Q&A with Nardi Contreras

We sat down with Yankees Pitching Coordinator Nardi Contreras to get his thoughts on what Joba Chamberlain moving to the bullpen does for his development, if he knows what happened to David Robertson's velocity, if he's worried about Ivan Nova's lack of strikeouts, what has been the difference in Alan Horne this year, what happened to Angel Reyes, and much, much more.

PinstripesPlus.com: The big topic right now of course is Joba Chamberlain moving to the bullpen. In your opinion, would that somehow ruin his chances in any way as a potential starting pitcher down the road?

Nardi Contreras: I don't think it would ruin him, but we've got the development of his changeup. He commands his fastball, commands his slider, commands his curveball - he's got all of those pitches. The changeup is coming. [Moving to the bullpen] is never going to take away from him being a starter. I had Jeff Fassero many years ago and he was a reliever in my bullpen in Triple-A. We sent him to the big leagues as a reliever. He got sent back down and they said to start him. He started a few games and went back up as a starter and that's history. It just takes away from the development of his changeup because if there's any bullpen work, he's not going to need the changeup because he's just going to blow some people away with his fastball, slider, and curveball. Whatever short amount of innings he has, he won't have to use the changeup. The changeup comes into when you have to face these guys two, three, or four times. If you're going to face him one time, for one inning or whatever it may be, you don't need the changeup when you're throwing as hard as he does.

PinstripesPlus: Ross Ohlendorf came over from the Diamondbacks as the key part of the Randy Johnson trade and has struggled this year. What have you seen from him this year and is there anything he has been struggling with in particular?

Contreras: If there's any struggle, maybe it's just being too much over the plate I guess, but he's been throwing the ball pretty well to tell you the truth. We've got him in the bullpen now, that's going to be more him than starting. We threw him in the bullpen when we went Chamberlain and Kennedy up, just like we've put [Steven] Jackson in the bullpen [in Trenton]. He threw the ball excellent. He doesn't have to think about it [starting], and he throws the ball with a lot of power and a lot of life. Now it's all coming out really well. The organization is happy [with him], so that makes me happy of course. He's going to do really well in this role.

PinstripesPlus: Brett Smith was among the ERA leaders in Double-A when he was sent down to Tampa. What was the reasoning? Was the move made because he was having some control problems?

Contreras: Yeah he was having control problems and also there were some other kids pitching there that were pitching better than him. And then when we made the move with Kennedy and Chamberlain, we sent down two guys who had pitched in the big leagues, Clippard and Wright. So if we're sending down two guys who had pitched in the big leagues from there down to Double-A, it wasn't as hard to send one guy, who wasn't throwing as many strikes as the other guys, back down to Tampa. It's hard, but it's easier when you have all the arms that we have these days. It's a great problem to have. We've just got to get the guys who are getting better and better closer to the big leagues and that's just what we're doing.

PinstripesPlus: You mentioned his name, so tell us what's going on with Tyler Clippard this year? He's obviously been more wild than he ever has been in his career. Did he lose some confidence after going up to the big leagues?

Contreras: Sure that happens a lot to young guys. He was on a great [workout] schedule, doing everything that we do here [in the minor leagues]. He went to the big leagues and pitched well in the beginning. But they don't do the same work in the big leagues that we do in the minor leagues, that's all. We spend a lot of time in the bullpen doing different things. What happens is the Mussina's, Pettitte's, and Clemens', they don't that same type of thing because they already know their delivery. So most of these young guys feel embarrassed to do any of this extra mechanical work and they don't do it. They lose their feel and then all of the sudden they're not throwing as many strikes as they usually do, not pitching well, and so that happens. Now they've got to get back into their routines. So when Clip came back down he was really lost mechanically.

PinstripesPlus: So the same thing could be said about Chase Wright then?

Contreras: Chase Wright came down not quite as bad. I think when we sent Chase down he was 8-3 and in one of his last outings, he picked up a save. He gave up a home run but I got to see Chase twice and he was just up too often and getting behind hitters. You start doing some things because you just got back from the big leagues. Everybody knows what happened to Chase in his game against Boston and he started trying too hard. Now he's where he's at and he's got to work himself into how he got before he went to the big leagues. It's that easy with a lesser competition.

