Left-hander Kasey Kiker recently joined High-A Bakersfield after spending the season's first three weeks in extended spring training. As Kiker goes on to explain in the proceeding interview, he fell behind the regular throwing schedule after experiencing a bit of shoulder soreness over the offseason. The Rangers chose to let Kiker rest his arm for awhile, causing him to make a few extra appearances in extended spring training.
The former first round pick has experienced mixed results in his first five starts with the Blaze. But the southpaw is showing signs of improvement, as he surrendered only two hits – both solo home runs – in seven innings during his last start.
Kiker is also continuing his trend of improved control at each level of the minors. In his 2005 debut with short-season Spokane, Kiker issued 37 walks in 53.1 innings [6.24 per nine]. Last season, he reduced that number to 3.83 free passes per nine innings. In his first 27.1 innings with Bakersfield, the 20-year-old has walked only seven batters [2.30 per nine].
Lone Star Dugout recently caught up with the pitcher, who enters the 2008 season as one of the Rangers' top pitching prospects.
Jason Cole: It was reported that you had some arm soreness over the offseason. What exactly was the issue?
Kasey Kiker: I had a bit of shoulder inflammation during instructional league.
Cole: Do you know what caused that?
Kiker: Just throwing a lot more than I was used to.
Cole: Did the inflammation cause the Rangers to alter your offseason throwing program at all?
Kiker: Yes. It wasn't really different. My throwing program just started later and they gave me some time to rest. When I came to spring training, I was a couple of weeks behind everybody else's throwing program. I just did my own progression until I got out of there.
Cole: How much game action did you end up getting in spring training?
Kiker: I probably threw about six or seven innings in spring training – something like that.
Cole: How did your arm feel once you were getting stretched out in extended spring training?
Kiker: It felt good. I wasn't really throwing as hard as I am used to, but it's starting to pick back up here in Bakersfield.
Cole: Aside from building up your arm strength, what were you focusing on while you threw in games and bullpens in Surprise?
Kiker: You're always focusing on throwing strikes. Velocity is not everything, but you've got to have a little bit of it. Mainly I was just trying to throw strikes and when it comes back, it comes back. I'm always throwing strikes.
Cole: Your control does seem to have improved so far this year, with seven walks in 27.1 innings. What do you feel has been the key to that improvement?
Kiker: Just not wanting to walk anybody. Here with the Rangers, we focus on allowing free bases. We don't like giving up free bases. When I was in extended, I was just working on throwing strikes because I wasn't throwing hard. I figured I would really have to command my fastball. I'm going to try and keep that going the rest of the year.
Cole: Five starts into your season with the Blaze, how do you feel about the way you have pitched so far?
Kiker: I had a couple of good outings, a couple of rough outings, and an ok outing. It is great pitching with this team and having that team behind me every day. Especially that offense. Ever since I've been here, it has been a blast to play with this team. Everybody is good guys and we've got great coaches and a real relaxed atmosphere. But everybody knows you've got to win and we've got exceptional players behind me like Vallejo, Borbon, Lemon, Whittleman and all those guys. It's great. It's almost like I've got a Double-A squad behind me already.
Cole: You had the opportunity to play with almost all of your teammates last year in Clinton. Do you feel that being around so many familiar faces has helped you in the jump from Low-A to High-A?
Kiker: Yeah, it makes it easier. When I came up from extended, the first couple of days I wasn't really getting to know everybody. They make it a lot more of a relaxing atmosphere. It's great to walk in here and see all my friends already.
Cole: Have you noticed any differences between the Midwest and California Leagues so far?
Kiker: The main difference that everybody will tell you is small fields and the wind blows constantly. There are some places I've seen where it's just like arena baseball. A couple of balls get up in the air and it's gone or off the wall. You can have a tough time with the wind blowing. Another thing is that the hitters are a lot better and the pitchers are a lot better. You can tell it's a step above.
Cole: Do those ballparks and wind patterns change the way you attack hitters or approach a game mentally?
Kiker: Definitely. If you go into a game and the wind is going out to right field real hard, you stay away from lefties. You know – it's conscious in your mind. You pitch down. If you leave a ball up, any mistake can be a home run. You've got to pitch down, that's the main thing. And whichever way the wind is blowing, you have to pitch away from that.
Cole: A lot of people talk about how rough the Cal League can be on pitchers, but it almost seems like it forces you to learn to pitch down in the zone. That's got to be a good asset for the higher levels, right?
Kiker: Yeah. With our pitching coach, Chavvy [Dave Chavarria], every bullpen we are working on keeping my pitches down. That's definitely the big league strike zone. While I'm pitching here, I might as well get accustomed to pitching down because it'll help me in the long run.
Cole: You didn't make it through seven full innings in any start last season, but you've already done it twice in five starts this year. Are you comfortable going that deep into games right now?
Kiker: Yeah, I'm comfortable. I want to go deeper and deeper as the season goes on. I know Nolan Ryan wanted us to start throwing more and finish the games ourselves. That's definitely one of my goals – to finish a game out this year. I feel like I can do it. The other day, I was at seven innings and 92 pitches. I want to get a couple of those down and try to get deeper in games. It's a great feeling having that ‘pen come out for one or two innings instead of three or four.
Cole: Have the Rangers had you on any sort of pitch count so far?
Kiker: My first five starts were 90 pitches. After that I'll probably open up to 100.
Cole: Has the club told you anything about whether or not you will get the opportunity to progress beyond Bakersfield this season?
Kiker: No, they haven't. I haven't really heard anything so I'm just going about business here.
Cole: Have you set any personal goals for the remainder of this year?
Kiker: I'm trying to get my walks down and I think just to keep my team in the ballgame every game. As long as you're doing that, good things will happen for everybody.
Kiker done playing catch-up
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