RC Interview with Billy Buckner

On Tuesday evening, High Desert's Billy Buckner pitched in the Carolina/California League All-Star Game in Salem, VA. Prior to the game, Buckner spoke with RC about the 2006 season, and about what he's working on to become a better pitcher.

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Royals Corner: Billy, how do you feel about how the season's going so far?

Billy Buckner: I'm pleased. We've got a great group of guys on this team, and it's been fun all around, on and off the field. We're starting to win a lot and feel comfortable with each other. It's been good.

RC: What was your off-season routine this year?

BB: I spent a lot of time working out. I had a personal trainer and worked out with a couple of big leaguers from around Atlanta. I did a lot of throwing to get my arm and my body in shape, and I ran a lot. Basically I dedicated my entire off-season to baseball.

RC: What pitches are you working on this season? Are you focusing on improving any pitch in particular?

BB: Well, I'm definitely working on all of them, but I'm focused on my change-up a lot this season, just because I basically started using it the last couple of years, and I don't feel as comfortable with it as I do with my other pitches. At the same time I'm working on my fastball command and being able to locate my curveball.

RC: We've heard all about your excellent knuckle curveball. How would you describe that pitch?

BB: It's erratic at times, but it's my power pitch, my out pitch. I use it in all different counts now. It used to just be a two-strike pitch, but I wanted to learn how to locate it for early in the count. Early in the count, I can throw it for strikes and get people to chase it later in the count. I'm using it two separate ways now.

RC: With your repertoire, which current Major Leaguer would you compare yourself to?

BB: Oh man, I have no idea…I guess someone with a power curveball.

RC: You did fairly well last season, but you struggled at times. This year you've been very solid. To what do you attribute the difference this season?

BB: I think just learning how to pitch. Last year I was up and down, up and down, and with each outing, you never knew what you were going to get. This year I've been more consistently throwing strikes and making batters hit my pitch. I guess it's just more learning the game and setting hitters up. And also when you face a lot of guys more often you start to learn their weaknesses and know how to pitch to them.

RC: What aspect of your game do you feel needs the most work right now? Is it still your change-up, or your location, or something else?

BB: I guess both. You can always get better with your location. But yeah, my change-up – I don't feel as comfortable with it, but I'm definitely gaining more confidence with it every outing.

RC: Have the Royals given you any idea of when you might be headed to Double-A Wichita?

BB: No, they haven't. I'm just playing where they have me and when I'm ready, they'll take the step and move me up.

RC: We have a message board community on Scout.com, and I solicited some questions to ask you from the readers, promising to pick out the best one. Anyhow, one reader wants to know how the altitude of High Desert and the California League in general has affected the way you pitch?

BB: Honestly I don't know, because it's been so long since I pitched anywhere else. This is what I've gotten used to and I think it's helped me out in so many ways. Pitching in the entire league – especially High Desert – you have to keep the ball down and use good sink and try to get more ground balls than fly balls.

Every fly ball really can go out and at any time you can give up big innings and that's what makes it difficult. You've got to stay out of the big inning. When you have runners on, that's when you have to make your best pitches, especially at that park, and that's really been the main thing I've focused on. When I do have runners on, I try to make them hit the next pitch into the ground and try to get the double play. Keep those guys off base or else you really can get in trouble with big innings.

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