PinstripesPlus: David Robertson, with the way he has been putting up numbers this year, is a hot topic obviously. He reportedly threw harder in college but he just hasn't shown it this year. What can you tell us about the discrepancy and have you seen anything that would suggest a loss in velocity?

Contreras: I don't know. You can read all the reports you want, and that's all that we got, reports. But from day one he's been pitching right where we've seen him all year, that's all. I don't care what scouts say, I don't care what media reports say, when a pitcher gets to us and walks off of that plane and starts throwing the baseball, and he throws what he throws, all those reports just go out the window. You see what you see and he's been pretty consistent pitching where he's been pitching all year and having success. If there's something there more, maybe it will come. Whenever you hear and read about stuff like that, you can always see flashes of the numbers you read, but I never read any of those numbers that people say either. He attacks the strike zone, he's got life to his fastball. Earlier in the season he was throwing both a slider and a curveball. I put the slider in his back pocket and he's throwing a quality plus curveball. He must hide the ball really well, that's all I can say. He's got deception and he's got that little life to the ball.

PinstripesPlus: He kind of reminds me of Ian Kennedy a bit with the way he doesn't throw particularly hard but still baffles the hitters with his fastball. Is that a fair comparison? And how are Kennedy's curveball and two-seamer progressing? Are they still an emphasis?

Contreras: Yeah, they're kind of the same in that way. But Ian's got much better command. He pitches in, he pitches out, he pitches down, he pitches up when he wants to, and he's got that power changeup that is a tremendous weapon. It's a swing-and-miss pitch. It's there, and then it's not. There's not changeup in the organization like Edwar Ramirez, but Ian's is great. Before we would always talk about DeSalve and Marquez [with the changeup], well Ian's is there and Ramirez's is above theirs. His curveball and two-seamer are still an emphasis. He still uses it [the two-seamer]. The curveball, in his last game in Double-A before we sent him up, he threw it very, very well. He's got a quality curveball and he'll use the two-seamer more. He's got so much confidence in his four-seamer right now but he'll need the two-seamer more than he does right now. He uses it a few times and he gets a little action to it, and he gets some sink to it. This way when he gets into that 3-1 count he doesn't have to throw the fastball or the changeup, he can throw that two-seamer, let it sink, and get a ground ball. If it hits the hole, it hits the hole.

PinstripesPlus: Are you surprised by his rapid development and advancement this year?

Contreras: Am I surprised? I'm surprised by Ian. I'm surprised by Joba. I'm surprised with Chase Wright, etc. You know when you've got something in front of you that you want to reach, and you work hard at it, it just kind of takes over and that's what these young men have done. They've taken hold of all of the work they've done and what they have learned. When Joba first came over [to the organization], I don't want to say he was a real mess delivery-wise, but there were a lot of things he needed to work on. And there's not a harder worker than Joba Chamberlain in the organization and he's just putting it all together. To tell me he was going to throw three to five miles-per-hour faster than when he did when we first got him, I didn't think that was going to be possible, but it has. The only times I got to see him last year was here [in Instructs] and in Hawaii, but to see him now with the changes that he has made, a tremendous worker and intelligent, knows how to pitch and knows how to read swings, he's tremendous. I wouldn't be surprised to see him in the big leagues this year either. I don't know how Brian Cashman is going to do it with all of these guys coming along. Steven White has been awesome. I got to see him pitch and I was like, 'wow!'. He's healthy now. I saw him pitch better than everybody in Triple-A ball. He was a thrower, now he's pitching with it, and his two-seam, and his changeup, and his curveball, and his slider. It's great to see, that's all I can tell you. It's great to see how all of these guys are developing. It's tough to watch these kids go up to the big leagues and then come down and struggle. It's tough to go to the big leagues.

PinstripesPlus: What have you seen from Jairo Heredia this year? He's putting up some pretty good numbers in his first professional season.

Contreras: Jairo is a very bright young man. I think he comes from educated people, so he grasps stuff a lot quicker. He's very sound delivery-wise. The changeup is there and he's got a big-time curveball. He doesn't throw quite as hard as Noel Castillo or as Kelvin Perez, but he attacks the zone. Those three kids that I just mentioned are hard throwers and they all have curveballs, Heredia's being the best of them, and they all have changeups. There's three more Dominican arms that hopefully keep rising, that they don't get hurt or anything like that. Heredia's excellent because he's the youngest of them.

