How Condra-Bogan’s fastball compares to Doolittle’s four-seamer

We continue our conversations with top Nationals prospects with Jacob Condra-Bogan. The first part of our sitdown is a look back on a very good campaign for the Duncan, S.C., native.

The right-hander was acquired in 2018 in a trade with the Royals. He is a reliever who can fire upper 90s with his fastball on a consistent basis. Condra-Bogan sits at 95 mph with his fastball and can reach back for 97-98 mph.

Condra-Bogan pitched in 38 games over 62 1/3 innings at Double-A Harrisburg, finishing with a 7-4 record, a 3.61 ERA, two saves and 50 strikeouts to 11 walks. His WHIP was 1.01. The right-hander then moved on to the Arizona Fall League and got into six games for seven innings and allowed no runs on two hits.

And if you have seen Condra-Bogan (Twitter handle: @JconBo) pitch, you know what he brings.

“I’m a heavy fastball pitcher. That’s kind of my calling card,” Condra-Bogan said. “The way I look at my season was my first 20 innings, my middle 20 innings, and my last 20 innings. My first and my last 20 innings were very similar. I was fastball dominant and always challenging the hitter and just attacking the zone. If I get beat, it’s only because I threw my best pitch.

“In that middle 20, it was a lot of ... well, I dominated with my fastball but I want to show my slider or show my changeup ... and kind of get away from just like attacking, attacking, attacking, (being a) fastball dominant pitcher, and I started trying to pitch more, which I can do, but not with the success of just never getting off the throttle towards the hitter.”

Condra-Bogan enjoyed his season in Harrisburg for many reasons, but one of the biggest was the relationship he had with Aaron Barrett, who worked his way back from two serious injuries to pitch again in the bigs in 2019. Barrett was with Harrisburg for most of the season.

“I felt like I learned a lot with a lot of the veteran guys that came through. Obviously, my No. 1 guy is Aaron Barrett,” Condra-Bogan said. “I’ve learned so much from him. Being in the bullpen with him all year and he’s just the most amazing person. Because I didn’t know Aaron before. After I got traded last year, people would talk about Aaron Barrett because he was in rookie ball, but he was being this great teammate.

“I had no clue about his story. I had no clue about the stuff that he went through. He’s just the best dude ever and really kind of took me under his wing. If I ever had any questions, he didn’t make me feel stupid for asking. He was very open and would talk about his experiences and his routine and help me a ton about developing my own style of pitching. And kind of staying even through the ups and downs of the season.”

baseballs-generic-art-nats.jpgCondra-Bogan was unhittable early on this season, then Double-A hitters caught on a bit and connected with his fastball.

“I started out hot and then the league kind of caught up to me and I over adjusted in the way I was pitching,” Condra-Bogan said. “(I thought) I had to change everything to be successful when really I had to just keep being myself. I’d have a couple bad outings and you just go back to the grindstone. I finished the year really strong.”

So when Condra-Bogan was hit, he went to his off-speed pitches. But that did not work as well as he had hoped. So he went back to what got guys out and focused on his fastball.

“Throwing more off-speed when I didn’t need to,” he said. “I kind of learned that if I throw three straight fastballs and I can beat someone, why would I throw something else? Just keep developing my pitch to be special. And keep hitting the spots that I feel like I’m not going to get hit instead of giving them a chance. I gave way too many guys chances this year when I could’ve just attacked, attacked and had a good result with a well-placed fastball.”

Nats fans are familiar with closer Sean Doolittle, who made a name for himself with a slightly rising fastball that could move all over the zone. Is that what Condra-Bogan’s fastball can do, too?

“Good life,” Condra-Bogan said of his fastball. “So a lot of people have run, a lot of people have sink, an invisible fastball. A Doolittle fastball, that kind of rises. Mine is a mix of both. It runs and it rises. So it’s really tough on right-handers when I go up and in and lefties when I go up and away because they’re not used to it doing both things at once. And then, obviously, good velocity paired with that led to a lot of fastball success.

“I had outings where I would throw a ton of fastballs and have great results. My teammates love it. They’re so excited because it keeps the fielder engaged. It keeps the mentality of where we are trying to dominate this inning, dominate the end of the game. I feel like it sets a good one of being super aggressive.”

But even with the fastball, fastball hitters can key on it. That is where Condra-Bogan believes his self-confidence - or self-relief, as he calls it - takes center stage.

“Sometimes I get beat because I throw too many strikes,” he said. “An 0-2 fastball that I leave somewhere. I take pride in always attacking, throwing strikes, and forcing contact. I feel like good things will happen when you do that. When you don’t give up the walk, the hit by pitch, make them go single, single, double or something to beat me instead of giving them a free pass.”

Condra-Bogan has studied Doolittle’s fastball. Doolittle is coming from the left side and his four-seam fastball reaches the mid-90’s, generating more whiffs and swings than other pitchers’ fastballs.

“I was super curious of what makes Doolittle’s fastball so special. He kind of has that hitch, too, which kind of adds to some of his deception,” Condra-Bogan said. “But once I go past the numbers, it’s that he’s uber confident in that pitch. He thinks every time he throws it, it’s not going to get hit. It’s crazy when you have that self-relief how often that it actually becomes a reality.

“We talked to (Harrisburg pitching coach) Michael Tejera. Just believing that you can stay aggressive and you are going to be all right. That was really (during) the up and downs of the middle-of-the-season grind where I’m not going to say I lost (confidence), but maybe I lost a little conviction in my pitch selection.”

Condra-Bogan, 25, said he has been told the Nats’ philosophy for him is to continue to use his fastball whenever and wherever he wants and not get mentally bogged down worrying about his other pitches. He will need another one or two pitches, like his changeup or slider, to get guys out at the next level, but this is no time to go back to the drawing board.

“I want to make someone happy, so let me throw off-speed or a changeup,” Condra-Bogan said of mid-season experiments. “The Nationals have not conveyed that message at all. They want me to be aggressive. They want me to attack. They want me to never get off the pedal and throw my best pitch and really just keep developing in that way. They believe in me. If I keep doing that, my other pitches will develop as well.”

Coming up: In Part II, we will analyze Condra-Bogan’s other pitches, what he thought of Double-A and his AFL experience, the Nats’ World Series run and his next step in the quest for a big league opportunity.

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