Monday, September 22, 2008

Jason Bergmann ESPN Zone Part Two

As was established in Part One, Jason Bergmann is an excellent student of the game of baseball. Even better, Our Number 57 can explain and discuss the game as well as anyone out there. Today, in the conclusion of Jason's Q & A with Charlie Slowes last week at The ESPN Zone--Bergmann talks about pitching inside, umpires and throwing to a variety of different catchers. All that and more as we continue with Our Washington Nationals Jason Bergmann at The ESPN Zone in downtown Washington, DC this past September 17th.

Question: What are your thoughts about desperate organizations trying to rush their pitchers through The Minor Leagues, bypassing certain levels, only to see them get up to The Big Show and self-destruct?

“I think it all depends on the pitcher. Many times you see a pitcher go straight to The Major Leagues and have success. Other times you have a guy who has been in AAA a long time and not have success. I think it all depends on the pitcher, his makeup, his ability to trust the catcher—all kinds of stuff like that are factors. I don’t know if you are really rushing a pitcher if he’s ready at 20 (years of age)—like Martis has shown he’s pitched pretty well here. He is very composed. He, like Charlie says, is throwing down in the zone with three quality pitches. Is he ready or not? His statistics show that he is looking pretty good. Other guys have come up and struggled a little bit, maybe that has to do with a bad day or whatever, but I don’t think you can actually say there is a number that this guy can pitch at 21 or 25 or 26. It just depends on if they just go out there and get it or not.”

Question: What do you think of Nationals Park as a pitcher and what park do you like to pitch in the most?

“I like Nationals Park. I think it is a great place. I think that scoreboard is tremendous. I think they worked out a lot of the kinks early on. Being in a new stadium there is always going to be stuff that you are going to find out is going to go wrong. There are apparently a whole bunch of questions about whether it was ready or not. I don’t know anything about that stuff. It’s a beautiful park. It’s got great dimensions. I think a lot of people are asking questions whether it’s a hitter’s park or a pitcher’s park. I think it’s pretty neutral. Early on it was more of a pitcher’s park. As the weather started to warm up, the ball started to carry a little bit more, definitely, that right center field bleachers seem to carry the best. We saw Zimmerman hit a home run to dead center a week and a half ago, two weeks ago, that I can’t believe it went that far. It hit off the back wall about 440 feet on a line. That’s just his power. But, the park plays very fair. We are all happy with it. I don’t know if there is one park I really like playing in. I like Atlanta. I like Pittsburgh. I like pitching in Shea. I like pitching in our home park. I liked pitching at RFK Stadium for obvious reasons. But every park has got its own little nuances, stuff like that, that make each an interesting place. There is no park that is not a good park.”

Charlie: People always ask me the same question. They are all different. Atmospheres are different. Wrigley Field, there is nothing like that to compare it too, except for maybe Fenway Park.

“Wrigley is incredible. If you have been there it’s like a huge college attitude. Everybody is yelling and screaming. The bleachers are filled before the first pitch. Before we are even out there for BP, there are thousands already in the park. It makes for a fun time as a visiting player to go out there and see how dedicated they are to their fans. We have confidence in our fan base and look forward to our team picking it up. When we see thousands of people out there. A full Red Loft. A full bleachers and they are all yelling and screaming for our guys—our park is going to be pretty loud as well and that’s pretty exciting.”

Charlie: What has it been like when you have had big crowds at Nationals Park with the fans so close to the field? Do you feel the difference between RFK?

“When it’s loud it’s intimidating. It can be a very intimidating place. It’s a very loud stadium. And when our fans get up and scream and yell and clap—it can be a motivator for our team and it can really can be a 10th person. You talk about how a fan can contribute, well, I tell you what—when the count is 3-2 and you are yelling for our side and the yelling is clicking in your ear because it’s so loud—their team might be a little more intimidated. It might make a little bit of an edge for us. That’s something we look at when we go to other places. When it’s really loud in Philly, you know it. You can feel it. When we get that it’s going to work for us. So, we encourage that—please.”

Charlie: Last home stand, the team only lost one game—you felt it then. The crowd was into it late in games. Even last night, the crowd was probably not as big as some others, but in the 9th inning, you could tell the crescendo building with that match up between Joel Hanrahan and David Wright. (September 16th 1-0 Game). He got a little adrenaline going.

“And you can tell the fans helped that out. When the fans are right behind you, you can really feel it. It’s this coming aura that they are pulling for you and when you are doing a good job and the fans are on their feet extremely yelling—you know it’s going to work in our favor.”

