Monday, September 29, 2008

Season Ending Chat With Jason Bergmann

Jason Bergmann is one of Our Washington Nationals most compelling players. In the few times Sohna and I have spoken with him, Our Number 57 has been very thoughtful. Not only has he been kind enough to answer our many questions, Jason has also shown an interest in us--wanting to know more about The African Queen and Me. We always find him fun to talk to.

Recently, Jason Bergmann sat down and chatted with me about his just completed season, his team, his teammates, and what he sees in the near future for himself and Our Washington Nationals. A Season Ending Chat that, as usual, found Our Number 57 open and willing to answer my many questions.

With that, here with go with My Season Ending Chat With Jason Bergmann.

You’ve had an up and down year. (SBF)

“Yeah, you could say that.”

But you seem to be in good spirits. It doesn’t seem to have affected you mentally? (SBF)

“If you take everything and put it all together it’s been a good year (for him personally). There are going to be good and bad starts, but if you defeat yourself mentally. If you beat yourself up, it’s going to go down the wrong track. Always stay upbeat, be on the positive side and keep yourself around positive people. It’s almost like willing yourself to do the right thing. I like to go home (after games and practice), hang out with my family and just be happy, be positive because I don’t want to go down the wrong road. It is very easy to defeat yourself and have a defeatist mentality.”

“This is a very difficult game and it’s been a little bit of a tough year, with so many injuries and our record. We finally have so many guys finally playing at a good level now. Guys like (Lastings) Milledge, (Elijah) Dukes turned it up a notch. And our pitching staff, (Odalis) Perez had had a good year. (John) Lannan has had a good year. Just seeing how things are working out it’s been a tough year for some guys and it’s very easy to beat yourself up. But, as long as you go in with the right attitude, things will work out in the end. And the better you feel, the harder you work, and the better off you will be.”

Although I would venture to say you handled this season better than you may have in the past. You grew up. (SBF)

“Oh, definitely. Growing up a little bit, being here, being around the support staff. My wife and having the baby, I am so much happier personally. I use to be the kind of guy who would get upset with a lot of things and I am still a really intense competitor. But, there are certain things I have learned from last year to keep poised, keep the frame of mind in the right place. So, when I am working for things, I am not working with a chip on my shoulder. I am working to get better each time.”

Do you find yourself getting frustrated on the mound and maybe look into the dugout and see Tim Redding (a mentor) realizing you have to listen to what he is saying? (SBF)

“I never look into the dugout. (Really? SBF) Never look into the dugout. I might think about things that might have been said to me. I have a mechanical flaw in my delivery where I tend to fly out a lot. It’s something that is very hard for me to keep under control. I can’t feel it. It’s not something where I can feel I am looking out. I can see it in my pitches, but I can’t feel it in my body because I am so use to it. It’s almost as if I have bad muscle memory and it’s something that is very difficult for me to overcome. But when I am on with it, it stays with me. So, by just being able to go into side sessions with Randy (St.Claire) and being able to throw in the bullpen working on getting my mechanics straight once they get out of whack is important. I know what to do. It’s a question then of working everything out, instead of just trusting myself and throwing, trying to make changes on the fly. The game is not the best time to be thinking about all this.”

Can this correctable problem become a natural part of your delivery? (SBF)

“I don’t know if it will ever be. Throwing is not a natural motion. But I know I need to stay on top of the ball better. The more violent my delivery, the more I am prone to flying out. Keeping myself relaxed, throwing easily and not getting overly emotional out there. I think that is the hardest thing for me to do.”

I have heard you talk a lot about how you and your catcher need to be on the same page and the pre-game strategy session is important in this communication process—what exactly are you doing?

“We do just that. We do a lot of work behind the scenes. We will go over the full team as a pitching staff before a series, what these guys have done. St.Claire is, unfortunately, the only pitching coach I have had to work with. So, I can’t compare him to anybody. But from what I understand and what guys have said, this guy works harder than everybody. He’s constantly watching video. He’s watching video on the plane. I am sure his wife is going to kill him (laughing) for watching video at home. He is letting you know what this guy has done over the five to 10 games. What his tendencies are. Whether he’s starting to look inside. He’s really diving out over the plate away. He’s looking for the fastball away. He’s got to be one of the most technologically advanced pitching coaches in terms of using the video and advance scouting.”

