Lone Star Dugout Q&A: Terry Clark

ROUND ROCK, Texas – Between Martin Perez and Neil Ramirez, two of the Texas Rangers' top pitching prospects are working back-to-back in the Triple-A Round Rock rotation. Lone Star Dugout sat down with Express pitching coach Terry Clark to discuss the development of the club's pitchers.

Jason Cole: Neil Ramirez tossed six scoreless innings last night. What were your overall impressions on his outing?

Terry Clark: He was very good last night. He's just kind of been building up to what you saw last night. He is taking a little bit of a different approach this year, where he is kind of not trying to do everything so hard––even with throwing the ball. He's trying to build up to it. Hopefully this year, at the halfway point, he's throwing what we know he can throw and feeling good.

Cole: I know Ramirez was throwing the cutter a little bit in spring training. Last night, he told me he had a slight shoulder flare-up in camp and ditched the cutter for now. Can you talk about that process?

Clark: Yeah, when he was in spring training, we talked about it. He said, ‘I need to concentrate on my three pitches right now and not really worry about the other one.' So I said, ‘That's fine.' And we talked it over as pitching coaches and with our pitching coordinator, Danny Clark, and he said ‘That's fine. Let him concentrate on the three right now.' And then we'll progressively go into the slider-cutter later on in the season when he is feeling good.

Cole: So you do expect to kind of reincorporate that down the line.

Clark: Yeah, we'll rehash it. I think that could help him in the future. He has got a good feel for it already, when he threw it in fall ball and he threw it a little bit in spring training. He has got a good feel for it.

Cole: Is that when he began to throw the cutter? In his couple of Fall League starts?

Clark: We had talked about it at the end of the year. When he went into fall ball, he was messing around with it. I was down there for 10 days and saw him throw it on the side, and it was actually pretty good.

Cole: Like you mentioned, Ramirez changed how he went into the season with his workout plan and overall approach this year. How do you feel that will improve the durability over a full season and keep him from hitting a wall around the halfway point?

Clark: He's a workaholic. He likes to exercise, he likes to do his band work, and everything else. I sat him down last year with Scott Feldman and Mark Lowe and kind of went over what their routines are. And he was amazed at their routines. He's got a Roy Halladay mentality. He has just got to understand what his body can handle and what it can't handle. I think, last year, he just went a bit overboard and it cost him. I think he has done a better job. He put some weight on, and he's controlling his workouts a little bit better this year.

Cole: How do you feel Ramirez has progressed on the mound since last season?

Clark: I think he learned a lot last year––of what he has to do to pitch in this league and at the next level. I think he has taken that this year and started from the very beginning. He has taken off with it, where last year it was kind of a roll the dice and see what we've got. But this year, he knows what he can do. And progressively, what I was hoping for last night, was that he has gotten better with each start.

Cole: Do you feel that he's doing a better job of getting ahead in counts and keeping the pitch count down?

Clark: Oh, absolutely. Six innings and 79 pitches. I'll take that every single time. That's up there with some good pitchers, right there.

Cole: He was at 79 pitches and had retired nine hitters in a row through six. Did he try to lobby his way back out for the seventh inning?

Clark: No, no. Because he was one of the slower guys coming out of spring training, since he had the minor flare-up at the end of spring. So he has been four innings and 65 pitches, then five innings and 75 pitches, and now––I was going to let him go probably 85 pitches, but when he ended the sixth with 79, I figured that was good enough.

Cole: Tell me about Martin Perez. He's got three starts under his belt thus far. What are your thoughts on his work?

Clark: He has grown up a little bit. He's understanding what he can do and what he can't do. He knows now that he can control the things he can control on the mound. He still gets a little flared up every now and then––with his emotions on the mound. But he is getting better at thinking, ‘Okay, we made a mistake, our team made an error, or I walked a guy. I can still get the next guy out and be okay.' He has done a great job. He's getting better and better. He's not far away. He is pitching really well.

Cole: Do you feel that his last start was a good example of that? There were four errors and the defense was having a rough day behind him, but he was able to limit the damage.

Clark: Yeah, that was a tough outing. I don't know if I would have been able to control myself if I was out there. But he did a good job. You've just got to hang in there and give the team a chance. And he did. In the ninth inning, we had a chance to win the game. That's what you have to do. If you have some errors behind you, you minimize the damage and go on from there.

Cole: When I talked to him in spring training, he said he was throwing more two-seam fastballs than four-seamers at that point. Is that still the case?

Clark: No. If he throws 50 fastballs, he'll probably throw 39 to 40 four-seamers and 10 two-seamers. He's working in his slider now. It's very good. He is allowed 10 of those per game. We've got to monitor him on certain pitches. You can't just let him go out there. He knows his slider is good enough right now to throw it to everybody and probably get a lot of guys out with it. But we want to control the effort on that slider and let him use his curveball, his changeup, and his fastball.

Cole: Is the slider something that's new for him starting this year?

Clark: Yeah, him and Neil were introduced to it at about the same time. Martin is a little farther along with it. He threw it in winterball––threw it down in Venezuela when he was home. So he is a little more advanced on it. He didn't throw many in spring training, but he's starting to throw it here.

Cole: Can you just describe where that pitch is at right now just in terms of the general velocity and break?

Clark: His slider––the break is good, and the velocity on it is outstanding. It runs anywhere from 85 to 88 miles per hour. So it gives him that in-between pitch. He's got his changeup at 81-82, he's got his curveball at 77-78, and then he's got his fastball. Now he has got a pitch that is in between those two. It's going to make it tough on the hitters.

