This week I did an interview with Rangers pitcher Ryan Tatusko. Ryan is currently pitching with the Frisco RoughRiders and also writes the Backfield Diaries for the Newberg Report. Ryan is one of the nicest and most fan-friendly players in the Rangers’ organization (which is really saying something) and I would like to thank him for giving me so much of his time and providing such great answers.
Me: Can you please give three major differences you’ve experienced between starting and relieving and why?
Ryan: The three biggest differences that I have found between starting and relieving are that when you start you are able to get yourself into a certain routine. I am able to adjust more when I am in the rotation. I know that when I pitch, I’ve got to get my long distance, flush run in the next day, followed by some long sprints on the 2nd day, with them decreasing in length as the days lead to my next start. I’m also able to adjust the two lifts I need to get in. If I am feeling particularly sore after the start then I can lift the next day. When you are a reliever, you aren’t able to plan what you do between appearances, you just have to try and guess and sometimes you guess wrong and put more strain on your body. The 2nd difference I have found is that when you are relieving you have to be ready to go at all times, you don’t think when things are going to go downhill and you might get a call to come into the game, so I think mentally it can be more taxing knowing that you could be put into the game at any time. The 3rd biggest difference I have found is that starting obviously is more of an endurance game than relieving is. When you start a game, it is the pitcher’s goal to go as long as he can while still giving 100% effort on each pitch, You aren’t able to go out and start immediately throwing as hard as you can on the mound. You have to be able to pick and choose your spots to rear back and get a little extra on your fastball. If you go out and try to just throw it with everything you’ve got on every pitch, then you are going to wear yourself out right away.
Me: What has been the key to your limiting the home runs this year with just 2, when each of the past two years you have given up 9?
Ryan: During the off-season I really did some searching for something in my mechanics. Last year I always felt off when I was on the mound and was never able to figure out what was creating that. So during the off-season I put myself on video right away, and I quickly caught some mechanical flaws that I had. I really focused on correcting these flaws during the off-season and I really think it’s helped me keep the ball in the lower ½ of the zone better and I have been getting a lot more groundouts this year and keeping the ball in the park.
Me: Why have you been so successful pitching out of jams this year, since you have the highest WHIP of your career but still have your lowest ERA?
Ryan: I think I am bearing down in pressure situations better this year. Instead of trying to “limit the damage”, I try and prevent the damages, and although sometimes that can get a pitcher into trouble in situations, I have really found that it helps me bear down more and pitch more aggressively, which has helped me immensely this year. I really attribute the change in mentality to being able to get out of tough situations, and I believe that once you prove to yourself that you are able to do it and you do it a few times, then you gain much more confidence in yourself and it becomes 2nd hat to you.
Me: Is there a definite reason that you have pitched so much better at home, 2.48 ERA, than on the road, 4.19 ERA?
Ryan: You know, I think it’s just “one of those things”. I feel like I’ve had some great outings. I can look back and see some positive outing in Corpus, San Antonio, and, looking back, I can see my worst outing of the year in Midland, so I think it’s just one of those things. There is no doubt that you feel more comfortable at home, with all the fans behind you but there is also a different adrenaline rush on the road when you are trying to shut down a team in their home ballpark.
Me: Did you notice a difference between single-A and double-A hitters and, if so, what is it?
Ryan: I have noticed a HUGE difference in the hitters. For one, I have found that they are much more patient than Single-A hitters. Double-A hitters have a plan when they get to the plate and they will not chase very many balls out of the zone to deviate from that plan. Double-A hitters are looking for a pitch that they can handle, and just because you are throwing well that night it doesn’t mean that they start looking for different things. I have also noticed between my own teammates that the hitters talk more. They talk about what the pitcher is throwing them, where he is throwing it, and what difference they can make in their next at-bat to have success. To me this means that the other team is doing this as well, and thus I cannot keep with the same pitch sequence. I’ve got to be able to adapt too. The hitters here don’t miss a lot of pitches either. Meaning that when they get the pitch they were looking for in their at bat, they jump on it and drive it somewhere. I’ve seen things snowball very quickly in Double-A, and the pitchers are making good pitches. It’s just the hitters have also stepped up their game as well.