“Like I said, the numbers are what the numbers are. You (the hitter) don’t know if you are getting a slider, but if you know that that guy is hitting a lot of sliders--he’s seeing different types of sliders. He (St.Claire) is great at seeing just that (breaking hitters down) and taking the advanced scouting report and letting the pitchers know what these guys (hitters) are doing now. What they have done over the past couple of games. How we can get them out. What their weaknesses are. We do a lot of that.”

“Then, on game day, you go over the hitters. Jose Reyes is doing this. We need to pitch him like this. (David) Wright is doing this. We need to pitch him like this. (Carlos) Delgado is hot right now, but I don’t want you to throw him any fastballs, stuff like that. That’s just a for instance, but that’s the kind of stuff we go over on a daily basis.”

So, how do you deal with someone like Chase Utley. He crowds the plate, putting his elbow over it? (SBF)

“You just can’t think about it. His elbow is on the plate, but you can get him out there too. There’s a hole. You have to be able to pitch him inside and if it hits him, you know what, he’s on the plate. He knows what he is getting into standing so close to the plate. And once you show him inside, maybe he will start to look inside (for a pitch) and you get him away. He’s a good hitter, but no hitter is perfect, otherwise he would be batting. 1.000.”

How difficult is it to pitch to someone like him (Utley) with Ryan Howard batting behind him? (SBF)

“Every hitter has his holes where he is looking. As I said, we go over the advance scouting, maybe Chase is pulling off every ball, so we pitch him away more. Howard is the same way. He is really hot some times, where he is going away real well with that swing he has. But he stands off the plate; if you throw him some good quality pitches away you can probably get him out. But you need to also show him inside to make him stop diving. If you show him inside and his mindset has changed. That’s the whole game plan of pitching inside.”

You’ve mentioned you still want to be a starter in The Major Leagues. With all that is going on within this organization. A lot of young guys coming up. Do you feel you are going to have a role? (SBF)

“Yes, absolutely. There is definitely a role. I want to be a starter. I think I have proven, although I have had bad games, I have had some really, really, good games to build off of. Next year is a whole new year. I got to go in and win a spot, regardless. There are a lot of young arms, but as you can see, they (baseball operations) are just building arms; they are not building starters or relievers. They are building arms. Whether they trade them, (Garrett) Mock was moved to the bullpen. He was a starter. He was a starter up until the middle of this season here. I think they feel he’s going to be a quality reliever. And I think he has shown he can be a quality reliever. (Michael) Hinckley has been a starter in the past.”

“In the minors you build arms to build up endurance. Sometimes they want younger guys to throw their pitches, that’s why they put them in a starter role. It does not necessarily mean they will be a starter. I was a starter in the Minor Leagues. They moved me to relief because they thought I would get to the majors quicker—help the Big League Team. And that is the whole point of the minors and that is to manufacture Major League Players.”

Team wise—The Nationals seems a little better off than a few months ago. Injuries also took a lot of playing time away. I see some good young players here. (SBF)

“There are a lot of quality players. I think there was a lineup we threw out there where the average age was about 24. That’s unbelievable. That’s even unbelievable to have this kind of talent at this level with our team right now. You have a guy like Dukes playing well over his age, showing tremendous five-tool talent. (Emilio) Bonifacio and (Anderson) Hernandez are going to be able to fight for a second base spot (in the lineup). That is exciting because, I think, competition can only improve your team. If you get too settled into one guy, in one spot, it not always good. I think we have competition at every position except for third base. Everybody coming in (next year) is going to have a good idea of what to expect. Guys like Milledge, Dukes, (Austin) Kearns; we are going to have a crowded outfield—especially if we re-sign Willie Harris. Wily Mo (Pena) is coming back because he will be healthy. You are going to have a crowded outfield with a lot of healthy competition. Healthy competition can build better ballplayers.”

