Tatusko flirts with no-hitter

Bakersfield right-hander Ryan Tatusko took a no-hitter into the ninth inning on Wednesday evening. He ended up yielding one hit in nine scorleless innings, walking three and striking out seven. Lone Star Dugout chatted with him after the game.

Over the last three seasons, Ryan Tatusko has been flat-out dominant at times. He's also gone through his share of rough patches.

Tatusko got his season off to a solid start in April by surrendering just one run in 7.2 innings over his first three relief appearances.

Things took a turn for the worse on April 25, when Tatusko coughed up seven earned runs on five hits and two walks in just two-thirds of an inning. After the outing, his previously sparkling earned-run average ballooned to 9.82.

The Indiana State product had another couple of rough outings before he began to hit his stride again. After a handful of strong relief appearances, Tatusko was placed in the Bakersfield starting rotation on June 13, and he's been nearly unhittable ever since.

On Wednesday night, the 24-year-old was just that—nearly unhittable. Tatusko took a no-hitter into the ninth inning against the Modesto Nuts—the same team that tagged him for seven runs in late April.

Tatusko gave up a one-out single in the ninth, but he ended up hurling a complete game, one-hit shutout, walking three and striking out seven.

Over his last eight outings—spanning 37.2 innings—Tatusko has surrendered just five earned runs on 21 hits, walking seven and striking out 28.

The right-hander appears to be working his way onto the Rangers' prospect radar. His fastball, which has some natural cut, sits between 90-93 mph, bumping 94 at times. He also offers a hard curveball that works around 78-80. When Tatusko starts, he flashes an occasional changeup.

Lone Star Dugout caught up with Tatusko after his phenomenal outing on Thursday night.

Jason Cole: I guess let's start from the end. Looking back on it, are you more happy that you threw a one-hitter or more frustrated that you didn't get the no-no?

Ryan Tatusko: I've never thrown a no-hitter before, so I've never really known what that's like. Coming into the ninth inning, I told [Jose] Felix that if they're going to beat me, they're going to beat me with a fastball. I wasn't going to let them beat me with the curveball. I wasn't going to let them beat me with the changeup. It was a good pitch. It was just one of those things where I made a good pitch and he put wood on it. It was a solid hit, and that's baseball. He just did his job better one time.

Cole: Can you take me through that at-bat a little bit?

Tatusko: Starting off in the ninth, they had the leadoff hitter and we just went straight at him. We threw three fastballs and struck him out on the outside corner of the plate. That's when the nerves kicked in to me a little bit. I kind of started realizing the magnitude of what I was doing.

Then when the two-hole batter came up, we came right at him with a fastball that was a little up, so it was 1-0. Then I came at him with a fastball again and he fouled it off, making it 1-1. Jose Felix called for an outside fastball, and the ball stayed up a little bit and it cut. He just put it right back up the middle on me. It was a solid, clean base hit. Nothing that the infielders could do.

Cole: Around the first and second inning, how good was your stuff? Was it the best you'd had all season?

Tatusko: I wouldn't say it's the best I've had this year, but going into the later innings, I didn't feel as tired as I did. It's one of those things where I'm sure the adrenaline that was going certainly helped it. I actually threw some of my harder fastballs in the eighth and ninth innings to get everything going.

But overall, I wouldn't say that I felt better than any other day. It's just that I was locating a whole heck of a lot better and I noticed that the hitters weren't making any adjustments. I just lived on the outside corner of the plate all day.

Cole: How many pitches did you throw?

Tatusko: 114.

Cole: I doubt you've been up that high at all in your professional career. Did you feel tired at any point? How's your arm feeling?

Tatusko: Not really. Like I said, I'm sure the situation helped out a lot. Here in probably about 20-25 minutes I'm sure I'm going to be as sure as all get out. At least by next morning. My last start I went 93, but once you start hitting that 100 pitch mark and get into the eighth and ninth inning, that's when the fatigue really hits you.

Cole: At what point did you know you could get the no-hitter and was it in your mind the rest of the game?

Tatusko: In the third inning. It wasn't really in my mind because I knew I had such a long way to go to get where I needed. But as the innings progressed, I started thinking about it a little bit more. I knew my biggest test was going to be the eighth inning.

The ninth inning, the hitters get a little more nervous than I was. The pressure was on them to get the base hit, whereas I just had to make good pitches. They might be swinging and things like that. I kind of realized during the ninth inning—my mind was starting to wander a little bit. I was calling on [Elio] Sarmiento to just talk to me and get my mind off of it. Like I said, nobody wanted anything to do with me. So I just kind of sat there and festered on it a little bit.

Cole: Being in the Cal League and especially in Modesto, you probably didn't have the largest crowd there. When they did finally break up the no-hitter, did the fans give you a bit of an ovation?

Tatusko: It was more of an ovation for him getting the hit. He rounded first base and it kind of lasted a little bit longer. Especially after the game, I had a lot of their fans come up and tell me that it was one of the better baseball games that they've seen played at the stadium. No matter what pitcher does it, they were happy to see a great baseball game.

Cole: Talk about this transition into starting. You worked out of the bullpen to start the year, and now you've been in the starting rotation. You did the same thing last year. Ever since you began starting again this year, you've pitched extremely well. What allows you to make such a smooth transition?

