VIERA, Fla. - Good morning from a cloudy Space Coast Stadium, where there's rain in the forecast for much of the morning. It looks like it should clear out by gametime, though, and it's likely the Nationals and Mets will be able to get their 1:05 p.m. game in.
Here is Part 2 of my interview with Nationals prospect Ryan Tatusko, who answered a few questions you submitted via the blog. You can read Part 1 of the interview here, and the rest of Tatusko's answers to your questions are below:
Question from Peric: Up to a 97 mph fastball for Harrisburg last year, but nowhere near that velocity in the Texas league? What precipitated the change?
Ryan Tatusko: I think what precipitated is, once I got traded, it's definitely a weird feeling. There's a job out there for all of the scouts to go out and look for players. There are so many minor league players in the Rangers organization, they could have picked any one of them. But the way I saw it in my mind was, they picked me. I might not ever know the reason, but there was (a reason). When I got traded, I felt a sense of want from somebody. There's a lot to be said for boosting somebody's confidence. So I went out there with this newfound confidence of, ' Hey, there's a team out there that saw me. They wanted me for a specific purpose.' I got out there on the mound, and my confidence was at an all-time high. When I stepped on the mound, I wanted to prove to everybody and to myself that the Nats didn't pick the wrong guy. I was traded for a veteran, and for them to trade for an older guy in Double-A, that was a lot. When I heard from other people that I was up that high (on the radar gun), I surprised myself. I think that had a lot to do with (Harrisburg pitching coach) Randy Tomlin. He tweaked some things on my mechanics, and he saw some things about me rushing. To me, to be that late in the season and still have my velocity, I was really happy with that. But I think a lot of it was just the confidence factor. There's a lot to be said for being confident in yourself.
My follow-up: Had you thrown that hard before?
RT: I hadn't. Before that, I was consistently 91-94. I would flirt with some 95s here and there. But I knew that I was capable of it. I'm a bigger guy (6-foot-5, 200 lbs.), and I felt like I was capable of it. I'm hoping Randy unlocked something in me that opened up those numbers, and I'm hoping to see that again this year.
My follow-up: Does that extra three miles an hour make a difference in how hitters are reacting to your changeup? Could you see a difference there?
RT: There was a big difference in how they reacted. Once you start getting that high, they have to gear up for your fastball. They can't sit back and wait on changeups and curveballs and things like that. So that makes your offspeed pitch a little bit better. If you're able to dump your offspeed pitch in for strikes, that fastball seems quicker. They are sitting on your fastball. They can't sit back and react to 95 as they can to maybe 90, 91, So as long as you're able to throw your off-speed pitches for strikes, you're going to be a lot more successful. Plus, you get away with a few more mistakes. You see the (Justin) Verlanders and the (Aroldis) Chapmans of the world get away with more pitches than the (Jamie) Moyers and the (Greg) Madduxes, because hitters have to gear up for their stuff. You know that you don't have to be as fine. If you miss a little bit, they're not going to hit the ball 600 feet. You might get someone to roll over it. Again, that whole confidence factor comes in. You know, 'If I don't hit that corner, I'm going to be OK.' You're able to have more confidence and throw the pitches where you want to be.
Question from RCH: I'm a youth ballplayer and love it!! Whats it like being a pro? What is a day like at spring training? Do you get lots of shirts, shorts, hats, gloves and stuff? Do you hear the fans, cause I don't. Just my coach. Thanks and I hope you pitch great this season.
RT: What's it like being a pro ... You sit and you think about it as a little kid, just as every little kid does, as I'm sure (RCH) does, wondering what it's like. Sometimes you just feel like you're in a dream. You get to play a game that you love, a game that you would pay somebody to play. Just to be able to go out every day and your only focus is how well you're going to pitch that day, it's a great feeling - not worrying about having to turn in a report on time, or make a writing deadline or anything like that. You just have to worry about how your six innings are going to go. You meet friends, and you have stories you're going to remember for your entire life. That's the greatest part about it. You only spend a small portion of (your career) on the field, but it's the off-the-field relationships, the bonds, the people that you meet that you'll talk to 15, 20 years from now that are still going to be there and be your friends. Gear-wise? Yeah, you get a lot of clothes. That's always fun, too. You get to fill up your wardrobe a little bit with shorts and hats and things like that. With the crowd? No, I can't hear the crowd. Ironically, the only person I can ever hear in the crowd - and I still can't figure this out to this day - is my mom. There can be 20,000 people in the stands, but she always finds the right direction to hit me in the crowd. Any minor league (game) I've ever been to, I've heard my mom. I had the opportunity to play in Frisco, (Texas), where we drew six, seven, eight thousand people a game. She came down for a game, and I'm like, 'There's no way I'm going to hear her.' Sure enough, about the fifth inning, I could hear her screaming at me. Maybe i'm just so honed in on her when I used to get in trouble as a little boy. But you really don't hear the fans. You hear noise, but you can't decipher exactly what's going on. It's almost like what Kevin Costner did in 'For the Love of the Game,' the trigger-the-mechanism kind of thing, but you don't block everything out. You kind of hear static.
