Scheppers focuses on development

METAIRIE, La. – Fireballing prospect Tanner Scheppers recently moved into the starting rotation at Triple-A Oklahoma City, and he is focusing on developing his entire arsenal. Lone Star Dugout interviews the right-hander while taking a look at his recent start against New Orleans.

Statistically, Tanner Scheppers had his weakest outing of the season on May 23 at New Orleans, but for now, the focus is more about long-term development than immediate results.

The 6-foot-4, 200-pound hurler has two dominant pitches in his fastball and curveball, and he'll also mix in the occasional hard slider. But despite his polish, Scheppers has never really had an effective changeup.

When the Rangers moved Scheppers to the starting rotation during the second week of June, it was with the expectation that he would throw more pitches, allowing him to refine the offspeed pitch in game situations.

In the start against the Zephyrs, Scheppers surrendered a season-high four runs on a season-high six hits over four innings, walking zero and striking out six.

Velocity certainly wasn't an issue for the right-hander, as he held at 95-98 mph throughout the 64-pitch outing.

Though Scheppers didn't walk a batter, he sometimes runs into fastball command issues, falling behind in counts or working a bit too high in the zone. When he can command his fastball down, the pitch has some heavy, late movement in addition to the plus velocity.

Scheppers got four of his six punchouts on the fastball––all swinging––and 11 of his 45 fastballs thrown resulted in swings and misses.

The 23-year-old also flashed his 79-83 mph curveball, a definite plus pitch with hard, late two-plane break. He threw 10 breaking balls in the game, getting two strikeouts, including five called strikes and a groundout.

But the biggest development for Scheppers has been his changeup.

As the California native mentions below, he recently began working with a new grip, and he is finding some comfort with the pitch.

In the past––including earlier in the season––Scheppers has never shown much feel for a changeup, often struggling to even place the pitch near the strike zone. But with the new grip, he threw five of nine for strikes on Wednesday.

Though his changeup was hit around––he got two called strikes and a foul ball, but also gave up a double and a home run when the pitch elevated up in the zone––he was at least able to get it over the plate.

The upper-80s changeup was inconsistent. Sometimes it had armside fade, and sometimes it had some cut. But Scheppers showed at least some feel for the pitch, a definite upgrade from past grips that he had worked with.

Clearly only time will tell whether Scheppers is able to continue to improve and develop his changeup into at least an average big league offering, but the results from Wednesday's start were a step in the right direction.

Lone Star Dugout caught up with the fireballing prospect after the game.

Jason Cole: What were your thoughts on your start against New Orleans?

Tanner Scheppers: Results-wise, it doesn't look very good. But I think I accomplished a lot. I threw a lot of changeups for strikes for the first time. It's a pitch that I've been really working on. I'm just using it in sticky situations, really. There were a few hits here and there, but for the most part, I felt like it was an overall good outing and a good learning experience.

Cole: It seemed like you were throwing more changeups than you have in the past. Are you kind of forcing yourself to use it in those tough situations?

Scheppers: Yeah, it's definitely just learning how to use the pitch. There are different hitters up here, and every level you go up, it's going to be a little bit different. I've just been kind of tweaking it and trying to get a little more movement. I'm trying to slow it down a little bit more. It's a learning process.

Cole: Like you said, this was the most you've thrown it for strikes. How much confidence are you gaining in the change?

Scheppers: Just after seeing a couple of the swings and being able to see when I can use it––it's definitely a plus. It's just a matter of going out there and doing it. I felt like I got a lot better out of the outing, and hopefully the results will turn around.

Cole: You mentioned that you've been tweaking the changeup. Are you using a new grip?

Scheppers: I've just been changing grips, trying to get more comfortable and be able to be more consistent with it. I feel like now that I've found a comfortable grip that I'm going to stick with for awhile, and I can throw it for strikes. Now it's time to keep the ball down a little bit more.

Cole: What is the grip that you're working with right now?

Scheppers: It's just kind of like a split-change, but it's not really. I kind of turn it over like a circle change. I just kind of mess around and see how it feels that day.

Cole: Have you ever used a grip like that in the past?

Scheppers: No, but it's a lot like my fastball grip, so I feel that it's a lot easier. It's a little more consistent and it's a little bit slower, so that is nice to have.

Cole: You mentioned that you were slowly bringing along your slider in Spring Training, but you haven't seemed to use it much lately. Are you still throwing it very often?

Scheppers: I'm not using it as much as possible, but as game situations go on and I'm trying to put away guys, you'll see that pitch come out a little bit more.

Cole: Tell me about the transition to starting. Did you always know that you'd be stretched into a starter at some point this year?

Scheppers: They've had a plan from the beginning. There was always a plan that, about this time, I'd start starting. It's just great to get out there and get a couple starts under my belt. Hopefully now that I'm here I can eventually get stretched out a little bit more.

Cole: You were usually going multiple innings as a reliever, but are you attacking hitters or gameplanning differently now that you're a starter?

Scheppers: It's basically the same thing––you've just got to go out there and get the outs. You focus on one out at a time, one pitch at a time. My philosophy is to attack the hitters as much as possible, so that's what I want to go out there and do.

Cole: You threw 64 pitches against the Zephyrs. Was that the most you've thrown this season?

Scheppers: No, the start before that, I think I threw 75 or 76. That was the most.

Cole: Are you expecting your pitch count to stay around there, or is it going to be bumped up later in the year?

Scheppers: I think for the plan they've got, my next couple outings will be right around 60 or so. It's no more than four innings, so however many pitches I can throw in four innings. I don't think it'll be above 75––I think that was my limit when I got taken out last time in Nashville. I think that's the limit for right now, but next month, I think I'm just moving up a little bit more.

Cole: Getting into the throwing program and in your first professional season, how is your arm feeling?

Scheppers: Everything feels great. I haven't had any problems––no problems.

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