Slider helps Wieland to no-hitter

SAN ANTONIO, Texas – Right-hander Joe Wieland threw a nine-inning no-hitter against the San Antonio Missions on Friday evening. Lone Star Dugout caught up with the 21-year-old prospect after the start.

Right-hander Joe Wieland had broken out as one of the top pitching prospects in the Texas Rangers' system this season. But more on that in a story coming later tonight––Wieland and fellow Frisco hurler Robbie Erlin were dealt to San Diego in exchange for reliever Mike Adams during Sunday's trade deadline.

But in Wieland's last start at as member of the Rangers' organization, he no-hit the San Antonio Missions––the team he will presumably be joining just in time for Sunday night's contest against the Frisco RoughRiders.

Wieland posted dominant numbers at Myrtle Beach this season, logging a 2.10 ERA while walking just four and striking out 96 in 85.2 innings. Since his promotion to Double-A Frisco, he is 4-0 with a 1.23 ERA in seven starts. The 21-year-old has surrendered more than one run just once in seven starts for ‘Riders. He has logged 44 innings and yielded 35 hits, walked 11, and struck out 36.

The 6-foot-3 prospect generally throws his fastball between 88-91 mph, touching 92 on occasion. But in his last few starts, Wieland has settled into the low-90s more comfortably while bumping up to 94 mph. During the ninth inning in Friday's performance, he worked at 92-93 mph.

Wieland attacks hitters with a four-pitch mix that includes a fastball, an above-average curveball, a low-80s slider, and a changeup. The slider––as Wieland explains in the following interview––was among the primary keys to his no-hitter against San Antonio.

Because Wieland has struggled to find consistency with his changeup this season, the slider––which he began throwing early this season––has given him a pitch that he can run in on left-handed hitters. The Missions have a lefty-heavy lineup, and he was able to induce a number of ground balls and strikeouts from lefties via that slider on Friday.

Lone Star Dugout caught up with Wieland after the no-hitter. And, of course, there will be more to come on both prospects later tonight.

Jason Cole: Give me your thoughts on the overall start. Not just the no-hitter, but about how you felt you threw the ball.

Joe Wieland: I felt I threw it excellent. It was probably the best that I've thrown this year. I got a lot stronger as the game went on. My slider was definitely the sharpest it has ever been. It was an unbelievable pitch to lefties last night. We set it up really well––we hammered lefties in. I stayed in on everybody all night, basically. It just set up my slider in on lefties. I was able to get it underneath their hands, and I got a lot of swings and misses or weak ground balls.

Cole: Was it one of those nights where, when warming up in the bullpen, you just knew it felt good?

Wieland: Yeah. I could tell I was throwing harder in the bullpen than I normally do. But it wasn't one of those nights where I was like, ‘I'm locating everything. I'm going to throw a no-hitter tonight.' It wasn't like that, but I felt good.

Cole: At what point in the game did you look up and start to realize they didn't have a hit yet?

Wieland: Fifth inning. That's when it was kind of getting to me. I've thrown in the fifth inning with a no-hitter before. I did it earlier this year at Potomac. But getting through that fifth inning was the big thing. So going into that sixth inning with a no-hitter, that is when it kind of was like, ‘Okay, there's something special going on here.'

And I was trying the best I could to get it out of my mind. I'd be lying to you if I said I wasn't thinking about it. Every time the thought of the word ‘no-hitter' came into my mind, I tried to think of another word that began with ‘no.' Just so I wouldn't say it.

Cole: At what point did your teammates start ignoring you in the dugout?

Wieland: They didn't. They acknowledged me the same way as if it was the first inning. I'd come in and they would be like, ‘Nice job, Joe,' while still giving me pounds and everything. And I remember Erlin––in the seventh or eighth inning––he was asking me pitch sequence on one guy. Guys were still sitting next to me in between innings.

Honestly, I think that is better than everybody sitting on one side of the dugout and the starter on the other end. Then it's just kind of obvious. Everybody knows he has got a no-hitter going.

Cole: You mentioned the slider being a big pitch for you last night. In what way do you feel adding that pitch has helped you this year?

Wieland: It's huge. Because now I have a pitch that goes in on lefties. It has covered up me not being able to throw my changeup consistently right now. It's another pitch that I get to go to instead of my changeup.

Whereas if I was just a fastball-curveball guy with a terrible changeup, I probably would not be having the success that I'm having right now. But to be honest, I'm really surprised at how well that slider has developed this year being it's the first year I've thrown it.

Cole: I've got to ask you about the walk. I know how much you hate walking guys.

Wieland: Yeah, a lot of people have gone, ‘Oh man, why did you walk that guy? You don't want to throw a perfect game?' But it was a good at-bat. I had him 2-2, and I thought I threw a two-seam fastball on the outside corner that I thought was strike three. But obviously it wasn't. I'm not really worried about it.

