Schlact starts spring with strong outing

As Michael Schlact enters the 2008 campaign, he will attempt to build off last season's impressive finish. The prospect got his season off on the right foot last weekend by tossing 2.1 innings of hitless ball. Lone Star Dugout has an interview with the 21-year-old starting pitcher.

Rangers fans were excited about the progress of tall right-hander Michael Schlact after his first full season in 2005. That year, the 19-year-old posted strong numbers with Single-A Clinton, going 10-7 with a 4.17 ERA in 28 starts.

Schlact's next two seasons with High-A Bakersfield would be a different story, as his ERA ballooned to 5.82 in 253.2 combined innings with the Blaze. Schlact's walk rate had nearly doubled and the groundball specialist wasn't keeping the ball on the ground as consistently as he had in 2005.

Regardless of the numbers, the Rangers considered Schlact's stint in Bakersfield a success. What onlookers weren't able to see in the stat-line was the development Schlact was making. The Rangers instructed the righty to focus on the development of his four-seam fastball and slider, a tough proposition in the hitter and homer-friendly California League. Schlact's numbers suffered in the short-term, but the improvement of the pitches will no-doubt benefit him in the long run.

The Georgia native began to witness the fruits of his labor during a late-season promotion to Double-A Frisco last summer. Though Schlact's 5.08 ERA with the ‘Riders wasn't sparkling, it was mostly inflated by one rough outing in which he coughed up seven runs in just two innings. Even with the poor start, Schlact limited Texas League batters to a .267 average while striking out 23, and issuing eight walks, in 33.2 innings – all vast improvements over his High-A numbers.

In addition to his outstanding upper-80s sinker and above-average changeup, Schlact displayed good command with his upper-80s, low-90s four-seam fastball and his slider continued to show development.

Entering his fourth full professional season, Schlact figures to begin the season at Double-A Frisco. But his first spring start of the year came with the Triple-A Oklahoma club. Facing the Kansas City Royals, Schlact tossed 2.1 innings of shutout ball. He didn't allow a hit, walked just one, and struck out two. Lone Star Dugout talked to Schlact both the day before and the day of his first spring training start.

Jason Cole: How long have you been out here?

Michael Schlact: I've been out here since about February 15th or 16th.

Cole: You were able to attend the mini-camp before spring training. What did you do there and how many guys were out here?

Schlact: There were about ten guys out here. We just did basic working on the throwing program and threw some bullpens. We were basically working on the fundamentals, PFPs, and things like that to just kind of get us going early.

Cole: Can you describe your throwing program a bit?

Schlact: For me it's a lot of long toss, trying to build up the arm strength. I think everybody is individualized this year. They are kind of going with what people's strengths are and what they need to work on. They're kind of harping on that. For me it's long toss.

Cole: I know that one focus of yours over the last couple of years has been to add some weight. How much weightlifting did you do over the offseason?

Schlact: I went three or four times per week. I went pretty heavy this year because obviously I'm trying to add mass. I've gained about 18 pounds. I'm up to about 214 today, which is pretty good for me. The weightlifting and eating right was key for me this offseason.

Cole: What were you at when you initially signed?

Schlact: I was about 190 probably. I pretty much stayed at that weight the whole time until the last year and a half. I've kind of started to creep up in weight.

Cole: Have you made any adjustments on the mound so far this spring?

Schlact: No, I'm trying to basically build off my finish in Double-A. I'm just trying to continue what I was working on there with T.C. [Frisco pitching coach Terry Clark] and I'm trying to get better every day.

Cole: Have you set any goals for spring training and the regular season?

Schlact: Spring training is just to stay healthy and get the work in. For the season, obviously everybody's ultimate goal is to make the big leagues. But for me it is to win – I want to win games. I just want to be successful.

Cole: How much throwing off the mound have you done since you've been out here?

Schlact: I've thrown bullpens and I threw one inning in a "B" game. I probably threw 20 pitches in that game, but the rest have been bullpens.

Cole: What has been the focus for you during your bullpen sessions thus far?

Schlact: For me it has been location on the fastball and basically being consistent with the changeup.

Cole: Do you know how many spring training games you'll be throwing in?

Schlact: Probably three or four times. I'll probably have three or four outings. One tomorrow and then I'd say every three or four days after that until we break.

Cole: I assume you're going to be stretched out a little more with each outing?

Schlact: My pitch count tomorrow will be 30 and then I'll probably go from there. Maybe I'll jump pretty good each time.

Cole: Do you have any idea where you'll begin the season once camp breaks?

Schlact: I don't. Obviously my goal is to start where I finish, so we'll see what happens.

[The following questions were asked one day later, after Schlact's first spring training appearance of the year]

Cole: How did you feel in your first outing of the spring?

Schlact: I felt great today. I was very pleased with the overall command of my pitches, with the exception of a few. I pulled off on a few of my fastballs and tried to overthrow. But spring training is about making adjustments.

Cole: How nice is it to get the year started with such a strong outing?

Schlact: It's always great to get the year started with a strong outing. Baseball is a sport where I feel it's very important to build off positive things. I can take the positives from today into my next outing.

Cole: What was your most effective pitch today?

Schlact: My most effective pitch today was my fastball. If you can establish a good fastball down in the zone, it makes your other pitches more effective as the outing continues.

Cole: How did your four-seamer and slider feel, especially compared to last year?

Schlact: The four-seamer is coming along really well. I was able to locate it down in the zone today, and on both sides of the plate. The slider is becoming my put-away pitch, but I still need more downward tilt than sideways movement. It's a work-in-progress this spring.

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