Tatusko: It's one of those things where I felt comfortable starting. Ever since I've been pitching—in college I was a starter. I hardly ever came out of the bullpen, except in certain situations. So it's always something I've felt a comfort level with. No matter when I'm put in it, it just feels like an old habit again. I'm able to get myself right back in the groove.

Cole: You've also been relieving quite a bit this year. Do you feel more comfortable in one particular role?

Tatusko: I think I'm more comfortable starting, but it's to the point where I want to have success no matter what I do. I want to show the Rangers that I can have success no matter what role they put me in. That way, when they're making moves for roster spots or cutting people, I can almost be considered a utility pitcher. No matter if they need a spot starter, a long reliever, or a short reliever—no matter what guy they need—I can almost mold myself into that role.

Cole: You had the great ERA in June, and obviously your July is off to a pretty decent start. That one outing is pretty much the only thing that is burning you numbers-wise, and your ERA is still down to 3.06. What was the key to getting it turned around after that rough stretch?

Tatusko: It was me going on the DL and Chav [Dave Chavarria] really working on my mechanics. There were some things—I was really coming around on the side of the ball. My ball was flattening out. As a matter of fact, my worst outing was against Modesto, when they tagged me up for seven runs.

He really saw that I was coming around the ball, and we really focused on me staying tall and staying on top of the ball, which was giving me more downward plane on my baseball. It was also letting it move a whole lot more. We really worked on the two bullpen sessions—just staying on top of the ball and letting it go instead of trying to over-muscle everything.

Cole: Did you have that seven-run outing against Modesto in your mind at all tonight?

Tatusko: Not really at all today. But when I sat down and thought about it, I realized that outing was against them and it was sweet redemption for me because I completely flipped the tables on them. I had the worst outing of my career against them, and I've also had the best outing of my career against them.

Cole: From looking at the numbers, your groundout-to-flyout rate is over 2:1 and almost double what it was last year. Do you have any clue what is leading to that?

Tatusko: Like I said, staying on top of the ball. I have real good cut action on my fastball when I stay on top of it. I'm finding that a lot of times, hitters are diving at the ball, and a lot of times they think the fastball is going to be straight. With a four-seamer that cuts at the last minute, I get a lot of rollovers mostly working down plane on my fastball. It's getting a lot of rollovers here.

I guess I'm concentrating on it a little more because I know how hitter-friendly Cal League parks are. It's a constant thought in my mind every time I go out there. I want to keep the ball on the ground because any ball here that is hit in the air pretty much flies out of the ballpark.

Cole: Another thing is that righties are hitting just .165 off you this year. Is that because the cutter is jamming them in?

Tatusko: I think so. It's jamming them and it's also running away from them a lot. When Chief [Jose Felix] is setting up on the outside corner of the plate, the ball is running a lot. I've found that a lot of hitters like to dive after the ball. Even if they don't, the ball is still running away from them, so I'm getting a whole lot of rollovers.

Cole: I know I've asked this before, but I can't remember. You don't throw the changeup much when you're relieving, right?

Tatusko: No, not really at all.

Cole: Have you been throwing it while starting?

Tatusko: It's mostly a show pitch for me. Just to show the hitters that I can throw it. Tonight, I only threw three of them. But it was mostly to lefties just to put that in the back of their mind. That, ‘Hey, I can throw this pitch. I will throw this pitch.' All three changeups that I threw were in hitter's counts, just to get them leaning and get them thinking that I do have a third pitch and then I came right back at them with a fastball.

Cole: You've called your breaking ball a curveball this year. Didn't you call it a slider last year?

Tatusko: Yeah, it was a slider. But now that I'm staying on top of the ball, DC [Danny Clark] re-named it to a curveball.

Cole: So does it have the same action as it did last year?

Tatusko: Yeah.

Cole: Can you talk about how good the breaking ball was for you tonight?

Tatusko: I threw a lot of them. Tim Murphy said I threw about 40 curveballs. Today was one of those things where it worked for me. I got a lot of pretty bad swings and misses on it. It was one of those things where if it's not broke, then don't fix it.

I wasn't going to go to my fastball until later on in the innings when I needed that strike three. I pretty much pitched backwards almost the entire game. I would go curveball for strike one and strike two and then use the fastball. It seemed to work pretty well for me.

Kind of towards later innings, my elbow would drag through the zone and my curveball would get pretty flat so I started relying more on my fastball. But overall today, especially in the early innings, Modesto is a pretty aggressive team that likes to jump on the first pitch. Knowing that, I stuck offspeed early and really kept them on their toes.

Cole: Now that you've completely turned it around in Bakersfield, are you looking forward to a promotion to Double-A?

Tatusko: It's one of those things where they told us that we have to force their hand. That's the mentality that I'm dealing with. I understand that the Rangers are stacked with pitching. The only thing I want to do is force them to take a look at me when they're thinking about promoting guys. You have to make yourself noticed out there—especially with as deep an organization as the Rangers are. As long as I continue to put up good numbers, then hopefully, eventually, I'll get my shot at it. If I don't, then I'll just have to keep pitching the way that I did.

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