Whitecaps Q&A: Hill, Jimenez, Shepherd & More

TigsTown staff writer Chris Brown recently spent some time with the West Michigan Whitecaps. He spoke to relievers Joe Jimenez and Gabe Hemmer, infielders Joey Pankake and Zach Shepherd, and outfielder Derek Hill to get their thoughts on the young season, the chilly weather, and unusual foodstuffs.

TigsTown: How is the season going so far?

Joe Jimenez: Pretty good. I’ve been good. I had a week off because my back, but pitched yesterday (April 30) and felt good.

Gabe Hemmer: It’s going good. I’m liking being out here in West Michigan. It’s something different. I never thought I’d see this part of the United States, so it’s real fun to be out here.

Derek Hill: We’re not playing to our potential, at all. We definitely should be winning a lot more of these close games. I feel like we’re just getting a little bit lackadaisical at the end of them, and just letting them slip away by little minor mistakes. But, I think we’ll be able to pull it together and pick it up, and play more as a team. I feel good, I’m starting to finally hit my stride, swing the bat like I want to. Obviously the defensive side could be a bit better. You can always be a little bit better, and for the most part I feel pretty comfortable.

Joey Pankake: It’s been good. We’re not playing as good as we can. We’re not getting the hits when we need to get em, sometimes, and that’s kind of hurt us a little bit, but I think we’re gonna put it together here pretty soon.

TigsTown: How do you feel about tonight’s game (6-5 loss on May 1st)?

Hill: It’s a little bit of a disappointment, always, when you lose, but, we fought hard and we didn’t give up. We picked our pitcher up. Everybody has rough games, but we hopped on his back and picked him up. But at the end we came up a little bit short.

Pankake: It sucks to lose those close ones, but, we showed that we could play late in the game. We kept hitting the ball, and stuff started to fall our way after they got off to a hot start. Our bullpen was great. Paul (Voelker) pitched really, really well. So, that was good. It’s very encouraging to see us put up runs late in the game when we’re down, to stay in the game.

How are you adjusting to life here?

Jimenez: I mean, the weather is cold here. I’ve never been this cold. Where I’m from it’s always hot, it’s in Puerto Rico. I feel good being here, staying here.

Hemmer: I was born in Los Angeles and then moved to Arizona when I was about five, so I’ve been on the West Coast the whole time. I stay in San Diego in the offseason, so it’s kind of colder, but nothing compared to this.

Zach Shepherd: It’s better now that it’s a bit warmer. I mean, at the start of the year, that’s the coldest weather I’ve ever lived in, let alone played in.

TigsTown: Is there anything in particular the organization wants to you work on?

Jimenez: They want me to work on the command of my fastball and throw the slider for strikes, and that would be it. They say that I’m good, I’m pretty good at throwing strikes and everything, they just want me to work on it.

Hemmer: Not too much. They’ve been letting us have our freedom a little bit. The thing with MJ (Pitching Coach Mark Johnson) he kind of talks to you, but doesn’t really tell you what to do, or what we need to force ourselves to work on. But he teaches us a lot, and I know to move up I’ll need to work on the changeup.

Hill: As an organization, they just want me to be aggressive, on the basepaths and at the plate. They just want me to stay aggressive, just like they want all my other teammates to be.

TigsTown: Do you have any personal goals for this season?

Shepherd: Being healthy, I wanna play consistent every day out there. I mean, I’m trying to play good defense, see how it goes really.

Hill: Just be a team player and help the team out wherever I can. I’m not gonna be selfish at all and try to go for my stats. I mean, I have my own personal stuff, but I’m gonna keep that to myself and just play the game like it should be, and just help the team out.

Pankake: I want to get more consistent on offense and defense, that’s really just it. And, I mean I want to win a lot of baseball games, so I want to win more than we have been lately.

TigsTown: What do you do in your spare time?

Shepherd: We don’t really have much spare time, if anything. When we do have spare time we like to just relax, or go get something to eat with all the guys. I don’t really get much time off to do anything. I’ve got an Xbox so I love playing that. That’s what I do when I sit down. I’m just starting to play Mortal Kombat, so I’m trying to figure that out a little bit.

Pankake: We don’t get a lot of off time. The offseason is our off time. During the season there’s not a whole lot of time to do much.

Jimenez: Spare time? I don’t know what that is (laughs). We got some time off. We do some stuff in the house with our teammates around. There’s so much things to do around here.

TigsTown: What do you throw?

Hemmer: I usually throw two-seamers, try to show the four-seamer once in a while, and I love my slider, so I throw my slider a lot. And I have a changeup, I just haven’t thrown it too much. Just been working on it, trying to get a feel for it. I didn’t start pitching until my freshman year of college, so I kind of had to learn everything differently.

TigsTown: You’re cousins with Darryl Strawberry. Do you ever get any advice from him?

Hill: I talk to him every now and then, just to get little pick-me-ups and tidbits here and there, but for the most part he just lets me play my game.

TigsTown: How did you end up in the Tigers organization?

Jimenez: I wasn’t drafted that year...two weeks after the draft the Tigers and the Houston Astros called me, and they wanted me to tryout, alone in their complex. The Tigers called me first, and so I went to Lakeland and they saw me a few times in the bullpen, and I just signed with them.

TigsTown: The Whitecaps have a sandwich named after you, have you tried it?

Pankake: Yeah, I have tried it. It’s actually really good. It seems like an odd combo, but it’s actually really good.

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