PinstripesPlus: Michael Dunn seems to be overmatching his competition in the South Atlantic League this year. Is there a chance he will be promoted and what does he need to do to move up this year?

Contreras: I don't see him moving up [this year]. We're going to cut down his innings now. We're only pitching him like five innings right now. He's in his first year, he's pitching too many innings. He's also still developing his changeup and still developing the command of his pitches. He's overpowering guys, not that he throws overly-hard, the ball just jumps out of his hand real well. He has a big-time quality slider, but he's still developing his changeup and he's still developing his delivery. He's not commanding the ball that other guys are capable of doing in the advanced levels. It's all about the command and the development of the changeup. He's already got a lot, a lot of innings, so we're going to cut him down. In fact, after this next outing, he's going to take a break of ten days before he goes out and pitches again. The same thing with [Grant] Duff, the same thing with [Eric] Hacker, because all of these guys are pitching a lot of innings. This is Hacker's first year out of his arm injury, we've got to protect him. And Duff has gone from like 40-50 innings last year to over 100 innings this year. You're talking about Dunn, next year he'll be pitching at a higher level.

PinstripesPlus: Ferdin Tejeda also seems to be overmatching South Atlantic League batters....

Contreras: I wouldn't go that far. Ferdin's coming back from his arm injury. He's not throwing as hard [as before the injury], he has started throwing his slider again, and he has his changeup. He's throwing strikes, not in command. If he was dominating he would have a lot more strikeouts and I don't think he has many strikeouts. He's pitching to a lot of contact right now and he's pitching well for his first year coming back from the surgery. He and [Jessse] Hoover are the same way right now and they're coming along fine.

PinstripesPlus: Talk about Alan Horne - what's the big difference between this year and last year?

Contreras: Consistency in everything. His arm angle is now consistent, the command of his fastball, the use of his changeup and throwing it for strikes - there's another guy right there that we could use to send up, Alan Horne. He'll have success in Triple-A ball. In his last outing he pitched eight innings and gave up one run. The changeup is what got him to Double-A this year. In Spring Training, the consistency of throwing the changeup down and for strikes, helped him to make the leap from A-ball to Double-A even though if you look at his numbers from A-ball last year were not very good. But he ended up well, went to mini-camp, and then in Spring Training he showed from his new arm angle, the command of his fastball and the command and use of his changeup. That's what has taken him to be so successful this year in Double-A ball. He's so close to Triple-A, it's just that we've got so many arms.

PinstripesPlus: What is going on with Angel Reyes? Where is he right now and what was going wrong with him this year?

Contreras: Angel's had a couple of different injuries, he hasn't been able to follow through on pitches and you're not going to pitch well that way. He did a light side and Monday he's doing a BP [bullpen session] and then he'll start pitching some games in the Gulf Coast League. He's healthy arm-wise. [The injuries] can be it, and maybe that might not be it [why he didn't pitch well this year]. We've got to give it the benefit of the doubt that has been the problem. His control this year obviously hasn't been as good as last year. He's young enough, so that's good.

PinstripesPlus: You were talking about how Tejeda's lack of strikeouts shows he's not overmatching guys, considering his stuff. Ivan Nova similarly has good stuff, but doesn't have the strikeouts either. What have you seen from him?

Contreras: Nova throws too many strikes. Nova attacks the zone and stays within the zone too much. Nova has a plus fastball, he has a plus curveball, and he has a plus changeup. He throws them too often in the middle of the plate. He's learning how to pitch with his pitches, to expand the zone, to pitch inside, to knock people back...pitchability. What he does is, throws strike, strike, strike, strike, strike, and he doesn't worry about strikeouts right now. He just throws strikes, and that's not bad. It's not bad, he's just going to learn how to setup hitters, how to expand zones, and use the outer-third, things that he's not doing right now. You never take away from the players that you have, but some plays are not made and that's how things are. He's got to learn that you can't always throw your fastball for strike one, that sometimes you've got to throw your curveball for strike one. The second time around you can throw your changeup for strike one, knock somebody back, punch somebody out when there's a guy on third, not just pitch to contact. Get the strikeout when you need to, he's just got to learn how to do it.

