Entering the 2010 season, right-hander Ryan Tatusko's career was defined by inconsistency.
Tatusko had shown flashes of excellence in each of his three previous professional seasons. With High-A Bakersfield last summer, he narrowly missed a no-hitter during a stretch that included a 1.22 earned-run average over 44.1 innings. Yet he finished the season with a 4.64 ERA.
The 25-year-old appears to be figuring it out with Double-A Frisco this season, posting a 9-2 record with a 2.97 ERA in 100 innings. He has yielded 94 hits while walking 40 and striking out 58.
Tatusko has excelled by keeping the ball on the ground and in the park in a somewhat homer-friendly Texas League, surrendering just two home runs in those 100 innings. The second-highest innings total for a pitcher with two home runs allowed is San Antonio's Cory Luebke with 56.1.
Another key to Tatusko's success is his fastball velocity, which has jumped into the 90-93 mph range this season, touching 94-95 on occasion. He misses barrels and induces ground balls with the help of some natural cut on the good four-seamer.
Though the Indiana State product has been a two-pitch pitcher for most of his career, he is searching for a reliable third offering.
As Tatusko explains below, he has struggled to find a consistent changeup and recently began giving hitters two different looks with his breaking ball. He features a 79-82 mph curve with more north-to-south break to go along with a mid-80s breaker with more side-to-side movement.
Lone Star Dugout caught up with the prospect after a recent start against the San Antonio Missions.
Jason Cole: What are your thoughts on your first year in Double-A so far?
Ryan Tatusko: I think it has gone extremely well. I think, by far, this is my best year––not only numbers-wise but I also have a lot more confidence in everything I'm doing now. I think that has to come a little bit with the success that I'm having on the mound. The more success that I have, the more I believe in my stuff and the better I'm able to perform out there for the team.
I think overall, this has been the year that I've learned the most about myself. I've learned about pitching––being able to get out of jams, being able to throw different pitches in different counts and still continue to have the success that I've had. I think this year has been incredible for me not only from a mentality standpoint but from being able to get outs in crucial situations.
Cole: This has been the most consistent you've been. In the past, you always had those flashes of success but then would have a string of bad outings after it. What has been the key to mostly eliminating that?
Tatusko: Jeff [Andrews] has really been the key. He was really big––after that Midland start where I gave up eight runs, he kind of got into me a little bit. And he really opened up my eyes that I should consider four runs a bad outing for me. If I can do that, that's going to knock down the five, six, seven or eight runs that constantly hurt me. And I still give my team a chance to win.
The one thing he constantly reiterates to me is to understand why you're successful. I think that has been a big thing for me. In the past, I've had success, but I think a lot of it was thinking, ‘Oh, I had success today so I must have had a good day.' And I didn't realize that I was doing certain things in the game to have that success. He sat down and talked with me multiple times, saying, ‘Why do you think you've had success? What have you been doing in the games to have success?'
We were just constantly building on that. It has helped me really understand my game plan. I think I have a lot better game plan this year than I have in years past. I think that has really helped with my consistency.
Cole: You've been in the rotation for most of the season at this point. How much has that helped, getting in a routine and going out there every fifth day?
Tatusko: It helps me tremendously. I'm a big creature of habit with when I'm pitching. In past interviews, I've said that I like being in the rotation. I think I can give my team a chance to win by going out there for five, six, or seven innings.
It's really tailored to what I've been able to do in the off days––maybe I'm sore a certain day or things like that. I've really felt like my body has bounced back extremely well throughout the year. I'm approaching 100 innings with about a month to go in the season, but I still feel very strong.
Cole: I noticed that some of your breaking balls were like a 79-82 mph curveball and others were kind of a mid-80s slider-cutter hybrid. Are those two separate pitches?
Tatusko: That's Jeff––we started talking about that. Obviously I've had problems in the past with throwing a changeup. We started brainstorming about a third pitch, knowing that I needed a third pitch to be successful. We know that I can't go out there consistently with just two pitches.
He asked me if I was able to throw my breaking ball two different ways––almost kind of like a Bronson Arroyo, where he is able to change speeds and change plane. We just started messing around with it one day during a bullpen.
I was able to find out that if I can get more on top of it, it almost turns into a curveball. And then I'm able to not really get on the side of it, but almost morph it into somewhat of a slurve or a slider. That was really him and I just brainstorming and trying to find a third pitch for me. I essentially made one pitch into two until I'm able to get more consistency with my changeup.
Cole: How long have you been doing that?
Tatusko: I've been doing it for about three starts now. I have been throwing it more and more. I'll throw the more slurvish breaking ball to right-handers––something that's breaking away from them. When I'm not quite confident to throw a backfoot slider or things like that, just a breaking ball.
Obviously with my fastball cutting, I need to give hitters a different look. I'm really working on getting my fingers on top of the ball and getting a little more curveball action so not everything is tailing from right to left the entire game. I have to keep them from sitting on it.
Cole: But you're still throwing a changeup as well, right?
Tatusko: Yeah. Tonight I used it sparingly. I'm just trying to gain confidence in it. That's pretty much what all my bullpens have been catered to––fastball, changeup. I've been trying to get it down. It's not so much the grip, but it's just confidence in it. My biggest key is that I want to push it real bad.
Tonight I threw a couple great ones. I think it's just going to take me seeing it in the game and knowing that I can throw it to hitters. I got Clark to pop out on an 0-0 changeup. I got Chalk to swing over one later on in the game.
I think the more I throw it in the game and the more I see hitters grounding out weakly or popping the ball up, then I think that's going to help me tremendously with the confidence.
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