you make a mistake, they hit it.' I said, ‘It gets a little tougher, even in the big leagues. They only give you maybe one mistake that you can give up.' But you're going to make mistakes, and if you make them to those guys, they'll hit you hard.

Cole: You mentioned Neil Ramirez. Can you talk about his situation and what is going on with him right now?

Clark: He's just going through a stretching program right now. There's nothing wrong with his shoulder––it's just tight. So he's doing some stretching. He threw a side today and looked very good. He'll throw another side––probably two more sides––and then he'll pitch probably on the fourth of August in a game. It'll be three innings.

Cole: With him being tight, what was that causing to happen on the mound?

Clark: Just when he finishes his pitches––it doesn't want to reach out there and really let him release the ball and finish. It just grabs him because it's tight, and he feels a little burning. Basically it's like almost pulling a muscle because it's so tight. We had his shoulder checked out, and it's clean as a whistle, so there is nothing wrong. He has just got to loosen it up.

Cole: Obviously you haven't coached Ramirez before this season, but is this a problem he ran into in past years?

Clark: No, not really. It just basically depends on your body type and what you do conditioning-wise. I mean, he works harder than anybody I've ever seen. That could have something to do with it––I don't know. It's just one of those things. As long as there's nothing wrong internally, it could be fixed very easily.

Cole: I want to talk about Michael Kirkman a little bit. It seems like he has been struggling with control lately, walking 10 batters in four innings over his last two outings. How can he get going again?

Clark: Michael is almost identical to Martin. They both get in a situation where they jerk their bodies because they're trying to do too much. And neither one of them––if you pull a bow and arrow back and jerk it back and let it go, you're not going to know where the heck that thing is going. But when you're nice and smooth, you pull it back and let it go, then you know where it's going. It's kind of the same way with their motions. When they are smooth, they throw just as hard and they throw more strikes. When they jerk, the fastball goes all over the place.

Cole: Was that something he battled with at times last season?

Clark: Yeah, at times. Not as much last year, but it's a little bit tougher out of the bullpen. As a starter, you can kind of warm up and see what he's doing. You can keep telling him to calm down and smooth it out. Then by the time he's done with the bullpen, he's in the game.

Coming out of the bullpen, there's no coach down there. It's just like, ‘Here we go, get ready, and get into the game.' He has struggled with it a little bit at times. He has been very good at times, but that is after we worked on the side and got it to smooth back out. He has been very good. But the last two times, he has kind of just come in. We tried to fix it in between innings, but once it's bad, it's a little bit tougher than fixing it before you ever get in there.

Cole: I'm sure he has been disappointed with his season so far. Does that factor into the issues? Does frustration play a role in falling into those bad habits?

Clark: There's no doubt. Because he knows when he's doing it, and it's hard to fix. He gets really frustrated because of the year he had last year. He dominated this league. For him to get hit in this league, he can't figure it out. He knows it's mechanical, and for him not to be able to fix it when he's out there and clean it up, it's very frustrating for him.

Cole: He has been in and out of those troubles at times, right? It seems like he started off the season struggling, then figured it out, and now he is having issues again.

Clark: Yeah, when he came down from the big leagues, we did a couple things mechanically and the first three outings were dynamite. It was everything for strikes and up to 96 mph. Then the All-Star break, a layoff, here we go, and now you get into a little bit of a rut and you try and dig your way out of it.

Cole: Eric Hurley had a long journey back to the mound and regular season game action. How has he progressed with each start since coming back?

Clark: He is getting better every start. The velocity right now is what it is because it's his first year back from being off for two years. I didn't expect it to jump up. I actually expected it to go down a little bit, which it has a little bit, but not much. And his command of secondary pitches have been much better every game. The changeup improves, and the slider last game was outstanding. His fastball command is good. So he's making good progress.

Cole: Even though Hurley hadn't pitched in a couple years, it seemed that there was a lot more pitchability in spring training this year. How does one develop that when they're not playing? Is it just watching lots of baseball?

Clark: Watching the game and––when guys get hurt––there's a part of you that still wants to throw the ball hard. But if you can't throw it hard, you tell yourself, ‘I better throw better strikes.' And I think that's what he's taking into account. He knows he doesn't have 96 anymore, so if you hit your spots, you've still got a chance. If you don't hit your spots, you're going to get hit. He has done a great job with that.


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