Tatusko getting back on track

CLINTON, IA - Pitcher Ryan Tatusko has bounced between the starting rotation and bullpen this season, but he believes his future lies as a setup man. Lone Star Dugout recently chatted with the 23-year-old.

The Texas Rangers selected 6-foot-5 pitcher Ryan Tatusko out of Indiana State University in the 18th round of the 2007 MLB Draft.

The right-hander made his professional debut with short-season Spokane last year, where he worked primarily as a starter. In 65.1 innings, he posted a 4.13 ERA while surrendering 66 hits, walking 22 and striking out 50.

Currently in his first full season of professional ball, Tatusko has been with the Single-A Clinton Lumber Kings, where he has worked both as a starter and a reliever. In six starts and 15 relief appearances this year, the Indianapolis native has totaled 52 innings. Tatusko's 4.85 ERA for the season isn't sparkling, but he has pitched much better of late.

In his last three outings, the 23-year-old has surrendered two earned runs on seven hits in 9.1 innings. He has struck out seven while walking just one.

When Tatusko has gotten into trouble this season, it has been because of walks. Despite his 4.85 ERA, Tatusko has limited opposing hitters to a .244 batting average.

Lone Star Dugout recently caught up with Tatusko for a Q&A session.

Jason Cole: How do you feel about your season so far?

Ryan Tatusko: I think the season is going so well. It's nice to clinch in the first half. It kind of takes the pressure off all of the guys. Now it's just more about working on things and learning your faults and trying to get better at them for the next level.

Cole: You've been doing both starting and relieving this year. Have you been mostly a starter in the past?

Tatusko: I've been a starter my entire life. This is the first time I've spend an extended amount of time in the bullpen. For me, it's almost re-learning how to pitch and re-learning how to do things because it's very different. I feel as the season goes on, I'm starting to get more and more comfortable with it.

Cole: Can you talk about the differences, both mentally and physically, between starting and relieving?

Tatusko: Starting, you know you're going to go every fifth day. You know what you have to do with your body. You can listen to your body more. When you're relieving, you can go back-to-back days, you can have off one day. You really don't know how many innings you're going to throw. You really have to listen more to your body when it's sore – how much to run, how much to throw. Things like knowing what exactly you need to do. When you're starting, you know every fifth day your body is going to respond certain ways. It just becomes second nature.

Cole: You've also done some piggybacking this year, is that correct?

Tatusko: Yeah, I was both front end and back end of that. I didn't a little bit of it in Spokane and a little bit of it here. That's not too bad because it's almost like a start. You know you're going every fifth day. Quintero and I did a little bit of it. It wasn't really too bad. I like that system a lot.

Cole: When you're in the back end, usually entering the game in the fourth or fifth inning, do you try to approach it as if you're starting the game?

Tatusko: I took it as a start because I knew I was going to throw four or five innings depending on the day. I would typically have more of a starter's mindset. I think that's what you need to be successful in that role.

Cole: Have the Rangers told you which role you will be in for the long term?

Tatusko: Yeah, they've told me that they see me as a seven, eight guy. Up the road, in the future, that's kind of what they're grooming me for. Right here in Clinton, I've gotten to talk a lot with DC, our pitching coach. He has really helped me kind of start getting in the mindset of that role.

Cole: Did the Rangers tell you that you were a seventh or eighth inning guy back in spring training?

Tatusko: Yeah, they told me that in spring training. As they told me when I first game here and started a little bit, but I was realistic with myself and they were realistic with me in saying that I wasn't a big league starter. I realized that out of the get go. When I was first drafted, the scout told me, ‘I personally see you as a seven, eight guy.' I've had Scott and DC and Comstock – the pitching coach in Spokane last year – say to keep that in the back of my head and start preparing for that role.

Cole: You will be starting Sunday afternoon's game. Do you know if it's just another spot-start, or will you be staying in the rotation?

Tatusko: As of right now, all I know is that I am starting in Gomez's spot this time. This is my second consecutive start. DC [pitching coach Danny Clark] told me that they are increasing my pitch count gradually. That would take me to assume that I am finishing out the year starting.

Cole: After finding this out, is there a chance the Rangers view you as more of a starter now?

Tatusko: No, I still think they see me as a reliever in the long run. Scott Servais, early in the year, told me that he sees me as a back-end bullpen guy. I think being multi-faceted in being able to start and relieve, it helps that I can help the pitching staff in multiple ways.

Cole: Give me a bit of a scouting report of you as a pitcher. What pitches do you throw and what speeds are you usually working at?

Tatusko: My fastball sits about 88-91, 92. It has a little bit of a cut to it, which is nice. It gets in on some left-handed hitters, which is nice. I throw a slider and a circle change, but it's kind of weird. My slider is starting to morph into more of a slurve, which is nice because I'm getting more swings and misses with that pitch.

Cole: Is your fastball velocity the same regardless of whether you're starting and relieving?

Tatusko: My fastball, I've noticed it has a little bit more firmness out of the bullpen. Starting, you've got to pace yourself whereas if you're coming out of the bullpen, you can kind of let it go. I've noticed a few ticks higher on my fastball, up around the 92-93 area.

Cole: Is there a reason that you think the slider is morphing or is it just kind of happening?

Tatusko: I think it's just kind of happening. I worked with picking up my arm angle a little bit to kind of get more over the top of the ball. I think as I picked up my arm angle, it got more down break than side-to-side. It has just kind of morphed into a slurve. But it's really been working for me. It seems like the pitch runs out of barrels a lot, which is real nice to have.

Cole: Most relievers only throw two pitches out of the bullpen. When you're working out of the bullpen, do you still use your changeup?

Tatusko: I try to throw it a lot – especially when I see guys diving after fastballs. I still keep that mentality of that third pitch in there. I try to throw it a lot, at least to keep it sharp. If I don't, I try to get it in a lot of bullpens. Because like I said, if I do come in for a spot start somewhere, I would like to have that third pitch where I just don't become a two-pitch guy.

Cole: Whether it be in bullpen sessions or on the mound during games this season, what have you been working on?

Tatusko: Loaction. I get erratic at times, especially with two outs. I try to hurry up and get myself back in the dugout – get my team hitting as quick as you can, which you want to do. But I tend to be a little bit too quick and I start rushing through my delivery a lot. The biggest thing he's having me do is to stay relaxed and just remember my mechanics and not get too quick with everything.

Cole: You were pitching particularly well early in the season. What were you doing really, really well then?

Tatusko: I think I was commanding my slider really, really well when I got off to that really hot start. I felt like I could get myself out of any jam. If I happened to walk a guy and got myself in a jam, I felt really confident about doing that. It really helped. I had real confidence in my slider and I just try to keep working on that and making sure I can get two pitches over the plate at all times.

Cole: Have you set any personal goals for the remainder of the season?

Tatusko: I want to get my slider command back to where it was. I think through the season, I've become too timid with the pitch and I want to get back to throwing it in any count. That's my goal for the second half – to try to be more aggressive to hitters and throw my slider when I'm behind mainly.

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