Interview with Nationals prospect Ryan Tatusko: Part 1

JUPITER, Fla. - A couple days ago, I asked you to submit your questions for Nationals prospect Ryan Tatusko, one of the two pitchers the team got in the Cristian Guzman trade last year. I sat down with him on the back fields of the Nationals’ spring training complex yesterday, passed along a few of your questions and followed up with a few of my own.

The first part of that interview is below, and the second part will run tomorrow. For those of you whose questions I didn’t ask, we’ll save those for our next round. Tatusko is excited about interacting with all of you, and I think you’ll enjoy what he has to say; he’s a candid, insightful quote, and I wasn’t surprised to learn he has some mutual acquaintances with Drew Storen. Here’s the first part of the Q-and-A:

Question from Ray: Much has been made of Nolan Ryan ‘stretching’ out starters by having them train differently. What exactly is different from Rangers/Ryan’s approach and the Nats approach to handling young starters? What changes/differences did Ryan see in the two teams’ coaching staff’s handling of young pitchers?

Ryan Tatusko: The difference between Nolan Ryan’s approach that I saw and the Nationals’ approach is, since Ryan was such a workhorse in his time and he threw so well, he wanted his starters to go 115, 120 pitches during the season. We did the normal running and lifting and things like that, but we did a lot of extra work on the side for conditioning - agility drills, plyo drills and running. They were a big proponent of, if you were cruising, to keep letting you. Nolan always said he would let his starting pitching go as long as they showed no signs of fatigue. I remember, there’d be a couple starts where my command wasn’t quite there, and I’d walk a few guys, but I was still keeping my team there. They would let me go seven, eight innings, but I knew I had to condition a little extra. The program he put us on was just intensely rigorous - it was just over and beyond anything that any minor leaguers do. But that’s Nolan; he was a workhorse in his time, and he thought that was the way to the big leagues. He passed that down to us. When I got over to the Nationals, it was a bit of a shock to me, because I wasn’t able to go past 100 pitches. But I learned to be more efficient. Knowing you have 95 to 100 pitches, it really makes you try to extend your innings, because you want to go as long as you can. So I think there’s positives on both sides.

My follow-up: How does the Rangers’ approach to pitching affect you, practically? Is it a difference in the training, or do you go into starts knowing you’re going to go 120-130 pitches more often?

RT: You end up knowing that you’re just going to do it. The running we did was far and above anybody I’ve ever talked to in other organizations. The Nats seem to be on par or on the same level with other organizations, but with the Rangers, we did so much more with our running and our conditioning and our plyos, knowing we were going to go that extra mile. But like I said, your mentality almost slips a little bit, knowing you have those extra pitches to work with. So if you throw 15, 16, 17 pitches an inning, you’re like, ‘OK, that’s fine. I still get more time.’ That mentality can hurt you in the long run if you don’t know how to deal with it.

Question from G Hall: How is it being in a batters box again? Thanks and have a great season. I have heard nothing but fantastic things about you.

RT: How is it being in a batter’s box again? Eighty-five (mph) looked like 105. The first time I got to step in the box, we were in Harrisburg. It was kind of a running joke between the coaches and (manager) Randy (Knorr) and myself that I probably had the worst swing in baseball. I think if somebody video-records me, that’s probably the case. I’m willing to make fun of myself for that. I think the last time I’d swung a bat, I was 17 years old. From that time to (Harrisburg), that’s a seven- or eight-year gap of not swinging a bat. You get that perspective of the batter and what they see. I had a newfound respect for hitters, hitting 94 mile-an-hour sinkers and curveballs and sliders. The first time I got thrown a slider, I think you probably saw me bail out of the box, because I thought it was going to hit me. It’s definitely different, and I’m learning. I try to take as much bunting practice as I can out here. The big key is just seeing pitching. It’s fun for me, because it’s something I’ve never done.

My follow-up: I’ve always sort of wondered at what point a National League team will say, ‘We’re going to put some time into making our pitchers a weapon offensively and allowing them to hit.’ Is that completely farfetched when you have so much time off from it in college?

RT: I think it is, because you’re on the mound, and there’s so much to do with pitching, and the mental game - learning your position and things like that. I always get asked the same questions like, ‘Well you’re a pitcher. You should be inside his mind knowing exactly how he’s going to throw. How come you can’t hit?’ I’m not sitting in the box thinking, ‘Hey, this guy’s going to throw me a slider, or this guy’s going to throw me a fastball.’ You’re just up there praying you’re not going to get hit in the ribs. I think there could be a possibility of pitchers being offensive weapons, but I think since we are groomed to be pitchers, our mindset is on the defensive side of the baseball, preventing home runs and not hitting them.

I’ll have more with Tatusko tomorrow morning.