Sunday, March 11, 2007
I remember, vividly, my first reaction to The BIG TRADE last summer with The Cincinnati Reds. I was shocked. Not so much about what Our Washington Nationals received in trade, but the fact that we gave up a talented young lefty in Bill Bray and one of my favorites from 2005-Gary Majewski. Majewski was the very first player that Washington traded, that I felt close too. As a fan, its anguishing when one of your favorites leaves town.
Now, eight months later, there is no doubt. Receiving Felipe Lopez, Austin Kearns & Ryan Wagner for Bray, Majeweski and Darryl Thompson (Brendan Harris and Royce Clayton are no longer with The Reds) was a steal. And, as I said some time ago, the sleeper of the entire trade is Ryan Wagner.
Messed up by The Cincinnati Organization, Wagner lost confidence, and his ability to get just about anyone out. A former First Round Pick out of The University Of Houston by Jim Bowden (Then, The Reds GM), Ryan had bounced up and down with the Cincinnati Reds and AAA Louisville. Bowden was still high on Wagner, and being only 23 years old, insisted Ryan being included in last summer's trade. Why wouldn't anyone, over such a talent.
Once on board The Nationals, Ryan Wagner worked feverishly with Pitching Coach Randy StClaire to get back his long lost style. By the end of 2006, Wagner was a top set up man, out of the Nats Bullpen. Once again, his baseball career back on track. As the 2007 season, is about to begin, Ryan will have plenty of opportunity to take the mound for Washington. And, NO ONE SLINGS THE BALL from his elbow, more than Ryan Wagner. We have wondered many times in Section 320, whether his very next pitch will be his last. He has an amazing motion for a such a hard thrower. We call him, "The Gunslinger".
My Interviews continue: Five Minutes With Ryan Wagner.
(SBF) I can tell you, I was honestly shocked by the trade that included you last summer, what was your reaction?
“It gave me a chance to just restart, get over here (to Washington) and get back to what I was originally having success in my earlier years in professional baseball. I am very excited. I love the town (DC). I had never been here before the trade. I absolutely love the city, the fan base is awesome. And, the team is definitely on the rise with the New Stadium going up, new Ownership, a lot of fresh things. So, I am very excited playing for Washington right now.”
In all likelihood, General Manger, Jim Bowden would not have completed that trade with Cincinnati, if you were not included, how did that make you feel?
“I think he is a man that really knows how to get this organization back on the right track. He’s done some things, made some trades, that have really improved this ball club. He got young guys, he’s got some core guys, guys that can stay together and are willing to form a bond together, in friendships, both on and off the field. That’s what is really going to make this team special. I was very pleased he wanted me to come here a be a part of it all."
What went wrong with you in Cincinnati? How did you get off track?
In 2005, I was injured, and they (Cincinnati) thought it was time for a change in my arm slot, or change my throwing angle. I have always been coachable and willing to listen, try anything to improve. Unfortunately, those changes just did not work. When I was traded here, the very first thing Washington told me was to go back to what I was successful with, what I was doing originally, and I was most comfortable. I began working with Randy StClaire and watching video, each and every day. He watched me throw in the games. We continued to work things out, and I settled in real nice. I am very happy with my efforts and so are The Nationals.”
In my brief chats with Randy St.Claire he seems very hands on, and gets personally involved with each and every pitcher, true?
“With pitching, just the most minor thing can be off in your motion, and then everything is off. As a Pitching Coach, you have to be very detailed oriented, because just that smallest thing, he can help you figure that problem out and improve your game a lot.”
Late in 2006, you seemed to have your confidence back, how much of that is because of St.Claire? How much you?
“A lot of factors came into play, really. I was playing somewhere where I wanted to be, in Washington. Now, I am working with people I want to work with and be with. And, seeing the enthusiasm (by staff) to help make me a better pitcher. It’s a whole new ballgame here. All that, and topped off with the success I had on the field, just made a special bonus.”
You are currently positioned to be a set up man. Do you want to be a closer, at a later time?
“I am willing to do whatever they ask me to do. Whether it’s the 6th inning or the 9th inning, I am going out there (to the mound) and face the hitters the exact same way—NO MATTER WHAT THE SITUATION IS!!” Really, I am willing to do whatever they (The Nationals) are asking me to do.”
I have to ask you about your throwing motion. I find it odd. All the torque and pressure seems to be put on your right elbow. Is that not uncomfortable and a potential setup for an injury?
“I have been throwing like that for a long time, and I have been fine. I’ve built up certain muscles, different from the way of other people, because of throwing like that. But, once those muscles are strong enough they are going to continue to work, continue to be strong enough to support what I am trying to do with them. Certainly, you never know, even those guys they say have perfect mechanics get hurt a lot. I just think its your own body, and its going to tell you when something is going to grab.”
Its funny. I have to tell you, a lot of folks talk about your pitching motion, all the time. Many of my friends wonder how you haven’t blown out your elbow?-SBF.
“Really?” (Yeah, I replied, shaking my head up and down—SBF) “Wow, I have never had a problem. Not going to worry about it. That’s me (Both of us laughing) I don’t expect to have any problems with it but you never know.”
If you do, you can now blame it on me—SBF
“Done.”—pointing at me laughing.
Is your slider back as your out pitch?
“I have really started to depend on my fastball more. I am pitching off my fastball now, rather than when I first came up to Pro Ball. I was pitching off my slider, which IS HOW YOU ARE GOING TO GET HURT, throwing too many breaking balls. I have really learned to use my fastball and use my slider when I really need it.”
Some other pitchers have told me they can depend on Brian Schneider, behind the plate, he help make them become a better pitcher (SBF).
"Absolutely, true. He really does know all the hitters. We've talked at times about what I can, not only do right now, but how I can improve in the future. We (Wagner & Schneider) are a tandem out there. We have to be on the same page, to be effective. He's great to throw to (from the mound). Brian makes every effort to understand me."
Then, Ryan actually started asking me some questions about being a fan, attending each and every game at RFK Stadium. He really enjoys living in DC. And, like most players, Wagner is very impressed with the fan support in The Nation's Capital:
“You would have never known, we were in last place last year. We were getting 25,000 fans, whereas, in other ballparks, with teams out of contention, those teams are not drawing anybody. That’s what I have found to be the most amazingly fun thing about playing in Washington. I just can’t imagine what its going to be like when we start winning. This is going to be an OUTSTANDING PLACE TO PLAY. Already, its one of the very best places to play in the entire league. I have never seen anything like it. Washington, DC is a very special place to play baseball."
From the very first day Number 35 trotted out to the mound, Red Socks riding high up to his knees of his new Nationals Uniform, I liked him. Ryan Wagner commands presence on the hill. I have no doubt, for a few years to come, he will have batters worried at the plate. Not many in Washington knew of him when he first arrived last July, but many are probably going to remember "The Gunslinger"--Ryan Wagner, for years to come.