Question: There has been a lot of injuries with catchers—Johnny Estrada, Paul LoDuca, is there any one catcher you would like to throw to or does that bother you at to have different catchers—never knowing who might be there behind the plate?

“It doesn’t bother me. Look at the injuries that happened. Estrada was hurt during spring training. LoDuca got off-season knee surgery. He got hit twice in the same hand. Jesus Flores makes a great play at the plate and his cleat gets stuck in the ground. He ends up with a twisted ankle. He’s working real hard to come back. I think that working with the catchers there is one point where I threw four consecutive starts to four different catchers. It’s a good thing and it’s a bad thing. I think different catchers can see different thinks in you, but they all stick to the game plan. So, it should not change too much. Wil (Nieves) sets up a little different than Flores. Estrada set up a little different than LoDuca. But, in the end, the game plan is still the same. Let’s go hard in on this guy (batter). Throw curve balls to this guy. Make sure this guy does not hit a fastball down the middle. Stuff like that is stuff that does not matter whether you are Flores, LoDuca, Estrada, Nieves or (Luke) Montz. It still needs to be a fastball in and it still needs to be set up for whom you are throwing to. Anytime you must have trust we are wearing the same jersey and that everything will work in your favor.”

Charlie: Really, if you think about it a little differently, as long as he (the catcher) is calling the same game and you are in tuned with him and you are not having to shake him off….

“Yeah, I think the biggest concern is that a lot of us don’t like to shake off the catcher because we like to be on the same page. The only time I usually shake off the guy is if I want a curveball and he wants a slider. I think that is the biggest thing with catchers. Maybe Estrada did not know that I like my curveball more than my slider and he keeps putting down that slider. I like my curveball better, it’s a much better pitch but catchers can see that. They adjust too. If your curveball is working better one day, they will probably go to the two (pitch) instead of the three (slider).”

Question: When we are playing The Phillies it always seems to end up in a fistfight. I think they are deliberately going after our players. Kyle Kendrick hits Ryan Zimmerman on July 31st the second time up. The next time on Labor Day he threw at his head. Chase Utley went into Jesus Flores. It looked to me as if he was trying to go into his shoulder and not necessarily knock the ball out of his glove. And it does not look to me as if The Nationals are giving it back to The Phillies. What do you think of that?

“I think our rivalry with The Phillies is pretty intense. They are a very good ball club. We played a very good ball club like them, and The Mets tough. If you watch the video (of the Flores collision with Utley), Chase clearly jumped from about 10 feet away. But, if he really wanted to hurt Flores, he would have waited until the very last second to really barrel him. Chase is a hard-nosed player and he plays tough. He is the type of guy you want on your team and hate playing against him. Therefore, I am going to say it probably was not a dirty play as much as he was trying to do a ‘Charlie Hustle’ grinder play. If Flores does not hold on to that ball, it’s a different situation. But, he (Utley) was not aiming for a certain body part. If he really wanted to hurt him, he would have gone in at the last second, lowered his head and gone for the head. Flores blocked the plate pretty well. There was no room for him to go, outside, inside. So, the only way to try to do anything is to go right for him. And he did almost jump from the grass—a good seven feet away—so he is just a hard-nosed player. As for the fans, you guys sit out there. You guys have been to Philly. They love their team. They do. They love their team. They want them to win. They do boo a lot. They do cheer a lot and it’s a tough place to play—for and against them.”

Charlie: This rivalry is going to end up in the stands too—between The Phillies Fans and The Nationals Fans. We get so many of them coming to Nationals Park.

“Part of your question too was about throwing at people. Well, I have only been in the game for a couple of years, but I understand back in the day they use to throw at people all the time—that was just a part of the game. A part of the game that has changed and modified over the years. I am not saying that is part of the game we should return to, but if you are standing inside like The Phillies do. You are going to get balls thrown inside. It’s not meant to hit you. But, if it does hit you, you can’t take exception to it because you are standing right on the dish. If you are standing right on the plate and the ball hits you—you have got to come to expect a few of those. You are so close to the plate. Chase Utley, if you have an overhead view, his elbow is on the plate. That ball could be a strike.”

Charlie: He wants you to pitch inside because he is so good at not just taking a big swing but, just like Willie Harris has become for The Nationals, just dropping the barrelhead of the bat down and ripping the ball down the right field line.

