Lone Star Dugout Q&A: Danny Clark (Part 2)

FRISCO, Texas – After struggling through May, left-hander Martin Perez has put together back-to-back impressive starts, including a 90-pitch complete-game effort in his most recent outing. Lone Star Dugout sat down with Rangers minor league pitching coordinator Danny Clark to discuss Perez, Nick Tepesch, Jose Valdespina, and Matt West.

Lone Star Dugout Q&A: Danny Clark (Part 1, discussing Cody Buckel and Neil Ramirez)

Jason Cole: Martin Perez's last two starts have been much better. What do you feel has helped him turn it around the last couple times out?

Danny Clark: I think the three goals that were set for him four games ago––he has met all of those goals. One was basically getting four pitches or less––getting contact in four pitches or less. His last outing, he was 28 out of 31 batters he faced in that. The second thing was getting deeper into games. He's gone a 5.2, he has gone a six, he has gone a seven, and then he went a complete game. The third goal that was laid out for him is to basically leave your game with your team in order to get a win. And the last three games, he has left with that.

And so the goals that have been laid out for him––he has accomplished those. So I'm very proud of Martin and what he's doing. We're trying to keep the goals in a smaller, attainable environment versus always looking to the long term. We're trying to get Martin to the big leagues. But the major leagues will come when he accomplishes Triple-A and is being more consistent in his starts. And I think he's off to a good start. I think he has had three and a half good outings.

Cole: The changeup has obviously been there for Perez all season. But with the fastball––do you feel he's learning that he doesn't need to overpower everybody because he has that movement when working in the low-90s?

Clark: Yes, and I hope that he does, because when he tries to overpower guys, that's when he gets out of his delivery. That's when you see the front side really pull away from his alignment.

Sitting and watching––his changeup was really a plus against Iowa. But he was 73 out of 90 strikes. So that right there tells me that his alignment, as I sat back there, his alignment was really good. He used his changeup in appropriate places––especially in a lot of hitters' counts.

I think all of that combined––it was really a big step for him. It was his first complete game. There were a lot of things that went along with that, and that mindset of getting deeper into games is what this organization is about.

Cole: Even though Martin hasn't been piling up the strikeouts when doing that, he's been able to get a lot of weak contact and outs earlier in counts. Now that he has the 90-pitch complete game under his belt, do you feel that helps him believe in the process a little more?

Clark: Yes. I hope so. Because, like I said, the challenge was to get him to believe in it––to get him to believe in getting a hitter out in four pitches or less. Well, you've got to be very efficient if you strike someone out in four pitches or less. And so that mindset––we're trying to instill that in him. I'm hoping that he has bought into that process. And in return, it's getting him deeper into games.

Cole: Like Ramirez, Martin has added a slider to his repertoire this season. What are your thoughts on his slider?

Clark: With Martin, we basically use it against certain hitters or in certain situations––preferably left-handed hitters. We don't get carried away with it. But in the last two or three outings, I think his changeup has really been the separator, so he hasn't had to use that slider as much. But still––to expand the zone horizontally is very crucial, obviously, as we take that next step. You don't see the vertical strike zone––the strike zone there is not as advantageous as the horizontal one is.

Cole: Nick Tepesch was good last year, but he's taken a big step forward this year and reached Double-A. Can you talk about his development this year? What has led to him missing more bats and being a little less hittable?

Clark: I think the first thing is his curveball––it has gotten a lot better. His slider––I call it a slider, but cutter––he uses it very effectively against left-handed hitters. But the biggest thing, too, is that Nick's command has been really good this year.

He has been 93-95 mph with his fastball. He can go to his glove side at really any point right now. I think that's the separator with him. But I see his strikeout pitch as being his curveball. Last year, his curveball was loopy. This year, it's a tighter spin and it's a later break.

Cole: Is there any reason that you see for the development of Tepesch's curveball?

Clark: Nick and I talked about it––coming out of college, his velocity wasn't quite there. Even in that first spring training. He got into more of a strenuous long toss program, and at the midpoint there in Hickory, we flipped him into a starting role. And that's when we kind of started to see his velocity take off.

I think a lot of times with him, it was just getting that adjustment period. Because coming out of college, that's what I'd heard––93-95. And it took us a little time to see that develop.

He's a big, strong body. He's a big-bodied guy. He's very durable. That's the other thing that is really encouraging, for me. I see a bright future in Nick. I really see him climbing the ladder, and quicker than maybe a lot of people think.

Cole: Tepesch has always thrown strikes, but do you think his pitchability has improved this year? It seems like he's throwing a few more chase pitches with two strikes.

Clark: I don't necessarily think as far as that standpoint. I think, more importantly for Nick, is that he has a lot of confidence right now. And I think that involves more than the pitch or the type of pitch. It's the confidence he has in his preparation before the games.

Cole: Jose Valdespina showed good velocity last year in the Dominican Summer League, but he really had a breakout performance during extended spring training. What are your thoughts on his development thus far?

Clark: I think the first thing is that Jose worked extremely hard in extended. Coming out of spring training, in the prospect game, he got under the lights for the first time, and he was all over the place. And he took from that.

I think he really––I know from talking to the pitching coaches there that they were really happy with his work ethic. He was really wanting to learn more about pitching. I think he started to see the curve kind of turn. Obviously he goes to Spokane, and in his first outing, he doesn't get an out. Then he follows it up with his next outing. He goes five innings, and he seems to be able to get back in order.

I think it's a long-term process for him, but also, it's some kind of ability to project. I think his work ethic will allow him to be on a quicker pace than what a lot of people think.

Cole: Valdespina seemed like kind of a stiff-wrist guy when it came to his breaking ball in spring training. It was a mid-60s pitch without much shape. All the sudden in spring training, the pitch had good shape and he was throwing it between 71-75 mph. What happened to spark the quick improvement?

Clark: I think confidence. He didn't really even know how to grip a curveball even leaving instructs last year and coming back into spring training. It was more of a guided pitch for him. But he started feeling it more in his flat ground. The pitching coaches there did a really good job of getting him to throw it in his long-toss program from 90 to 100 feet. He started gaining confidence, and then you started seeing the arm action balance out with the rotation. And I think that was a correlation with both things, and he became comfortable with it.

Cole: Matt West has made a couple relief appearances with Myrtle Beach so far. I know you haven't been out there to see him yet, but what have you heard about his first two outings?

Clark: His first outing seemed to be a rough outing. He only went 0.2 innings––didn't get out of the inning. He walked a couple hitters. His last outing––I saw his velocity was up a couple miles per hour. He did have a couple strikeouts, and they were on breaking balls.

I know he's still a little sore. We're kind of spreading his outings out until he gets acclimated back to basically full-season ball. Obviously we're keeping our fingers crossed. I think we want to get over the hump over the next two or three outings, get the soreness worked out, and then I think we'll start to see the real Matt West.

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