John Vittas: What are some of the things that have stood out to you so far?
Victor Rojas: I see a team that's ready to roll. They're tired of spring training, much like every major league team this time of year that's tired of the six week grind and just wants the regular season to start.
I've watched the battle for the fifth spot in the rotation for the first four weeks, and then this week it's been kind of weird. Jamey Wright wasn't very good the other day, Kam Loe was skipped because of back spasms, and then Friday night Bruce Chen looked like the Bruce Chen of last year. I still believe that Kameron Loe will become your fifth starter at some point this season, but I don't know if Bruce Chen has enough time to make that up.
And then you have the battle for the utility role with, I think, the big story being Matt Kata. Early on you heard it would be Marlon Byrd and most likely Jerry Hairston Jr. making the team, but Kata's come out of nowhere and has really done a nice job.
JV: Wes Littleton's spring up to this point has been a fairly disappointing one. What are some of the things he's doing wrong?
VR: The problem dissecting a guy like that is that his windup is so funky with his motion, delivery, and his release point that it's hard to pinpoint one little thing. On a guy like Wes it could be the leg kick, or the set position, or a release point issue. When we saw him last week he just couldn't find anything. You saw a guy on the mound who just couldn't hit home plate and was trying to do all sorts of little things to fix himself. Friday he was a little bit better although still sort of erratic and had trouble trying to locate his fastball even though he got out of a jam. I think he's smart enough and he realizes what he needs to do to get to opening day and make this team.
Jason Cole: Tell me a little bit about what you saw out of Eric Gagne on Friday night.
VR: He's got really, really long bushy hair.
Eric's still feeling his way around but I think his breaking pitches are already there. I don't think we've seen him perform at 100 percent and I don't think we'll see that until we get into the regular season. But I think his breaking balls are nasty, and I think with a guy like Eric who used to have a fastball in the upper 90's, as good as his stuff is breaking ball-wise, he doesn't have to be 97-99 miles an hour. He can be 92 or 93 as long as he's locating the fastball to set up the breaking pitches and I think he'll be fine.
On Friday we saw that. We saw a guy who threw 8 straight balls, gave up a hit and walked a guy, and then came back to strike out Kevin Mench and Bill Hall. Those two guys looked foolish with what they were facing from Gagne. That will be the key for him: Being able to mix up the off speed stuff and at least show the fastball with his ability to ride it and spot it.
JC: I noticed that after he started struggling he began throwing the changeup and curveball to hitters earlier in the count and guys all of a sudden had a hard time catching up to the fastball.
VR: And that's the thing for hitters. When you see a guy struggling with his fastball, your mindset becomes okay, he's going to have to drop something in for a strike so I'll just sit on a breaking pitch. That's the key to any pitcher, not just Eric Gagne. It somehow gets lost in translation from the lower minor leagues to the big leagues: You've gotta throw strikes. You have to be able to throw strikes with three pitches, or at least two pitches, to give hitters a different feel so they don't feel comfortable in the batter's box. At any rate, I think Gagne will be fine.
JV: What do you make out of Edinson Volquez having to start the year at Bakersfield?
VR: You have to revert back to pitching coach Mark Connor probably knowing what's best for a young arm like Edinson's. I read this morning that he kind of had a similar situation with Roy Halladay when he was a member of the Blue Jays organization.
Mark's been around a long time and I think everyone is pretty much in agreement that Edinson may have come up a little too soon. A lot of guys that put up terrific minor league numbers never make it to the big leagues and/or produce if they do get there. You have to be very careful, I know in the last couple of years the Rangers have had to hurry some guys along from the pitching side because of necessity. Edinson still has a terrific arm and there are probably 29 other teams that would love to have him in their minor league system. But the fact of the matter is he needs to make the adjustments to throw strikes and get ahead with his fastball to set up his offspeed pitches because he is that good. He's good enough where he can blow guys away with his fastball, but if you don't throw strikes and you're behind in the count all the time you can throw 115 miles per hour then you're not gonna be that guy who can blow guys away with a fastball, it's just not going to happen.
JC: How does the Thomas Diamond injury change the Rangers' plan for the future?
VR: I don't know how much it changes the Rangers' plan other than the injury dictates what his progress is going to be. We hear the recovery time for Tommy John is anywhere between 12-18 months, and really 18 months is more where guys are at 100 percent. You see Frankie Francisco technically still coming back from that injury and hes just now getting back into that 94-96 mile per hour range and I think that's the biggest thing. For Thomas, I think that's the biggest disappointment because when you talk to him and you see all the expectations of the Danks, Diamond, Volquez hoopla that was made a couple of years ago with these guys coming up followed by Edinson's struggles and the trade of Danks this offseason, you're the only guy left of that trio. I wouldn't be surprised if a guy like Thomas put undue pressure on his shoulders. I think he just needs to get healthy, get fixed, and forget about the hype and all that stuff because it's just a media thing anyway. He still has a bright future ahead of him.
Spring Training Q&A with Victor Rojas
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