Me: What do you think has been your best professional game and why?
Ryan: I think my best professional game was my near no-hitter. I know that seems like the obvious response, but for the entire game I felt like I was in control. My defense did make incredible plays for me that night in Modesto but I had an idea for every batter and it seemed that catcher Jose Felix and I were on the same page all night and I didn’t have to shake him off very many times. The nights you are thinking right along with your catcher are great because you are able to take your mind off the mental part and just concentrate on the location of the pitches. The night in Modesto will always have a special place to me in my mind, not only was it the furthest I have ever taken a no-hitter but it was my first professional complete game and my first complete game shut-out.
Me: What were you feeling during the 9th inning of your near no-hitter last year?
Ryan: Pressure…….lots and lots of pressure on myself. I had full knowledge of what was going on, and I wanted it worse than anyone in that stadium. Honestly the nerves didn’t set in until I got the first out of the 9th inning. When the base hit was made, I wasn’t sad. No-hitters are always a figment to the pitcher’s imagination until they actually happen, so for me it wasn’t like I lost something. I still had the shutout to protect nonetheless and a 2-0 lead. I knew that the next hitter was even more important because he was the tying run and things could have gone from excellent to horrible very fast. Luckily I didn’t get hurt.
Me: Can you describe what the All-Star experience was like this year?
Ryan: This being my first all-star game, it was incredible. Being able to be a part of the festivities was so much fun. Even though it was a laid-back environment, the teams were still very competitive. You could tell that each side wanted to win the game. I would be lying to you if I didn’t say I was nervous being on the mound in the game. Everyone out there was there to prove why they got nominated as an all-star. But the game was extremely fun and entertaining, and it was nice to mingle and talk with guys from the opposite team because when you see them during the season, they are seen as the enemy because they have a different logo, so to be able to talk and make friends with those guys was a great time. The weekend did seem to go by extremely fast though.
Me: Were you excited to be in the All-Star game or would you rather have had the time off?
Ryan: I was more excited to be in the all-star game. Would the time off have been nice? Yes, it would have but you don’t know how many all-star games you will be able to experience, so I really tried to enjoy my time there and take it all in as best as I could.
Me: Who are your three favorite teammates since you joined the Rangers organization and why?
Ryan: My three favorite teammates are former teammate Blake Beavan, Brennan Garr, and Marcus Lemon.
Me: What inspired you to do the Backfield Diaries?
Ryan: The backfield diaries were actually spawned because I was working a 4am-11am shift at a local department store and I got to talking with some of my older co-workers and they asked what I did, citing that I was too young for the job I was doing and I told them that I was a baseball player in the Texas Rangers organization. They didn’t believe me, saying that I wouldn’t be working an off-season job if I were a professional athlete and it hit me right then and there that not many people know about the lives of minor league baseball players and hence the diaries were born.
Me: What’s been the best experience that’s come out of doing the Backfield Diaries?
Ryan: One of the best experiences I have gotten out of this was that I got to exchange a few emails with Nolan Ryan’s wife where she told me I brought her back to when she was with Nolan in the minors. I have also been re-published by the Dallas Morning News and Newsweek which was also very cool.
Me: What kind of feedback have you gotten from doing the Diaries?
Ryan: I always encourage the readers to email me with any questions, comments and concerns that they have. I thought that maybe I would have a few bad responses here and there, but I can honestly say it’s been 100% positive and I am so grateful for that. This is something I truly love doing and I am glad that it has had such a positive response.
Me: Can you please rate each of the ballparks in the Rangers organization that you’ve played in from 1 to 10 (10 being the best) and explain your ratings?
Spokane – 7 – Spokane used to be a AAA ballpark for the Dodgers and so the crowd and the support that the community shows us is amazing, The ballpark is 2nd to none in the Northwest league, and being in short-season ball it’s a great way to start off your professional career.