Cole: What's the general reasoning behind limiting Martin to 10 sliders per game? You don't want him to rely on it too much right now?

Clark: It's almost like when you get a kid in little league. He throws a curveball, and he knows nobody can hit it. So all the sudden, now he's throwing a lot of them. We don't want that to happen with him. We want him to make sure that he aggressively uses his fastball to get ahead. And then, he has two or three pitches that he can put hitters away with.

Sometimes––I played with Jim Abbott. And Jim Abbott got all caught up in the cutter because nobody could hit it. And then, all the sudden, within a year's time, he'd lost four miles per hour on his fastball. So we want to stay away from that with Martin. We want that fastball to stay up there.

Cole: Is that the primary reason that the cutter-slider often isn't introduced to those younger guys until they get to the doorstep of the major leagues?

Clark: Yeah, exactly. Most of the young guys––fastball, curveball, changeup. Occasionally you'll have a guy with a really good arm that throws a slider. But you don't like to introduce it just because of the fact that, once it starts working––and in A-ball and Double-A especially––if you've got a good slider in A-ball and Double-A, you're going to get everybody out.

And they figure, ‘If I can get them out with the slider, why not keep throwing it? That's my chance to move up to the next level if I pitch good.' So the fastball suffers, and then pretty soon, you've got two pitches at the same speed, which doesn't work anymore. That's what you run into.

Cole: Tanner Scheppers was in big league camp pretty much the entire time this spring. I know he was doing a lot of mechanical work. Can you talk about the work that he has done and the changes that he's undergone?

Clark: He's just trying to shorten up his arm path a little bit. We want to give him a chance to really get on top of the ball and drive it downhill. He has done a good job. He has had one bad outing––really one inning. All the other outings have been very solid.

We've given him a chance to close games and be in the most important part of the game, to where the stress level is a little bit higher. It's about as close as you can get to pitching at the big league level in Triple-A––closing down games. You're going to face good hitters at the end of the game, and there's no room for error. So it's a different challenge for him.

With his mechanics––the slight change with his mechanics––he has done a good job. His slider has come around to where he can throw it for strikes. That slider is really good.

Cole: It seems that last year, Scheppers' breaking ball was more of a hard curveball. This season, it seems to be more like a hard slurve with late horizontal break.

Clark: It's a little bit shorter this year, but he is throwing it hard. It has become a pretty good weapon for him. He has kind of backed off on the curveball––just throwing this one breaking ball. And he has been able to throw the changeup for a strike, too. He's got some good pitches.

Cole: Do you think the mechanics played a part in his changeup working better this year? I know he's able to throw it for strikes this year, and he was rarely able to do that in the past.

Clark: I think the biggest thing that happened for Tanner was going to winterball and pitching in front of 30,000 people in Venezuela, which he had never done before. And getting the experience. Everyone knows that if you go to winterball and you don't pitch good, you're gone. You're not going to stay there. So the pressure was on him.

Cole: And he had a period like that there, didn't he? I think he had about 10 days where they didn't use him in a game before he came back and really pitched well.

Clark: Yeah. So he approached the game a little bit different. He thought, ‘I've got to go out, and I have to do my job tonight, otherwise I may not be there tomorrow.' I think that was the biggest factor for him––getting out there in that environment, being a closer in Venezuela, and understanding that there's no room for error.

Cole: I want to ask you about Sean Green. His velocity is up from where it had been the last couple years. He also kind of shows the hitter every different arm angle, doesn't he?

Clark: Yeah. The other night when he came in was the first time I saw him go over the top and throw sliders down and in on guys. That's a pretty good weapon. But his fastball is sinking like crazy right now, and he's in a pretty good groove. His breaking ball has been real solid. He has got good weapons. And like you said, I think last year when we saw him, he was like 85 or 86. And he's touching 90 now. He's 88, 89, 90 all the time.

Cole: Was it a health thing with him?

Clark: I don't know. I haven't really asked him. But he said that his mechanics are a little bit better this year. And he's getting after it a little bit more. It shows up.

Cole: The last guy I want to ask you about is Robbie Ross. You've never had him here in Round Rock, but I know you spent a lot of time on the big league side during camp. Can you talk about his performance in the spring and what he did to make the club?

Clark: He did exactly what everybody wanted a lefty to step up and do in spring training. They had a lot of lefties in there vying for the job. And every time you turned around, Robbie goes out there and before you can even blink an eye, he's 0-2 on the first hitter. Boom, he gets him out. Then he gets the next guy out, and then he gets a punchout. We were like, ‘Well, we'll see if he can do that again.' He's only 22 or whatever he is. We were like, ‘Ah, he got lucky. He hasn't really faced the good hitters.' Well, from the beginning of spring to the end of spring, he was still doing the same thing.

So he earned it. He earned the job. He went out there every time and pitched one inning or two innings. He'd come in and get a lefty out. To his credit, I saw him the other night coming into a bases loaded jam, and he got the first guy out. He got out of the inning.

Cole: When you get to see the minor leaguers make the jump like that and have success, how fun is that for you and the other pitching coaches who are helping these guys develop along the way?

Clark: It's a blast. Robbie always has a smile on his face. We never saw him not have a smile on his face. And to see him walk off the mound and know he's going to get the win that night––you know he's got a big smile on his face.

We were all laughing that when we were going to tell him that he'd made the team in spring training, we all wanted to be in the room because we didn't know what he was going to do. We were thinking, ‘Is he going to pass out or hug Ron Washington?' We didn't know what was going to happen. So we wanted to be in there. But it's a great thing for him. He did a great job, and he deserved it.

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