Lueke finds home in bullpen

Few 2007 draft picks were as impressive as Josh Lueke this past summer. After a solid showing with the Single-A Clinton LumberKings, Lueke joined the Rangers' fall instructional league club in Arizona. Lone Star Dugout recently spoke to the hurler about his season and his future.

Right-handed pitcher Josh Lueke turned in one of the more impressive debuts for a Rangers 2007 draftee this past summer. After spending two seasons at St. Catharine College, Lueke transferred to Northern Kentucky University for the 2007 season. The Kentucky native appeared in 14 games – making 10 starts (completing three of them) – and posted a 4.32 ERA in 75 innings pitched. He surrendered 76 hits, walked 22 and struck out 47.

The performance coupled with Lueke's above-average stuff got him drafted by the Rangers in the 16th round this past June. The 6-foot-5 pitcher signed with the Rangers just a few days after the draft and was sent to short-season Spokane. Lueke pitched only 2.2 innings with the Indians before he became the first 2007 draftee to earn a promotion to a full-season club.

While with the Single-A Clinton LumberKings, Lueke worked out of the bullpen and had a 3.34 earned run average in 20 appearances. He totaled 35 innings, giving up 29 hits, walking 10, and fanning 31. The righty also showed late improvement, as he put up a 2.30 ERA in 15.2 innings between August and September.

Lueke joined the Rangers at fall instructional league upon completion of his debut professional season. The right-hander continued to flash a fastball that sits in the mid-90's, one aspect that makes him a candidate to develop into a late-inning reliever. Lone Star Dugout was recently able to catch up with the pitcher for a question-and-answer session.

Jason Cole: You were picked in the 16th round of the 2007 draft. Is that around where you expected to be drafted?

Josh Lueke: No, my agents and people were telling me it would be top five rounds, top ten at the latest.

Cole: Were you a little bit disappointed when you were taken that late?

Lueke: I was, but it was just all a matter of getting out of school and getting to play. It has just been a dream since I was a little kid. I've always wanted to go try it out and see how well I can do.

Cole: You went to Single-A Clinton after pitching just two games in Spokane. When you signed, did the Rangers tell you they were going to give you the chance to move up to a full-season league so quickly?

Lueke: No, they never said anything about that. They said it's all about how well you play and what happens in front of you. A couple of people got moved up and someone got hurt so I got lucky enough to get called up.

Cole: How did you feel about the way you pitched in Clinton?

Lueke: I think I threw real well there towards the last month or so. When they put me in the closing role I felt more comfortable than just being a reliever. I had hopes of going to Spokane as a starter, but then when they told me I was going to begin starting, I got moved up. In Clinton I was just working as a middle reliever – toward the eighth and ninth innings – but not very much in the ninth. Then after Brennan Garr got moved up and Chris Dennis got moved up to Clinton, me and him started to share time as the closer. Eventually I got to come about that role.

Cole: Had you ever been a reliever before?

Lueke: No, never.

Cole: Statistically you had better numbers in pro ball than in college this past year. Did you do anything differently when you moved into the bullpen in the Rangers organization?

Lueke: The whole issue was being able to get ready a lot quicker. Starters take about 30 minutes to get loose. Just throwing that one inning, I can just go out there and get three outs without having to worry about making sure all my pitches are working that day and how well I feel. In the relieving role, you've just got to go out there and maintain the tempo and pace of the game. You've just got to try and get your job done as quick as you can.

Cole: Have the Rangers given you any idea of whether or not you're going to stay in the bullpen in the long run?

Lueke: I'm pretty much a back-end bullpen guy. That's what they have been telling me.

Cole: Tell me a little bit about yourself as a pitcher. What pitches do you throw and what speeds are you usually working at?

Lueke: Fastball, changeup – that I just developed at instructs – and slider. My fastball is probably low-to-mid 90's. The slider is around the low 80's. I don't know about the changeup since I just started throwing it, but it has come a long way.

Cole: How did you feel your changeup developed while you were at instructs?

Lueke: Real well. All summer, me and [Clinton pitching coach] Danny Clark were trying to work on a changeup to get that third pitch down. I just couldn't get a feel for anything. Down there, he and Rick [Adair] just basically took a finger off my fastball and moved it over on my hand a little bit. Ever since then it has just been developing real well.

Cole: Did you work with a changeup at all when you were in college?

Lueke: I had one when I was in Junior College. I had one a little bit, but I never really needed it. The head coach was all about live and die on the fastball.

Cole: Did you work on anything else besides a changeup once you signed with the Rangers?

Lueke: We were just working on the inner half of the plate. I basically had good control on the outside part of the plate and D.C. [Danny Clark] was working with me. When I first came up to Clinton, I was getting hit around a little bit. Basically I would throw a fastball on the outside corner and then I would come back with a slider on the outside half. People could just cheat on me and know the ball is coming on the outside half. We had a little drill where he covered the entire outside half of the plate and left me like six inches. We put a batter in there and I started pounding away on the inside just to set up the slider a little better.

Cole: Do you know about how many games you appeared in at instructs?

Lueke: About six or seven.

Cole: Going up against some of baseball's top prospects, how did you feel you were able to pitch there?

Lueke: I think I fared real well. They were up there trying to get their job done and I was just trying to get my job done. I just kept the tempo going real well and I located my pitches real well. I got some ground balls when I needed them and got some key flyouts. The outfielders and everything were always there. It was real nice.

Cole: Going from the college season, to the pro season, and then instructs, was your arm tired by the end?

Lueke: I guess my arm got a second wind or something because during instructs I was throwing a lot harder than I was throwing all year. Some of the players were telling me I was 95-96. I was coming out, throwing lights out, and my arm felt a whole lot better than it did during the season. I went through a spell there where I felt I had a dead arm. It was like 88-89 and I was just like ‘where is this at?'

Cole: Once you moved to the bullpen, did your velocity get a little better than when you were starting?

Lueke: Well I've always had a weird way – velocity has always worked backwards for me. When I started, I never came out and threw hard. It always took me like three or four innings to start throwing hard. But overall velocity has been a lot more consistent coming out of the bullpen.

Cole: Now that you have started your offseason, what are you doing to stay in shape and prepare for next year?

Lueke: My strength coach has a leg program that I've been working on. I just took the first two weeks off, so I've got to start getting into that. I'll be following the program they gave me for working out through the whole month of November and up until March 1 when we have to go back. I start throwing again in December. Stuff like light tossing and just getting the arm strength back.

Cole: Have the Rangers given you any idea of what their plans are for you in 2008?

Lueke: When we had our personal meetings, we talked. I'm assuming that I'll be going to Bakersfield if everything works out well.

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