Lone Star Dugout Q&A: Danny Clark (Part 1)

As members of the Texas Rangers' 40-man roster, Martin Perez, Wilmer Font, and Roman Mendez all have at least an outside chance of earning a September call-up this season. Lone Star Dugout spoke with Rangers minor league pitching coordinator Danny Clark about the hard-throwing trio in part one of this two-part interview.

Jason Cole: Due to the injuries going on with the Rangers' pitching staff earlier this summer, Martin Perez was in the major leagues probably a little earlier than you guys would have liked. But it seemed like he battled and pitched pretty well. What did you come away with from watching his performance in Arlington?

Danny Clark: Obviously due to injury he got the opportunity, but I thought the opportunity he had––he really took advantage of it. I'm not going to say he surprised people, but I think he really earned the right to get the September call-up.

Cole: When the Round Rock season ends within the next week or so, will Perez be one of the guys who goes up to the majors?

Clark: I'm hoping so. Obviously the decisions––they are talking and discussing those right now. But I hope that he would be one of the guys that they would call up. I think it would be a very valuable experience for him, especially going down for the playoff run and to get the experience in that park.

Cole: When I interviewed you earlier this season, you mentioned that the goal for Perez was to be more efficient and work deep into the game. While he was hit around a bit on Saturday, he threw strikes and worked seven innings. He's also worked deep into the game in his last three outings, throwing eight innings, nine, and then seven. What are your thoughts on his progress there?

Clark: Well, I think the number one goal is getting deeper into the game, and he has accomplished that. Obviously he's had some games as far as three, four, or five walks in an outing. But overall, his pitch count––we've been able to get his pitch count up. He actually was at 122 or whatever a couple outings ago. He has been able to get into the deeper part of the game, and that really was our number one goal.

Cole: What is he doing that has enabled him to get deeper into games of late?

Clark: I think the number one thing is his mindset of throwing four pitches or less to get outs. I think he had that mindset. I think that has kind of helped him be able to––when he does have the walks––it kind of combats it with a two-pitch out or a one-pitch out that he's getting versus the walks.

Cole: Perez having that mindset––does that help keep him from overthrowing and getting out of his delivery, as he's had a tendency to do in the past?

Clark: Yeah, that was the other thing. The big thing with Martin is being able to get outs. Obviously as a young pitcher, the biggest mindset is that they want to have a lot of strikeouts. And to get him to think that process of, ‘Hey, we're concerned more about getting outs versus how many strikeouts you have.' And that is the mark of a successful pitcher, and that's the mark of someone who is starting to mature into a pitcher.

Cole: Roman Mendez recently moved to the bullpen and then was promoted to Double-A. What was behind the decision to move him into a relief role?

Clark: He's a 40-man guy, and he has had some injuries the last couple years. We've never seen him in a bullpen role. We've always seen him as a starter. I'm not saying he wouldn't go back as a starter in the future, but we wanted to take a look at basically––see what his velocity does out of the bullpen.

Obviously it's 96-97 mph, and sometimes it'll touch 98. As a starter, sometimes he really has a hard time being consistent with his arm slot. We thought in shorter bursts and shorter stints that he would be able to maintain his arm slot.

Cole: How has Mendez done in terms of repeating his arm slot out of the bullpen so far?

Clark: In his last outing, he actually went three innings with Frisco. It was his longest outing since he went to the bullpen. Talking to Jeff Andrews, the pitching coach in Frisco, he says that he felt like––with Mendez going out of the stretch––he was really consistent with it. So that was the biggest thing. When he was in Myrtle Beach, going out of the windup, his slot would be different than out of the stretch. We're trying to basically have that constant, so we're just going out of the stretch right now.

Cole: You mentioned that Mendez could still start in the future. Does that mean there's a chance he does slot back into the rotation at least to start 2013?

Clark: Yeah, there's a chance. Like I said, we just wanted to take a look at him so we know in our minds––so we've seen both sides of it. Basically it's like we had done with Jake Brigham when he was here. There are a few guys we've done that with.

Cole: Because Mendez has missed some time this season and is currently working out of the bullpen, he's only at 86 innings for the year. Is there a plan for him to pitch after this season, whether it be instructs, the Fall League, or winterball?

Clark: I would see him going to winterball. I don't think he's going to be a Fall League candidate. I think it's more winterball to face a higher level of competition. It's more of a winning-type environment where you have to produce to win. That's versus the Fall League environment, where it's not as strenuous as far as the wins and losses as it is in winterball.

Cole: How difficult is it to handle the winterball situation with pitchers? Chad Bell, for example, will likely be playing in the Dominican Republic for a period this winter, and he's currently at a career-high 130-plus innings. With guys who have thrown quite a few innings already, how do you handle that?

Clark: Mike Daly, our international scouting director, has a very good relationship with the winterball coaches. So we kind of set a plan, and it's basically appearances from a reliever or, as a starter, we'll just put a certain amount of innings on him. That's what they'll have, and then we'll flip people in and out.

Cole: Wilmer Font is another pitcher who recently moved to the bullpen before being promoted to Double-A. I'm assuming his move to the bullpen had a lot to do with his innings count while returning from Tommy John surgery. Is that correct?

Clark: Yeah, the number one thing for Wilmer––going into the season––is that we wanted to be at 100 or 110 innings. When we flipped him, he was at about 86, so we knew he didn't have as much to play with. Plus we also wanted to again see him in the bullpen because we've never seen him out of the bullpen. We wanted to see if his velocity would play up, which it has.

Cole: What are your thoughts on his performance since moving to the relief role?

Clark: I think he has pitched really well. He had a couple bad outings as far as walks, but just that transition from a starter––especially for a guy coming off Tommy John surgery to go to the bullpen––he doesn't have a schedule. He doesn't know when he's going to pitch. He's just basically like every other bullpen guy. So to get that frame of mind, I think he has really––Wilmer has probably matured as much or more than any pitcher we've had this year in the organization.

Cole: The slider and the splitter are new additions to Font's repertoire this season. Is he still throwing a changeup as well, or is it just the splitter?

Clark: It's kind of a split-change. Sometimes it acts as a changeup, and sometimes it acts as a split.

Cole: How do you feel the new secondary pitches have progressed? It seems like he prefers the slider to his old big-breaking curveball now.

Clark: Yeah, we let him use both early in Myrtle Beach, and then we kind of took away the curveball. The slider we hope matches up with his velocity––gaining more confidence with his hand speed on his slider. He has the right rotation of it, but you'll still see him, as he creates his hand path––he tries to create the slider versus trusting the slider and staying through the ball.

Cole: Font's slider currently comes in around the upper-70s, but as you mentioned, you'd like it to be harder as he learns to trust the pitch. Is that something that you think just comes with repetition and more experience throwing the pitch?

Clark: I think it comes with experience and it comes with someone who feels comfortable. The mindset after surgery––a lot of times that's a grey area to put a new pitch into someone's hand after surgery. But we felt confident as far as health with Wilmer and his aptitude to be able to do it. So we feel comfortable with that.

Cole: Given Font's innings limit in his first season back from Tommy John, will he be shut down after the season or is he going to pitch in winterball?

Clark: It's going to be a limited-type winterball session for him. He is going to go and pitch. Obviously it's according to whether or not he gets called up in September. I think a lot of it goes into play with that. If he doesn't get called up, then yes, we're probably going to put a limited amount of innings on him going into winterball.

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