My follow-up: I think everybody's mom has a special frequency where you hear her. It's a mom thing.
RT: She always sits in the front row, and she yells. Everybody gets quiet, and she'll still scream. It's like, 'I hear you. I know.' You just step off and smile. She tries to make it down to a game every year. Maybe it's because I know that she's there. But like you said, it's a mom thing. Your mom could walk up, and she'll say something, and you'll be like, 'I know that's my mom.' I think everybody recognizes that voice.
Question from G Hall: I will ask about this plate I hear that you use to train with. What is it, how does it work, and what has it done for you and ypur pitching? Also do you use video when you practice? Thanks and have a great season.
RT: The plate I'm referring to is a device called the Pitchers Power Drive. The guy who invented it actually came out to my offseason training facility in Indianapolis. At the time, I was about 88 to 91 (mph), and I couldn't figure out what was going on with my mechanics. I analyze a lot of video, and especially that offseason, I analyzed exhausting amounts of video with my offseason pitching coach, Jay Lehr. The more we tweaked and the more we worked, the more I couldn't figure it out. And along came this device. The best way I could describe it without going to the Web site is, it's basically a metal balance beam that sits on about a two-inch piece of metal. All it does is, it almost works like a teeter-totter. When your hips engage, kind of like a hitter does, your first movement, the teeter-totter engages, and you drive yourself down the mound. If your hips don't engage, it stays locked, and nothing happens. So you have to engage your hips underneath you. It sits on top of the rubber, so you still get the feeling of the rubber. If you rush, or if you drop and drive, the old-school terminology or anything like that, this mechanism doesn't trigger. It stays locked. But once your hips start twisting or they move, that teeter-totter gives way, and it drives you right down the mound. So it essentially gets your hips and your legs underneath you. I started working with this, and I went to spring training last year. I just felt so much better throwing. I went back and looked at video, and that was the key for me. I wasn't getting my legs or hips underneath me. I was throwing pure arm. I was rushing real bad, and that caused a lot of my walks and my erratic (delivery), just because I wasn't able to locate my pitches. I started working on this device. It travels everywhere with me now. It's in my locker right now, as a matter of fact. I trained with it, and I used it and I loved it. Not only did it improve my velocity by forcing me to use my legs, but my command was a lot better. I had a lot more confidence in my pitches, because my arm angle and my arm slot was the same every single time. I wasn't rushing to try and get my arm through and throwing from multiple arm slots. That's the device I got on. I love it. I use it. I know a couple other guys in the Nats organization, and they love it. I really use that as a training tool to help me.
(Side note on the plate Tatusko uses: Drew Storen works with the same offseason pitching coach and works with the same device.)
My follow-up: How do you use it when you're here?
RT: I'll come out when these guys are doing early work, and I'll just go to a mound or on flat ground, and butt it up against the rubber. There's a piece underneath it that butts up against the mound, so you can use it doing mound work on cleats and turfs or anything like that. I'll just do 15, 20 minutes of early work, doing towel drills and things like that with a partner, just working on getting your hips underneath you.
My follow-up: So it's just kind of teaching muscle memory?
RT: Yes, exactly. When you do it right, it clicks. These two metal pieces smack together, so when you do it right, you hear it. You hear the reinforcement, and you're able to get down off the mound. So you're not only able to feel it, you hear it. It's just muscle memory, over and over and over. There's a lot to be said about audible reinforcement and things like that.
That's all for this week. I've got another batch of questions for Tatusko already stored up, and I'll try to sit down with him once or twice more this spring. If you've got other questions, you can tack them on to the end of this blog. Thanks for all the questions this week. Hope you've enjoyed the interviews.