Clinton (low-A) – 6 – I really enjoyed the nostalgic feeling of the ballpark, and even though we played in a very small town in Iowa, the fans were very passionate about us and the baseball, so it always made it fun to play at home.
Bakersfield (High-A) – No comment (laughs) – AHHH “The Bake”. It has almost become a rite of passage to go there in order to fully appreciate Frisco. It’s true what they say; it is very hard to play there. The conditions aren’t the greatest there, you only have a handful of true, diehard faithful fans at the game and the heat is immense. But you learn to actually play the game there. Meaning the ball flies in the Cal League, so not only do you learn to play in adverse conditions but you also learn to pitch down in the zone and it can only help you.
Frisco – 9 – The only reason I give it a 9 is because I believe Yankee Stadium is a 10 and I don’t think any stadium compares to it. Frisco is the most amazing field I have ever been on. From the surface, to the incredible fans, the town of Frisco, TX and everything in between. The way that everyone treats us, it’s easy to get lost in it and think you’re in the big leagues. Everything about Frisco is amazing.
Me: What is the toughest thing about minor league life and why?
Ryan: The toughest thing about minor league life is the traveling. You are gone from mid-to-late February to mid-to-late September with no break. You are constantly living out of a suitcase; you might have 4 games at home, 8 on the road and 4 at home. Most of our off days are spent on a greyhound type of bus traveling to the next city to play in. You barely get to unpack your suitcase before you’ve got to pack it back up again. But honestly I wouldn’t change it for anything in the world.
Me: Who are the three toughest hitters you’ve faced and why?
Ryan: Well to make it easy, for me it’s been the entire Midland lineup! They always seem to have a good idea with me, and even when they make outs, they are hard outs. I know I have to be on my A+ game with them and make sure I am on pinpoint when I face them. My two worst outings of the year have come against them.
Me: What was your favorite team growing up?
Ryan: Being from Indiana, we do not have our own professional team, so I was a Cubs fan. I still go over to family members’ house and they always have the Cubs game on.
Me: What sports did you play growing up and which were you best at?
Ryan: I played basketball and baseball as a kid, and I always felt like I was better at baseball. I would always ask my dad to play catch with me and I made a decision at an early age to give up basketball to play baseball. My parents never pressured me. It was just something I wanted to do.
Me: What is the worst injury you’ve had to deal with?
Ryan: The worst injury I have ever had was having Tommy John surgery when I was 17. I had to miss the postseason my senior year of high school, and I also missed my true freshman year of college while rehabbing. It was more of a mental rehab than a physical one, but it’s something I’m grateful I had to go through because I attribute a lot of my mental strength on the mound to getting through that injury.
Me: What are your hobbies?
Ryan: When I have free time I love listening to music. I have such a wide taste in music. I love everything from 80/90s rock to hip/hop and everything in between. I also try and read a little bit on the bus trips. I have a very extensive movie collection that’s probably over 300 DVDs. I also love to catch up with my family and friends in the off-season. Since I am gone for a majority of the year, things are constantly changing when I’m not at home so I always love to catch up.
Me: What is your best pitch and how was it developed?
Ryan: My fastball is still my best pitch. I think that if you throw 82 or 102, your fastball should be your best pitch. There is a reason that everyone who is in baseball says that the best pitch in baseball is a well-located fastball. My fastball was developed by bullpens and years of mechanical work. I think that you can never do too much work with your mechanics, and better mechanics will give you a better idea of where your fastball is going and fastball command is everything when you’re trying to move up the ladder in this game.
I would like to thank Ryan once again for being so nice and giving me so much of his time.
I wish I could say to come back next week for my recap of tomorrow’s big Newberg Night event but I’m going to have to miss it for the first time. I’m going on a trip with my youth group at church (which I’m also excited about). So come back in two weeks for a summary of my trip to Minneapolis and Toronto to see the new Twins stadium and the Blue Jays.