Henry mixing in more changeups

The Rangers sent Ben Henry to the Dominican Republic for Extended Spring Training, and the move appears to be paying off, as the right-hander has 15 strikeouts in his first 8.2 innings with Spokane. Lone Star Dugout caught up with the 20-year-old hurler on Wednesday.

Ben Henry, the Rangers' 30th round pick in the 2007 MLB Draft, spent his first full season in Arizona, working with the rookie-level AZL Rangers for the second consecutive summer.

The righty showed signs of improvement, posting a 4.15 ERA in 39 innings. He allowed 42 hits while walking 25 and striking out 45.

Henry entered 2009 Spring Training hoping to lock down a spot on a full-season pitching staff. Unfortunately, Henry's velocity dipped into the mid-80s, and the Rangers chose to send him to Extended Spring Training in the Dominican Republic, where he'd be able to rack up more innings on the mound.

The South Carolina native is back from the Dominican, and the Rangers have placed him in the short-season Spokane Indians' rotation. Through two starts, Henry is having quite a bit of success. He has surrendered three runs in 8.2 innings, giving up six hits, walking three, and striking out 15. Henry's 15 strikeouts are second-best in the Northwest League thus far.

The tall 20-year-old has an upper-80s fastball that touches the low-90s, a big curveball, and he has been developing a changeup. Lone Star Dugout spoke with Henry about his experience and development at the Rangers' dominican complex, as well as his first two starts in Spokane.

Jason Cole: You broke Spring Training and went to the Dominican Republic to work out there. How did the Rangers tell you that you were going down there and what was your reaction?

Ben Henry: They sat me down in the office—[Scott] Servais and [Jayce] Tingler—and they told me that there were going to be a lot of players staying back in extended. They really wanted me to get a lot of innings in, so they threw out how I'd be a priority guy down in the Dominican Republic.

They went on to tell me about how they run stuff down there and everything like that. They asked me and without hesitation I was like, ‘Yeah, I'll go.' They told me they wanted to get my velocity up and throw a lot of innings down there as a starter then come back here and come up to Spokane. I was pretty pumped to come to Spokane, but I'd do anything just to get out of Arizona.

Cole: Tell me about the Dominican. What were your expectations heading into it? How close was it to what you expected?

Henry: I went down there on a Tuesday or Wednesday I want to say. But they sent me home first, and the whole time I was home, I was thinking that it was going to be some big tropical island on the beach and everything like that. So when I first got there, the first town we go through is pretty nice. A lot of people. But then we started getting out in the country and it started getting deserted. My first expectations were completely wrong.

As for baseball, I was going to go down there and work out and try to gain weight and work on my changeup. I knew going in that a lot of Latin players have trouble hitting offspeed, so going down there with it not being a stat league or anything like that, there was no sense in throwing the curveball a lot. So I went down there and really developed my changeup more than I have in America. I think that really helped me out a lot.

Cole: Who were your pitching coaches down there?

Henry: [Jose] Jaimes and Pablo Blanco.

Cole: You had worked with Jaimes before, right?

Henry: Yeah. Jaimes was the pitching coach in Arizona last year.

Cole: Getting to do down there with someone you've played with in the past, like Tim Stanford, did that help make you a little more comfortable down there?

Henry: Oh yeah. It was great. Me and Timmy were roommates in the Arizona League last year. We built a bond and a friendship last year. So going down there with both me and him not knowing anybody except each other—that made it even better.

Cole: How much Spanish do you speak now?

Henry: I picked up on a little bit. Up here—we have some Latin players up here—when they speak kind of slow and soft, I can understand a lot of what they're saying. I just pick up on the big words and kind of put it together.

Cole: You're back in the U.S. now. I know you got to spend some time at home, then I think you went back to Arizona and up to Spokane, where you're pitching now. How are you liking Spokane so far?

Henry: I love it up here. It kind of feels like baseball now—like minor league baseball. You always have this picture of travel and all that, but you don't really get to experience it in Arizona. It took me two years, but I'm finally here and I'm just soaking it all up.

Cole: Your first couple of starts up there have been pretty successful. How do you feel about the way you're throwing?

Henry: I feel good. I've been throwing well. I'm trying to get a first win up here, but you can't help that out all the time. But I'm throwing good. My fastball—I've been able to command it pretty well.

That's one thing I also worked on in the Dominican—just not trying to blow it by people and working on hitting my spots and not throwing the ball up. I've had success with my fastball, which leads to success with the changeup and leads to success with the curveball.

Cole: What were some of the things you were doing in the Dominican to get your velocity back up?

Henry: We were long tossing up to 200 to 250 and some days 300 feet every day. There were probably maybe four days out of the whole two months that I was down there that me and Timmy didn't go past 120 feet. Just long tossing every day. I think that helped out a lot with arm durability and arm strength.

Cole: When you pitched in the AZL last year, how often were you throwing that changeup?

Henry: Rarely. I always had it in the back of my mind, but I never threw it because I guess I didn't have confidence in it.

Cole: How often are you throwing now in starts? Is it something that you're using about once or twice an inning?

Henry: Yeah, about that. My first start, I threw it more than my second. Looking back, I had more success in my first start. It's a learning experience. I'm going to try to start throwing it more. But I was throwing it quite often. I didn't throw my curveball until late in the third inning in my first start, so my first two innings were just strictly fastball-change.

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