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Pinstripes Plus Top Stories

\r\n \r\n\r\nPinstripesPlus.com: The big topic right now of course is Joba Chamberlain moving to the bullpen. In your opinion, would that somehow ruin his chances in any way as a potential starting pitcher down the road?
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\r\nNardi Contreras: I don't think it would ruin him, but we've got the development of his changeup. He commands his fastball, commands his slider, commands his curveball - he's got all of those pitches. The changeup is coming. [Moving to the bullpen] is never going to take away from him being a starter. I had Jeff Fassero many years ago and he was a reliever in my bullpen in Triple-A. We sent him to the big leagues as a reliever. He got sent back down and they said to start him. He started a few games and went back up as a starter and that's history. It just takes away from the development of his changeup because if there's any bullpen work, he's not going to need the changeup because he's just going to blow some people away with his fastball, slider, and curveball. Whatever short amount of innings he has, he won't have to use the changeup. The changeup comes into when you have to face these guys two, three, or four times. If you're going to face him one time, for one inning or whatever it may be, you don't need the changeup when you're throwing as hard as he does.
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\r\nPinstripesPlus: Ross Ohlendorf came over from the Diamondbacks as the key part of the Randy Johnson trade and has struggled this year. What have you seen from him this year and is there anything he has been struggling with in particular?
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\r\nContreras: If there's any struggle, maybe it's just being too much over the plate I guess, but he's been throwing the ball pretty well to tell you the truth. We've got him in the bullpen now, that's going to be more him than starting. We threw him in the bullpen when we went Chamberlain and Kennedy up, just like we've put [Steven] Jackson in the bullpen [in Trenton]. He threw the ball excellent. He doesn't have to think about it [starting], and he throws the ball with a lot of power and a lot of life. Now it's all coming out really well. The organization is happy [with him], so that makes me happy of course. He's going to do really well in this role.
\r\n
\r\nPinstripesPlus: Brett Smith was among the ERA leaders in Double-A when he was sent down to Tampa. What was the reasoning? Was the move made because he was having some control problems?
\r\n
\r\nContreras: Yeah he was having control problems and also there were some other kids pitching there that were pitching better than him. And then when we made the move with Kennedy and Chamberlain, we sent down two guys who had pitched in the big leagues, Clippard and Wright. So if we're sending down two guys who had pitched in the big leagues from there down to Double-A, it wasn't as hard to send one guy, who wasn't throwing as many strikes as the other guys, back down to Tampa. It's hard, but it's easier when you have all the arms that we have these days. It's a great problem to have. We've just got to get the guys who are getting better and better closer to the big leagues and that's just what we're doing.
\r\n
\r\nPinstripesPlus: You mentioned his name, so tell us what's going on with Tyler Clippard this year? He's obviously been more wild than he ever has been in his career. Did he lose some confidence after going up to the big leagues?
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\r\nContreras: Sure that happens a lot to young guys. He was on a great [workout] schedule, doing everything that we do here [in the minor leagues]. He went to the big leagues and pitched well in the beginning. But they don't do the same work in the big leagues that we do in the minor leagues, that's all. We spend a lot of time in the bullpen doing different things. What happens is the Mussina's, Pettitte's, and Clemens', they don't that same type of thing because they already know their delivery. So most of these young guys feel embarrassed to do any of this extra mechanical work and they don't do it. They lose their feel and then all of the sudden they're not throwing as many strikes as they usually do, not pitching well, and so that happens. Now they've got to get back into their routines. So when Clip came back down he was really lost mechanically.
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\r\nPinstripesPlus: So the same thing could be said about Chase Wright then?
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\r\nContreras: Chase Wright came down not quite as bad. I think when we sent Chase down he was 8-3 and in one of his last outings, he picked up a save. He gave up a home run but I got to see Chase twice and he was just up too often and getting behind hitters. You start doing some things because you just got back from the big leagues. Everybody knows what happened to Chase in his game against Boston and he started trying too hard. Now he's where he's at and he's got to work himself into how he got before he went to the big leagues. It's that easy with a lesser competition.
\r\n