“It’s a part of the game, standing right on the plate, because pitchers know it’s hard to pitch inside, it really is, especially if that guy is standing on the plate. You really don’t want to hit a guy like Utley, because Ryan Howard is on deck and he knows that. We all know that. Rollins is right on the plate. Victorino is right on the plate. Utley is right on the plate. And when those guys are on the plate and you are trying to throw a fastball in—if that leaks just a little bit over that’s going to be right in his zone. So, pitching inside has to be part of the game. I am not saying people are throwing at people. I don’t know if anyone was throwing at anyone. But, when guys get hit like Utley they are right on the plate. You have to come to expect things like that.”

Charlie: 2006 looking back and now playing for The Cubs, (Alfonso) Soriano the same thing. He wants you to try to pitch inside.

“The crazy thing is that the plate is only 17”. Soriano can get to a ball this far off the plate (stretching his arm a good 10” off an imaginary plate) just because he uses that big bat and he is so far over the plate. So, if you throw a slider and it’s a bastard slider. It’s a really, really good slider that starts on the outside corner and goes 7” outsides—he can still hit that out of the park. That’s what the problem is when facing him (both Jason and Charlie Chuckling). If you are going to try to throw inside to a guy like that, you have to also worry about throwing away and keeping him honest—as we say.”

Question: Jason, you were talking before about trying too hard. If you have ever gone into a game saying I am going to do exactly what the catcher says. All I am going to do is look for his mitt?

“Yes, I have done that. I have done that a lot. There are times were I have not shaken off a catcher in 100 plus pitches. Like I have said, we try to stay with the game plan. Obviously, the catcher is down there throwing down what the game plan dictates. There are also times when the hitters make adjustments. I can say I am going to throw this guy all fastballs away because he is batting .100 on fastballs away. If he’s diving and hooks that fastball into the gap for a triple, well you need to adjust your game plan a little bit. When the numbers say he’s hitting .100 on fastballs, what fastballs is he hitting .100 against? Is he hitting.100 off Joel Hanrahan 97 (MPH)? Or is he hitting .100 against Jamie Moyer’s 81 (MPH)? You can’t tell (on the scouting charts). You can’t tell if this guy is hitting Brad Lidge’s slider, my slider, or somebody else’s slider. It’s all kind of loosely based. You must make your adjustments on the fly. If this guy is hitting curve balls really well and all of a sudden you throw him a curve ball and he can’t find it—you might have to go back to that pitch—because it’s working then. That is what his eyes are seeing off you at that time. You are a completely different pitcher than any other pitchers out there. You can’t say this guy is exactly like that pitcher. It’s very important to be able to go out there and make adjustments on the fly.”

Charlie: You are pitching a great game or are in a tight spot and this happens—we talked about how small that plate is—you make a pitch that you and the catcher know is a strike. The umpire does not call it. That has got to be frustrating for not only you but also every other pitcher. That has got to be the ultimate frustration when you actually have a strike and for some reason the umpire misses it.

“Umpires are human. They are seeing that same 90 MPH fastball coming in. They may blink at the wrong time or something happens. They get mixed up. If you’ve got a pretty good curveball—you might fool the umpire too. And sometimes that does happen. They are only human. I know they’ve got instant replay. It’s only a matter of time before they do instant relay on pitches too (joking). Who knows? Yes, it’s a little frustrating, but you know you have got to come back and make that adjustment and try to move to his zone a little bit more.”

Charlie: You are throwing a curveball where it passes the batter and the plate. The catcher catches it. Do Umpires ever talk about that where ‘I thought it was high when it passed the hitter.’ Or, it was inside and didn’t get the plate—it went around the plate.

“There is always a time to ask an umpire. Obviously, when you are throwing that pitch is not the best time. Maybe after the inning, say hey, do you have that high, or did you have that low? Was that curveball low? If you are friendly enough and show them the proper respect, they will come back and say it was close, but it was a little bit low. And you know what, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said: ‘I know that pitch is a strike. I know it is. I know it in my heart.’ I go up to watch the video and the pitch is 7” outside. Catchers do a very good job of framing the ball. So good, they even fool us sometimes.”

Charlie: Are there any umpires, and you don’t have to name names, that are not going to talk to you at all?

“I think it’s all how you ask and when you ask. If you ask at a wrong time, they might blow you off. I have never really had an unfriendly umpire. Most times they are all pretty good.”

With that answer--this ESPN Zone Lunch Time Meet & Greet with Jason Bergmann came to a conclusion. It was autograph and picture time, the customary ritual where everyone in attendance can step up to Jason and share a little more personal time with a player of Our Washington Nationals. This was a good one hour session where some good baseball knowledge was shared by Our Number 57. He was very, very good--well worth the time to attend.

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