Cole: You had the incredible walkless streak in Myrtle Beach earlier this season. While the walk numbers aren't high with Frisco, they have predictably gone up a bit. Is that just a little more respect for the hitters and ballparks in the Texas League?

Wieland: A little. And, to be honest with you, the walks in Myrtle Beach are stupid. I'll never be able to do that again. I really don't know how I was able to do it. It's just one of those crazy streaks that happened.

I've taken the same approach. For one, the strike zone is a little bit smaller here. But two, the hitters are a lot better. And I can't throw a 2-0 fastball down the middle here. In Myrtle Beach, I could get away with that and it'd turn into maybe a fly ball somewhere. Here, the hitters are going to punish me. So when I'm behind in the count, I've had to make a lot more quality pitches. That has kind of resulted in a few more walks.

Cole: It seems like in every no-hitter, there's a moment where one saving play is made behind you that makes people think, ‘This might actually happen.' Was there a moment like that last night?

Wieland: Yeah. There were two. One in the second or third inning––Ruiz made a diving stop down the first base line. It didn't really seem like much at the time because it was only the sixth or seventh hitter into the game. So it doesn't really mean as much.

But the first batter in the eighth inning––Gyorko hit probably the hardest hit ball ever hit off of me that has not left the park. Ninety-nine percent of the time, that ball is gone. And it doesn't matter the park or the time of day or whatever––that ball should have left the park. And last night it didn't. After that, it was kind of almost like, ‘It has to happen.'

Cole: You've talked about how much the slider has helped this year because you aren't totally satisfied with your changeup. But how is the change coming along?

Wieland: It's 10 times as good as it was at the start of the year. Jeff Andrews and I have been working on it quite a bit. I'm happy with where it's at right now. I've gotten to the point where I can throw it into a game, and I'm not going to get hurt by it right now.

It's still not where I want it to be. I still want it to be more in the 80-81 mph range, and it's more 84. So at times, it's still like a BP fastball to hitters. But I've gotten it to the point where I'm getting it down in the zone. And I'm not getting punished with it as much.

Cole: Now that you have the slider to run in on lefties, is it easy to fall into a slider rut at times and go away from the changeup instead of developing it?

Wieland: Yeah, it has been real easy for me. Because my entire career, I've never been a guy that throws the changeup a lot. I've always had a good curveball, and I have relied on that. And my fastball command––I can spot up. So it's not like, if I get into trouble, I need to go soft.

I have the ability to locate a good, quality pitch to get a guy out. But now that I'm starting to get into the higher levels, the hitters are getting better and they're going to start hitting those quality pitches. Now is the time where I need that fourth pitch––I need that changeup to get guys off-balance.

Cole: Your velocity has jumped up a bit lately. What do you think is behind that development?

Wieland: It might be that it's Double-A. It might be just that I'm getting deeper into the season. I really don't know. I might just be growing––I don't know. It's nice that I have it now.

Cole: Does it feel like it's coming out a bit easier?

Wieland: Yeah. It feels a lot better. There are times now where I feel like––if I need to––I can pump up and try and get a ball by a guy. But earlier this year and last year––outside of Bakersfield. Last year in Bakersfield, I felt like there were times that I could do it there, too. But earlier this year or in Hickory, if I tried to throw it by a guy, I'd be getting hammered.

Cole: The trade stuff is pretty much unavoidable at this point. Is it difficult to try and block the rumors and such out of your mind?

Wieland: No, not at all. It's real easy to block it when I need to. Everybody knows what's going on. Everybody sees what's going on, whether it's in the papers, on the internet, or whatever. But when it comes time to play, I have no problems blocking it out. It's not really that much of a factor.

Cole: How much are you looking forward to the trade deadline just being over with?

Wieland: Just as much as everybody else is. With us in the clubhouse, it's more of a joke than anything. Every day, somebody is always saying, ‘Well, today is your last day. See you later.'

Cole: And I'm sure being here in San Antonio––a Padres affiliate––during all the Heath Bell rumors doesn't help things.

Wieland: Yeah, that's another thing. They're saying, ‘Hey, just switch clubhouses.' But I think once it's over, everything will just go back to normal. Everybody will still joke around and what not, but I don't think it's really affecting us that much.

Cole: As you look forward to the remainder of your season here, just tell me what you think you could be doing better.

Wieland: Changeup, first of all. That is probably going to be my priority the rest of this season. That's something that I want to get before heading into this season. I know this offseason, I'll be working on it a lot. I want to have that before next year.

And just continuing to build off this start and my last couple starts. I've been throwing the ball well lately––locating and everything has just been kind of working.

Cole: You're at 129.2 innings for this season and threw 148 last year. Have the Rangers talked to you at all about that?

Wieland: Scott Servais did talk to me last night, and he did mention that they've noticed that my innings have gotten up there. He said that if later in the year it becomes a problem, they'll address it. I'm hoping that I don't have to worry about skipping a start or anything like that. I feel strong. I feel like I'm getting stronger than when I started, so hopefully they can just let me go.

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