This week I will post an interview I did with Rangers pitcher Matt Thompson. Last year, Matt pitched for Hickory and joined the Rangers organization in 2008. I met Matt at Newberg Night last month and got to talk to him. He was very friendly, and I enjoyed getting to talk with him.
I would like to thank Matt for doing this for me. It was very nice of him, and he is a really great guy.
Q: Did you change anything as far as your pitching goes last year to raise your strikeouts per nine by 2.42, or was it just a byproduct of being one year further in your development?
A: That is a good question and one I receive a lot. I think it was a couple things. For one, I worked hard on adding a changeup in spring training and once I got to Hickory I found that it can be successful when mixed in the right sequences. Also, I really tried to attack hitters early with strikes and pound the zone so that I could be able to waste a few pitches to get them to chase if I needed a strikeout.
Q: Were you excited to be named to the Sally League All-Star team this past season, or would you have just rather have had the time off?
A: Being selected to the All-Star team was a great honor and I will always have memories from those two days. Even though not getting the time off to rest mid season was pretty rough, I loved the experience and I hope to get selected again in the future.
Q: Do you enjoy starting or relieving more and why? Which do you feel you are best at?
A: I enjoy starting more because I enjoy the routine of those 5 days and knowing when I will pitch. Starting and relieving require two different mentalities and it can be pretty difficult to switch back and forth during the season. Ultimately, however, I will do whatever it takes to help the team win.
Q: What do you think are some of the major reasons for your ERA rising during the season last year, after starting with a 3.10 ERA in April?
A: I think a big reason it rose was due to it being my first full year. It was a constant learning experience for me this year to try to adapt to the stresses of a full season coming off of a short season. I feel like I learned a lot this year and gained experience from being in the playoffs and being around some older guys who have been in the system a few more years than I have.
Q: Your batting average against last year was much lower in day games (.262) than in night games (.316)? Why do you think that is?
A: I have always loved pitching in day games my whole life and, honestly, I think it’s because I don't have to sit around all day and wait and think. I get to just go out there and throw and compete.
Q: What do you think is the key to your success against lefties, who hit only .270 against you?
A: I think it has to do with fastball command. I am able to spot up my fastball on the corners easier to lefties and if I'm able to get ahead, I can junk them with curveballs and changeups. My curveball can have a slight slant to it, which I like to use to bury it on their back foot as a putaway pitch sometimes.
Q: What is your best pitch and how was it developed?
A: I consider my curveball my best pitch. I've thrown it since I was about 11 years old. My dad showed me some drills to help make it bite and I continued to work on it throughout high school and my pro career.
Q: What do you think has been your best professional game and why?
A: The game I look back on and remember the most was my first professional game in 2008 in the AZL. I came on in relief and didn’t even make it through an inning. It humbled me greatly and I gained so much respect for professional hitters. Coming out of high school only months before that, I really had no idea what the jump between the levels would be like. That game made me realize that I wouldn’t be able to just lean back and heave it by guys much, but that I would have to pitch smart and learn if I was to be successful.
Q: Who are your three favorite teammates since you joined the Rangers organization and why?
A: I'm pretty good friends with Clark Murphy. We signed and reported on the same days back in 2008, and we both love to hunt. I really enjoyed being with all the guys I played with in Hickory this year. We all got along and had great chemistry and I think it showed on the field. There were no individual attitudes. Each guy wanted to pick up his teammates and everyone wanted to win.
Q: 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?
A: Well, so far I have only played in two Rangers ballparks and the Spring Training complex. The Spring Training complex is one of the best in the Phoenix area. Spokane is absolutely great. I would have to give it a 9 because the fans are all baseball fans and they get into every game and there are always a lot of them! I think they average about 4,000 to 5,000 a night, if not more. Hickory is a different atmosphere because they average less a game, but I do like the Hickory area. I would have to give it a 7.5.
Q: What is the toughest thing about minor league life and why?
A: The toughest thing for me is the length of the season. We play 140 games or so without many days off. Even when we have an off day on a schedule, it is usually a travel day. Also, long bus trips are a beating because we pack the bus out with players and coaches and bags. We usually leave after the game and drive all night, only to have a couple hours in the hotel to sleep before the bus leaves to the field to start it all over again.
Q: Who are the three toughest hitters you’ve faced and why?
A: Chris Domingues from Augusta last year was tough because I couldn’t get my offspeed over for a strike in the game I faced them and he has plus power. He got a few good hacks off of me. Kyle Colligan from Kannapolis had my number last year. I faced him in a couple of 7th inning situations and he homered. Twice. Hak-Ju Lee is an infielder with the Cubs organization and he is one of the fastest professional hitters I've seen. He’s a slap hitter with a pretty good eye, and he’ll slap high quality pitches into the ground and always be a threat to beat them out.
Q: What was your favorite team growing up?
A: Well I'm a local guy so I've always been a Ranger fan. I started following them regularly when I was about 7 or 8 and I went to quite a few games growing up.
Q: What sports did you play growing up and which were you best at?
A: I tried pretty much everything growing up. I started out playing soccer until I quit that for baseball at 7. In middle school I played tennis and I attempted basketball as well. I also played hockey for 4 or 5 years. I played quarterback my junior year in high school but when my senior year started, I decided to focus on baseball.
Q: What is the worst injury you’ve had to deal with?
A: My one and only football year in high school, I actually broke my right wrist in the final district game of the year. It was a very scary moment for my family and me because we didn’t know how serious it would be and if it would hurt my pitching career. It turned out that I was only out for about 6 weeks and had plenty of time to get ready for baseball season. Nevertheless, a very scary moment.
I would like to thank Matt again for taking the time to do this interview.
Come back next week for hopefully another interview.