\r\nPinstripesPlus: David Robertson, with the way he has been putting up numbers this year, is a hot topic obviously. He reportedly threw harder in college but he just hasn't shown it this year. What can you tell us about the discrepancy and have you seen anything that would suggest a loss in velocity?
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\r\nContreras: I don't know. You can read all the reports you want, and that's all that we got, reports. But from day one he's been pitching right where we've seen him all year, that's all. I don't care what scouts say, I don't care what media reports say, when a pitcher gets to us and walks off of that plane and starts throwing the baseball, and he throws what he throws, all those reports just go out the window. You see what you see and he's been pretty consistent pitching where he's been pitching all year and having success. If there's something there more, maybe it will come. Whenever you hear and read about stuff like that, you can always see flashes of the numbers you read, but I never read any of those numbers that people say either. He attacks the strike zone, he's got life to his fastball. Earlier in the season he was throwing both a slider and a curveball. I put the slider in his back pocket and he's throwing a quality plus curveball. He must hide the ball really well, that's all I can say. He's got deception and he's got that little life to the ball.
\r\n
\r\nPinstripesPlus: He kind of reminds me of Ian Kennedy a bit with the way he doesn't throw particularly hard but still baffles the hitters with his fastball. Is that a fair comparison? And how are Kennedy's curveball and two-seamer progressing? Are they still an emphasis?
\r\n
\r\nContreras: Yeah, they're kind of the same in that way. But Ian's got much better command. He pitches in, he pitches out, he pitches down, he pitches up when he wants to, and he's got that power changeup that is a tremendous weapon. It's a swing-and-miss pitch. It's there, and then it's not. There's not changeup in the organization like Edwar Ramirez, but Ian's is great. Before we would always talk about DeSalve and Marquez [with the changeup], well Ian's is there and Ramirez's is above theirs. His curveball and two-seamer are still an emphasis. He still uses it [the two-seamer]. The curveball, in his last game in Double-A before we sent him up, he threw it very, very well. He's got a quality curveball and he'll use the two-seamer more. He's got so much confidence in his four-seamer right now but he'll need the two-seamer more than he does right now. He uses it a few times and he gets a little action to it, and he gets some sink to it. This way when he gets into that 3-1 count he doesn't have to throw the fastball or the changeup, he can throw that two-seamer, let it sink, and get a ground ball. If it hits the hole, it hits the hole.
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\r\nPinstripesPlus: Are you surprised by his rapid development and advancement this year?
\r\n
\r\nContreras: Am I surprised? I'm surprised by Ian. I'm surprised by Joba. I'm surprised with Chase Wright, etc. You know when you've got something in front of you that you want to reach, and you work hard at it, it just kind of takes over and that's what these young men have done. They've taken hold of all of the work they've done and what they have learned. When Joba first came over [to the organization], I don't want to say he was a real mess delivery-wise, but there were a lot of things he needed to work on. And there's not a harder worker than Joba Chamberlain in the organization and he's just putting it all together. To tell me he was going to throw three to five miles-per-hour faster than when he did when we first got him, I didn't think that was going to be possible, but it has. The only times I got to see him last year was here [in Instructs] and in Hawaii, but to see him now with the changes that he has made, a tremendous worker and intelligent, knows how to pitch and knows how to read swings, he's tremendous. I wouldn't be surprised to see him in the big leagues this year either. I don't know how Brian Cashman is going to do it with all of these guys coming along. Steven White has been awesome. I got to see him pitch and I was like, 'wow!'. He's healthy now. I saw him pitch better than everybody in Triple-A ball. He was a thrower, now he's pitching with it, and his two-seam, and his changeup, and his curveball, and his slider. It's great to see, that's all I can tell you. It's great to see how all of these guys are developing. It's tough to watch these kids go up to the big leagues and then come down and struggle. It's tough to go to the big leagues.
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\r\nPinstripesPlus: What have you seen from Jairo Heredia this year? He's putting up some pretty good numbers in his first professional season.
\r\n
\r\nContreras: Jairo is a very bright young man. I think he comes from educated people, so he grasps stuff a lot quicker. He's very sound delivery-wise. The changeup is there and he's got a big-time curveball. He doesn't throw quite as hard as Noel Castillo or as Kelvin Perez, but he attacks the zone. Those three kids that I just mentioned are hard throwers and they all have curveballs, Heredia's being the best of them, and they all have changeups. There's three more Dominican arms that hopefully keep rising, that they don't get hurt or anything like that. Heredia's excellent because he's the youngest of them.
