Video helps Tatusko fix mechanics

SURPRISE, Ariz. - Looking to gain more consistency and get more out of his 6-foot-5 frame, right-hander Ryan Tatusko went to the video for answers in the offseason. Lone Star Dugout spoke with the pitcher about the changes he made and his first two outings of Spring Training.

During his three years in the Rangers system, right-handed pitcher Ryan Tatusko has gained the reputation of being one of the more inconsistent, up-and-down players in the organization.

This offseason, Tatusko went to the video–as he explains below–to search for explanations.

At times last season, the Indiana State product was flat-out dominant. He took a no-hitter into the ninth inning against the Modesto Nuts. During that mid-season stretch, he posted a 1.22 earned-run average over 44.1 innings, allowing just 27 hits while walking seven and striking out 31.

However, Tatusko also had his share of slip-ups. He coughed up seven earned runs in just two-thirds of an inning in one early-season relief appearance. The next time Tatusko faced Modesto–after the near no-hitter–he allowed nine runs on 13 hits in 4.1 innings.

The end result, through the peaks and valleys, was a 7-6 record and a 4.64 ERA in 120.1 innings. Both the Rangers and Tatusko knew he had more in there, so they worked over the offseason to find flaws in his mechanics.

Tatusko believes they have found the answer, and his early results in Spring Training have been largely positive. After a rough first outing with the Triple-A club, Tatusko struck out all three batters he faced while starting Saturday's Triple-A contest.

In the past, the 24-year-old has worked with an 88-93 mph fastball that had some natural cutting action. The new mechanics have taken away some of that cut, but Tatusko believes they are also allowing him to keep the ball down in the zone more often. He also mixes in a low-80s slider and a changeup.

With the 2010 regular season fast approaching, even the Rangers and Tatusko don't know whether he will open the season as a starting pitcher or as a reliever. Only time will tell. Tatusko is currently fighting for a spot on the Double-A Frisco pitching staff, and he appears to have the upper-hand with the way he is pitching right now.

Jason Cole: You've had two outings with the Triple-A team so far in camp. What are your thoughts?

Ryan Tatusko: My first outing was a little rough. We talked a lot about throwing strikes–Jeff Andrews did and Danny Clark did. The first outing for me went from trying to throw strikes to trying to place the ball. I really didn't trust my stuff. I walked a couple guys and gave up a run. I really wasn't truly happy with it.

After the outing, Andrews just told me to trust my stuff. And that's what I did in my second outing, which the results were a whole lot better. I had a lot more confidence coming into that outing with my fastball and slider. I was really happy with my second outing, and I'm hoping to build on that one.

Cole: So you didn't make any mechanical adjustments between the two outings–it was purely mindset?

Tatusko: Yeah. Between the outings it was just purely mindset. I went from trying to place the ball and throwing strikes to just trusting my stuff and knowing that I could throw strikes.

Cole: Tell me about your offseason and what you did to prepare for this year. Not knowing whether you're going to be a starter or a reliever, does it change the way you prepare at all?

Tatusko: Not really. This season, for me, was really about preparing myself mentally. In Bakersfield, I went out and threw–all three years I went out and did both things. I felt, when I was in Bakersfield, that there was just more in me. I had better stuff than what I was showing in Bakersfield.

So this offseason, I studied a lot of video. Hours and hours of video of myself. I videotaped myself and tried to make some mechanical adjustments. That was what it was all about for me in the offseason.

Cole: What exactly were those mechanical adjustments that you implemented over the offseason?

Tatusko: Staying back. I came to find out that, through video and talking with DC and my pitching coach at home, that my back foot was completely off the ground before I was even releasing the baseball. That was completely taking all of the power out of my legs. I was just throwing strictly arm and shoulder.

Once I found that out, I talked to DC a little bit and talked with the pitching guy back at home. I really worked on just riding out my back side. I never really understood what that meant. Former pitching coordinator Rick Adair would always tell me that, too, and it never really clicked with me until I saw myself on video for the first time. All I really tried implementing was staying on my back side as long as I can and then exploding and not being too quick to the plate.

Cole: How long did it take you–when throwing bullpens or whatever–before it clicked and you were able to do that consistently?

Tatusko: It probably took me a couple of months to do it. Starting out, I'd get really frustrated. I would do it a couple times and then I'd go back to the same habit. I started to kind of feel myself rushing a little bit. I noticed a little bit of zip being taken off on my fastball.

Probably about the end of December or January, I started really getting behind the ball. The ball had a different feeling coming out of my hand starting in late December or early January. Every once in awhile, I'd catch myself rushing a little bit. And even still now, I'll do it every once in awhile, but now I can feel it. That feels wrong now, and staying back and behind the ball feels right. It probably took me a couple months to figure it out.

Cole: At first, when you did it right, did it feel a little weird?

Tatusko: It felt really weird because I've never thrown like that before. It felt that I was leaving all of my power on my back foot and I wasn't transferring through the ball. It felt effortless, and I'm not used to throwing that way. I was always maximum effort while trying to get the ball to the plate. That is kind of how I thought everybody felt throwing. Now everything felt effortless and I felt like I was leaving all my weight behind. Through throwing more and more, I started to feel that this is how you're supposed to throw the ball–this is how you get behind it.