From a pitching standpoint, I would imagine you guys would be happy up the middle, because this team is much stronger defensively? (SBF)

“At the trade deadline, they (management) did a great job of adding defensively minded players with the ability to have some offensive threat. Pitching and Defense wins ball games, but you do still have to score to win. A guy like Bonifacio, if he bats .250, he might have 60 stolen bases over a course of a year. But everyone has something to work on. I have something to work on, pitching. They want certain guys to walk more. They want certain guys to take better pitches and get better swings on the ball. Everyone knows it’s a lot easier to hit a 2-0 pitch than a 0-2 pitch. Working the count a little better will help our offense out a ton. Our pitching staff has grown over the last year or so. They are giving guys opportunities to take advantage.”

Seems despite what for many has been a disappointing season—players still were upbeat, where does that come from? (SBF)

“It trickles down from Manny (Acta). Manny presents a great atmosphere. I am not saying there is no pressure. I am just saying he takes the load off. He knows that if you go out there and hustle, good things will happen. He doesn’t want anyone to sit back on their heels and kinds of let things go by him. He wants everyone running hard. He wants everyone throwing to the right bases, fundamental defense, and fundamental baseball. And we know (as a team) we are not going to hit 200 Home Runs or 250 Home Runs. But if you hit the double, bunt him over and get a sacrifice fly or something like that—that’s how the game of baseball is played. If you don’t want to bunt, hit the ball to the right side (advancing the runner). We’ve got a lot of guys that are really buying into the attitude that Manny presents. He does such a great job of letting players be the players and not being overly critical by calling people out. Like he says, throwing a chair is not going to get me to throw a fastball any better. It’s all perception and he does a great job.”

Yet some critics complain he should be throwing that chair around? (SBF)

“It’s all based on team performance. If the team is not doing well, they (fans, critics) are going to say so. It’s the fair weather idea. If things are good, just let everything go. If things are bad, now let’s be critical. That’s the way people are in all facets of life. Manny has been constant for the past two years. He’s been the same guy. He’s had the same attitude. He still pulls guys out for early work, regardless of our record and our standing. People are still going out there and working hard and that’s all you can really ask for right now. The results are showing.”

What are you doing this off-season? (SBF)

“Off Season, I am going to take a much needed break. Last year, I went to play Winter Ball. This year, I am going to rest a little bit more. I would like to get refreshed, start my workout program a little earlier, now since I have a month and a half (free time). That’s the stuff I plan on doing for the off-season. I am going to take a mental breather.”

I really didn’t want to see the team lose 100 Games. (SBF)

“I know, but look at The Tigers. They lost all those games that one year (2003) and became a better team for it. If you can play well as an individual and as a team, while losing, just think of how well you will be able to play when you are winning. It’s a building block.”

A lot of people have said this team needs a first baseman, needs a number one or two starter. You hear this all the time, not only in the media, but the blogs. Do you feel this team can compete with how it’s currently composed? (SBF)

“Given a healthy team, I think the pitchers have proven they can pitch. Every hitter has proven, at times, they can hit. You put a healthy team out there and I think we are looking pretty good. I am not saying that’s the team we have out there. I am just saying the team we have had out there on The DL (Disabled List) is a pretty good team. You add guys in there like Nick (Johnson) and Dmitri (Young) and Wily Mo. It’s like I said, what healthy competition does is produce better players, because now the best will come out in each player, no one gets complacent. Now, they (the players) have something eating at them and they want to do better. Competitive Edge is what it is all about.”

Make everyone more prideful of what they are doing. (SBF)

“If you get too laid back and reserved with the way things are, there is someone else out there who is hungry and wants it more. There is always room to improve.”

With that My Season Ending Chat With Jason Bergmann concluded. As always, Our Number 57 was upfront and refreshing in his commentary. He doesn't hold back. The African Queen and I like that--a lot. As Charlie Slowes mentioned recently at Jason's ESPN Zone Appearance, chatting with Jason Bergmann is a lot like having your Own Good Talk Radio Show. He's got the knowledge and he dispenses it well.

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