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\r\nPinstripesPlus: Michael Dunn seems to be overmatching his competition in the South Atlantic League this year. Is there a chance he will be promoted and what does he need to do to move up this year?
\r\n
\r\nContreras: I don't see him moving up [this year]. We're going to cut down his innings now. We're only pitching him like five innings right now. He's in his first year, he's pitching too many innings. He's also still developing his changeup and still developing the command of his pitches. He's overpowering guys, not that he throws overly-hard, the ball just jumps out of his hand real well. He has a big-time quality slider, but he's still developing his changeup and he's still developing his delivery. He's not commanding the ball that other guys are capable of doing in the advanced levels. It's all about the command and the development of the changeup. He's already got a lot, a lot of innings, so we're going to cut him down. In fact, after this next outing, he's going to take a break of ten days before he goes out and pitches again. The same thing with [Grant] Duff, the same thing with [Eric] Hacker, because all of these guys are pitching a lot of innings. This is Hacker's first year out of his arm injury, we've got to protect him. And Duff has gone from like 40-50 innings last year to over 100 innings this year. You're talking about Dunn, next year he'll be pitching at a higher level.
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\r\nPinstripesPlus: Ferdin Tejeda also seems to be overmatching South Atlantic League batters....
\r\n
\r\nContreras: I wouldn't go that far. Ferdin's coming back from his arm injury. He's not throwing as hard [as before the injury], he has started throwing his slider again, and he has his changeup. He's throwing strikes, not in command. If he was dominating he would have a lot more strikeouts and I don't think he has many strikeouts. He's pitching to a lot of contact right now and he's pitching well for his first year coming back from the surgery. He and [Jessse] Hoover are the same way right now and they're coming along fine.
\r\n
\r\nPinstripesPlus: Talk about Alan Horne - what's the big difference between this year and last year?
\r\n
\r\nContreras: Consistency in everything. His arm angle is now consistent, the command of his fastball, the use of his changeup and throwing it for strikes - there's another guy right there that we could use to send up, Alan Horne. He'll have success in Triple-A ball. In his last outing he pitched eight innings and gave up one run. The changeup is what got him to Double-A this year. In Spring Training, the consistency of throwing the changeup down and for strikes, helped him to make the leap from A-ball to Double-A even though if you look at his numbers from A-ball last year were not very good. But he ended up well, went to mini-camp, and then in Spring Training he showed from his new arm angle, the command of his fastball and the command and use of his changeup. That's what has taken him to be so successful this year in Double-A ball. He's so close to Triple-A, it's just that we've got so many arms.
\r\n
\r\nPinstripesPlus: What is going on with Angel Reyes? Where is he right now and what was going wrong with him this year?
\r\n
\r\nContreras: Angel's had a couple of different injuries, he hasn't been able to follow through on pitches and you're not going to pitch well that way. He did a light side and Monday he's doing a BP [bullpen session] and then he'll start pitching some games in the Gulf Coast League. He's healthy arm-wise. [The injuries] can be it, and maybe that might not be it [why he didn't pitch well this year]. We've got to give it the benefit of the doubt that has been the problem. His control this year obviously hasn't been as good as last year. He's young enough, so that's good.
\r\n
\r\nPinstripesPlus: You were talking about how Tejeda's lack of strikeouts shows he's not overmatching guys, considering his stuff. Ivan Nova similarly has good stuff, but doesn't have the strikeouts either. What have you seen from him?
\r\n
\r\nContreras: Nova throws too many strikes. Nova attacks the zone and stays within the zone too much. Nova has a plus fastball, he has a plus curveball, and he has a plus changeup. He throws them too often in the middle of the plate. He's learning how to pitch with his pitches, to expand the zone, to pitch inside, to knock people back...pitchability. What he does is, throws strike, strike, strike, strike, strike, and he doesn't worry about strikeouts right now. He just throws strikes, and that's not bad. It's not bad, he's just going to learn how to setup hitters, how to expand zones, and use the outer-third, things that he's not doing right now. You never take away from the players that you have, but some plays are not made and that's how things are. He's got to learn that you can't always throw your fastball for strike one, that sometimes you've got to throw your curveball for strike one. The second time around you can throw your changeup for strike one, knock somebody back, punch somebody out when there's a guy on third, not just pitch to contact. Get the strikeout when you need to, he's just got to learn how to do it.
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