Cole: You've told me that the mechanical changes took away some of your fastball's natural cut. But do you feel that there's a little more behind it and you have more command of it now?

Tatusko: Yeah, I'd say that. It did take away the cut of it, but seeing my last two outings–and even my live tracking and BP–I've thrown the ball down in the zone a lot more than I used to. Last year in Bakersfield, and even in Clinton, I'd get hurt when I got tired and I would leave the ball up in the zone.

I'd get hurt in the fifth and sixth innings, and I could never figure out why I could go four innings really well and then just struggle in the fifth and sixth. Come to find out, I was just rushing and leaving the ball up in the zone. But now that I'm staying back, my arm is working and I'm on top of the ball. I'm pitching more down in the zone–even my misses are down–so I'm really happy about that.

Cole: Going back to studying the video for a second, when you started looking at it, did you know that you were going to find something? Were you looking for anything in particular?

Tatusko: It was more that I just wanted to see if something was wrong. It just didn't feel like I was getting enough out of my body. I talked to DC and some pitching coaches, and everybody said that there was more in there. I felt like, even myself, there was more in there. When I was younger–probably my sophomore year in college–I was 91-94. And then all the sudden I dipped. And I couldn't figure out why.

I knew there was something in there, so I had to go to the video just to see if there was something there. And one day I was sitting down with a pitching coach back at home named Jay Lehr, and he found it. He called me up one night and said, ‘Hey, tomorrow morning, I want to show you something.' He was the one that originally showed me. We went back to previous videos of me and I found the same thing happening in every single video. He really, truly found it for me. It clicked.

Cole: Was it just kind of a bad habit that you grew into during college and you had never really noticed you did it?

Tatusko: Yeah, I think so. I think that I was so worried about getting the ball to the plate. In college ball, they really emphasize being quick to the plate. I think, for me, that meant rushing and not staying behind the ball. I think just hearing, ‘Be quick to the plate, be quick to the plate,' really for me meant, ‘Rush and get forward.' I think through continuous repetition, I developed a really bad habit.

Cole: You're a guy that is competing for a spot on the Double-A pitching staff. Obviously it's really competitive out here. How much does that motivate you during Spring Training, and does it put any pressure on you to perform even in these outings?

Tatusko: I think it does. There aren't as many bodies out here as last year, but the talent level is raised immensely this year. It does put a little pressure on yourself, too. But also, in Spring Training, you start to realize what you're made of. If you can respond to the talent and competition here in the three short weeks that you've got here, I think it can really set you up and help you when you're in a game and in clutch situations.

But it's definitely competitive. There are a lot of guys going for Double-A spots. A lot of guys with some time already in Double-A. And a lot of guys in Bakersfield did very well. Reed did really well, Falcon is very deserving, myself, Bleier threw really well coming up from Hickory. Roark was a perfect 10-0. So there are a lot of guys competing for spots, and you really have to do things to make yourself shine and put some pressure on yourself a little bit.

Cole: I know you really focused on your changeup late in the year in Bakersfield last season. Have the mechanical changes done anything to your change?

Tatusko: It's got a little more movement to it. I struggled to find a grip that didn't cut, because everything was cutting on me. I think that had to do with a little bit of me rushing forward. But now my changeup has become an alright pitch. It's not going to be my second pitch to my slider. My slider is going to be my second pitch.

But it's a pitch I have more confidence in now because I have a better feel of where it's going, and it's not running the length of the plate on me like my fastball. The mechanical changes I made really made me have a lot more confidence in it. My first outing, I actually threw a 2-2 changeup to a guy and struck him out, so that just boosted my confidence immensely with that pitch.

Cole: Since your pitches are moving differently now, how long did it take to get used to commanding your new stuff that doesn't cut as much?

Tatusko: That was the thing–with a cutting fastball, I was almost aiming at an imaginary target. If a catcher was setup inside, I would try to throw it down the middle and let it run in. So it took me probably a few bullpen sessions in the offseason to really shift my focus and just pay attention to where the glove is and really try to hit my spot, because I never did that before.

I'd pay attention to an area of where I wanted to throw the ball and then let the ball run there. It took me quite a few bullpen sessions of missing pretty badly before I started honing it in. I think, overall, it came a lot quicker than I thought it was going to.

Cole: Talk about going between starting and relieving. How difficult is that, and after three years of doing it, how adjusted to you are it?

Tatusko: In Clinton, it got a little bit frustrating for me because I flopped back and forth a lot. I would make two starts, go in the pen, make two starts, then go back in the pen. That got really frustrating for me. But last year, after the All-Star break and when Main went down, they stuck me solely as a starter. It got a little bit easier because I didn't go back into the bullpen last year.

But I'm almost kind of used to it now. I always kind of joke around with DC and tell him that I'm going to create a new position called utility pitcher. I'm going to go to the Major League and make 10 starts and 15 relief appearances and have two saves.

It's something that I embrace and I think it does nothing but help me in the long run. God forbid, if things don't work out here and I have to find a job elsewhere, I have the best of both worlds. And I've proven to the organization here, too, that maybe if they need a reliever to call up, I'm that guy. A swingman to call up–I'm that guy. I think the more general I can leave myself with the organization and leave myself as many options as I can, the better I'm going to be.

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