Laughter relying on sinker

SAN ANTONIO, Texas - Reliever Andrew Laughter returned to Double-A Frisco on Friday night after missing over two months with a finger injury. Lone Star Dugout spoke with the pitcher about his injury and his recent adjustments on the mound.

Although Andrew Laughter has been at Double-A Frisco for two seasons, he has only played two full seasons of professional baseball.

Unfortunately, Laughter recently missed over two months of this season after suffering a finger injury on June 11th in San Antonio.

After a fairly long rehab process, Laughter re-joined the RoughRiders in San Antonio on Friday evening, and he appeared in his first game that night.

Laughter struggled results-wise, giving up three runs on three hits and a walk in 1.2 innings, but he wasn't quite as bad as his line. The right-hander flashed an 88-92 mph sinking fastball and a hard 82-84 mph slider. He mixed in one changeup.

Last season, the Louisiana-Lafayette product used more of his four-seam fastball for a power fastball-slider combination. Though his four-seam velocity is a tick higher—sitting between 90-95 mph—he was often falling behind in counts and throwing lots of pitches.

This season, as Laughter discusses in the following interview, he has begun relying more on the 88-92 mph sinking fastball. For the most part, the sinker has allowed Laughter to get ahead in the count with regularity, throw fewer pitches, and be more successful in general.

The change has transformed Laughter's game on the mound. The 24-year-old is getting 2.44 groundouts per flyout in 36.0 innings with Frisco this season. But he also has more walks [16] than strikeouts [13].

If Laughter can harness the command of his sharp slider, he has the ability to become a ground ball pitcher with a legitimate strikeout pitch, but he has had difficulty commanding the slider with consistency over the last two seasons.

The 2010 campaign will likely be a big one for the 6-foot-4 hurler. Laughter has all the necessary tools to break out and make a push for the Rangers' bullpen, but he has yet to consistently put it together.

Lone Star Dugout sat down with Laughter prior to Friday evening's game in San Antonio.

Jason Cole: What exactly was the injury that kept you out for two months?

Andrew Laughter: It was a strained ligament in my middle finger in my pitching hand—a pulled ligament.

Cole: Do you know how you got that?

Laughter: No. It was actually throwing here. I came in and after an inning, I felt my finger swelling up. It was just nagging me for awhile. But I kept throwing through it because I could pitch. It finally just popped, so it shut me down for a little while.

Cole: How long had that been bothering you?

Laughter: A week or week and a half.

Cole: So it was a couple of outings?

Laughter: Yeah. I probably threw five innings—five quality innings with it bothering me, so I was just going to continue to throw. I thought it was just one of those nagging injuries.

Cole: Did you have to have any sort of surgery on the finger at all?

Laughter: No. No surgery. I just rested it. It was about five or six weeks that we waited with no throwing. Then I started the throwing program.

Cole: Did you get to go home for a little while too?

Laughter: Yeah, I did get to go home for about two weeks. It was from Frisco to home and then home to Arizona.

Cole: How was that, to go home in the middle of the season?

Laughter: It was weird because I've never been home for a summer. I'm always playing baseball and everything. It was kind of weird. But I really wasn't home that much because I was with my family and everything.

And I had to rest my finger, so I wasn't really able to do a whole lot of stuff. But it was definitely weird being away from the team and everything. That's kind of what you're used to doing every day.

Cole: When you went out to Arizona, were you able to start throwing right away?

Laughter: No. I had to wait three or four weeks before we could finally pick up a ball and start throwing.

Cole: How does your finger feel now?

Laughter: It feels good now. There is no pain. Still a little bit of swelling, but it's fine. My finger is 100 percent and everything is good.

Cole: Talk about your two rehab outings out in Arizona. How did you feel those went for you?

Laughter: They felt good. I was throwing the ball where I wanted to. My first outing, I just wanted to go out there and work on my fastball command and location. It was good, I was throwing a lot of strikes and getting ground balls. The second outing—same thing. Just throwing a lot of strikes and getting a lot of ground balls.

Cole: Before the injury, how did you feel your season with Frisco was going?

Laughter: Well, my first month was not very good at all. It was definitely a rough first month. And then I picked it up a little bit in the second and third months. I started throwing real well and I was happy with the way things were going. And then I got hurt.

Cole: I noticed that your last month or so, it seemed like you were a different pitcher by the numbers. Your ground balls were way up. Did you make any changes?

Laughter: We just went to the sinker a lot. It was one of those things where it worked one outing and we just continued doing it. We just kept working the sinker a lot. I was just getting a lot of success and a lot of ground balls with it, so we just kept doing that.

Cole: You started working on the sinker when you got to Spokane in 2007. But had you ever relied on it much before this year?

Laughter: No, definitely not as much as this year. The years before, I was more of the power four-seam. But this year, the sinker—we're getting a lot of quick outs and a lot of ground balls, so that's what we went to.

Cole: So you're using more sinkers than four seamers?

Laughter: Probably about half and half. It depends what kind of hitter is up and what the situation is.

Cole: Was that changing you as a pitcher to where you weren't going as deep into counts?

Laughter: Yeah. Definitely. I was getting three or four pitches per batter. A lot of early contact. But even if you do happen to fall behind in the count, you can throw the sinker down in the zone and get your ground ball.

Cole: Is that something you plan on continue doing now that you're back with Frisco?

Laughter: I'm definitely going to keep incorporating it in there because it works. As long as the coaches like it, the organization likes it, and the catcher likes it, I'm going to throw it.

Cole: Whose idea was it to start throwing the sinker more often?

Laughter: It was kind of just me and Pina. One day we threw it, and it was good. The hitters from the other team were telling him that it was a real good sinker. And he liked it a lot—he liked the way it worked. I liked the results, so that's pretty much what we went with.

Cole: How difficult is it to come back this late in the season and come right into a playoff race?

Laughter: It's tough, but this is what I worked for. When I first got hurt, there was a probability that I wasn't going to be able to come back and pitch at all this year. I wasn't real happy about that, so I just pretty much worked as hard as I could to get back here. My goal was to get back before the end of the season was over with and get some more innings. That's what happened, so now I'm real happy about where it's at.

Cole: After logging 61.1 innings last season, you've only got 39 innings this season. Are you going to continue pitching anywhere after this season or are you just going to shut it down?

Laughter: Probably just shut it down. I think with the finger and everything, they didn't want to have me do anything this offseason.

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