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Interview with Blue Jays Pitching Coach Bruce Walton: Part Four

Bruce Walton and Jesse Litsch, from last year in Calgary. (Belinda Den Dekker)
Bruce Walton and Jesse Litsch, from last year in Calgary. (Belinda Den Dekker)

The second last part of our talk with Bruce Walton.

If you missed any of it; part one is here, two here and three here.

I'm not sure how much it comes across in the text of this, but I really had a good time talking to Bruce. He was very nice to talk too. I like talking to folks from who I can learn about the game. Some of the best parts, of course, were before and after the recorder was turned on. Some of the fun was just how great it was to talk baseball, face-to-face with someone that knows the game so well. Bruce said, before we were recording, that Calgary isn't a baseball town. It is rare to have more than a simplistic talk about baseball with someone here.

Ricky Romero seems so intent on improving each year. What can he do to continue to get better?

Ricky's still growing, he's still young. He grew last year by taking the number one spot and running with it. We are still working on fastball command, a little bit. We are still working on pitching to both sides of the plate. We are still working on if we don't have our stuff what do we do. We accomplished a lot last year. We are still working on how to pitch in Boston and New York consistently. I think we found a little something there last year that started to work. As good a year as Ricky had there's still room for improvement every year. He wants to be the best, he wants to make the All-Star team, he wants to win the World Series. He wants to be the best pitcher in baseball. And with that attitude and that drive, he has so much stuff he needs to work on every year. He s a tremendous athlete that has tremendous holes and he wants to get better every year, so there is always something that we can improve on.

We have to change our game a little bit, Ricky can't stay with his normal game all the time. We have to make adjustments. It's a game of adjustments. For Ricky to be better it is adjusting with the game.

What does Brandon Morrow have to do to be more consistent?

Brandon, it's my second year with Brandon. His first year we went through some walk issues, base on balls, command issues. We pretty much ironed it out. We got to the point where now we left a lot of balls in the middle of the plate. So we went from one extreme to the other extreme and we gave up a lot of home runs last year. He's a fly ball pitcher at times, he doesn't get a whole lot of ground balls, so when the ball sits in the middle of the plate belt high and they get a piece of it, it goes. So now it is just staying down in the zone consistently. I think for Brandon to be consistent, his pitches have to be down consistent. We have to plan the effort level to pitch at consistently. Consistency is what we have to work on in every aspect. Keeping the ball down, keeping our emotions in check. Keeping our work effort at a certain level, consistently. All those will come. This is the year for that to come. There's steps to becoming a major league starting pitcher. The first step was that we needed to throw strikes. We accomplished that. It took us a year and a half. Our next step is to manage the game a little bit better and manage our emotions a little bit better and manage our season a little bit better and become more consistent. That's where we are at.

Henderson Alvarez came from A ball to the Majors. How was he so successful?

He repeats his delivery very well. He sinks the ball very well. And he throws a changeup off his sinker that looks exactly the same. So he pitches at 93 to 95, with a sinking fastball and he has a changeup that looks exactly the same at 82 to 83. And when you can do that you can pitch where ever you want. We are in the works of getting his slider going a little bit. His slider gets a little sloppy, we need to get it more consistent, a little tighter. He has a great career ahead of him. He puts the ball on the ground. He gets 14 ground ball outs a game. And when a guy can do that and throw mid-90's and sink the ball, major league hitters don't like it. Minor league hitters don't know what he's doing. Major league hitters know what he's doing, they don't like it. They don't like the ball sinking at 95 at the knees and a changeup coming off of that at 82. They don't like it, they can't cover that. They want to hit off straight fastballs not sinking fastballs. So he has, not only does it have a good fastball, it's a sinking fastball and a great changeup, he's got great command. He's got a great feel for pitching. He's got a long way to go. He's still young. He's still going to have some games that get away from him. Mentally we have got to work on some things. But he's a great prospect and he had a great showing for us last time.

I was surprised that the troubles Kyle Drabek had at the start of the year. Can he overcome that?

Oh yeah, Kyle's going to be fine. It's odd that you come up and you don't have problems and you don't struggle. It's odd if you don't struggle. Kyles biggest struggle was that he didn't throw enough strikes. He found out that the strike zone is a little smaller. He found out what it was like to be a rookie in the major leagues. He needs to overcome that mentally a little bit. He needs to understand that contact is ok. He'll be fine. So throw more strikes, understanding that getting outs with contact is fine. If you have a bad game you have to leave it at home. Those are all experiences that every pitcher that comes up and struggles has. Everyone that comes up and struggles has those same experiences. Bad games, don't throw enough strikes, base on balls and mentally they get a little whacked out about it, at the time. Kyle's fine, he has a great head on his shoulders, he struggled a little bit, throw strikes and that's an easy fix. It comes with age. He's young.

Jesse Litsch moved from the starting rotation, why was the decision made?

We always liked Jesse Litsch. He did a nice job as a starter then he went through some arm surgeries. He came back and he started and he did ok. I think when we looked at him going to the bullpen it was to make our team better, rather than if Jesse could start or reliever, he could do both. But with Jesse's numbers against right-handed hitters and his left-handed splits aren't bad either. Jesse can throw the ball every day. He really can. He's got a rubber arm who could come in and throw breaking ball first pitch strike, throw changeup first pitch strike. He can do a lot of things, so he is very effective in the bullpen role, that at the time, I think we needed. So I think he filled the void and at the same time did a very good job getting his 12-14 outs a week over 5 days rather getting his 12 or 14 outs in one day.

That's not to say he's not ever going to start again. I think he did a fabulous job in the bullpen. I think that you saw him out there a lot, it's not easy to find guys that can pitch back-to-back days like Jesse did. I think with Henderson coming and Dustin coming make it easier for us to do that. Without Dustin coming back or Henderson doing what he did we wouldn't have been able to see what Jesse was like down there.

Is the team going to limit Dustin McGowan's innings this year?

We haven't discussed that yet. Dusty's done it before. It is a unique situation for us. I think we have to sit down and discuss it. At this time I really have no idea. Hopefully Dusty can pitch 200 innings, that's what I'm hoping. Whether it is this year or next year, I don't know. Dustin did a great job coming back from a couple of really painful years for him, mentally and physically and it is just nice to see him out there pitching.

So Dustin, what he is going to do? How is he going to be used? We haven't talked about it. I don't think we are worrying about it. I don't think we are there yet. We are just making sure Dusty is fine and that he comes into Spring Training and he fights for that number 5 hole. That's what I want for Dusty and whatever happens happens after that.