mark mccormick came off the DL for quad cities last night and made his 1st start in more than a month. his return is most welcome, and he pitched pretty well -- 4 innings, 2 runs, 0 walks against dayton. the only downside for readers of this site is that mccormick displaced trey hearne from the rotation -- this despite the fact that hearne went 3-1 with a 1.98 era in 7 starts as mccormick's understudy. during that span he held opposing batters to a .211 average, struck out a man an inning, and had a 4:1 strikeout-walk ratio -- impressive numbers at any level, major league or minors. hearne did get into the game last night -- won it, actually, with 5 innings of 2-hit relief, to raise his season record to 7-2. but moving forward it's back to the bullpen for VEB's favorite under-the-radar prospect.
the 'pen has been hearne's home for most of his professional career, which began last season when the cardinals took him in the 28th round out of texas a&m-corpus christi. hearne was only the 2d big-league draftee in the history of that school -- the 1st, centerfielder charles carter, went 1 round ahead of him, also to the cardinals. hearne pitched well in short-season a last season (here's his stat line, college and pro), striking out nearly 10 guys per 9 innings and holding opposing hitters to a .181 avg, and he got off to a strong start this year coming out of the quad cities bullpen -- at one point this spring he retired 22 consecutive men, 5 shy of a piece-meal perfect game. in may he picked up a few spot starts, pitched well, was noticed by DCGreg about this time last month, and has been mentioned routinely on this blog ever since.
another VEB reader, stlnd (who writes the Luck o' the Redbirds blog), chatted hearne up from the stands when quad cities came to south bend for a series week before last. turns out hearne had no idea any st louis fans were even aware of his existence, much less diligently tracking his every performance. i followed up with an e-mail to quad cities broadcaster ben chiswick, who set up an interview for me last week. it took place last wednesday, a few hours before hearne went out and beat fort wayne.
here's the transcript; hope you enjoy it. if you're watching the All-Star Game tonight, i will have a game thread up this afternoon.
you pitched in relief last year and the first part of this year, and then about the end of may they moved you into the starting rotation. what was the reasoning behind that?
originally i was a long reliever -- we throw a lot of innings, and when a starter goes down and has to miss a start, we'll take a spot start. they just throw you in there, because you can throw more innings than most other relievers. so they threw me in there when somebody went down, i can't remember who, and i had a couple of spot starts, and then mccormick got hurt. i took a couple of starts for him and i ended up doing good, and he was gonna be down for a while so they just left me in there because i was having some success. i guess they figured i was doing better at that than i was at relieving, which so far has been true. i had a couple of bad outings in relief. i just seemed to be doing better in the rotation.
do you like pitching out of the rotation better, or do you prefer relief pitching?
they're about the same, um --- i don't know, i can't say that. i like knowing when i'm going to throw. i like pitching every five days. relievers, we don't know when we're gonna pitch, gotta be ready every day. so mentally it's actually a little bit easier starting.
you were a starting pitcher in college?
it looks like you took a real step forward your senior year at corpus christi and were pretty dominant. the previous year you had done pretty well, but your era came way down and your strikeouts went way up in your senior year. did you do anything differently?
well, what happened was i've always played both ways -- i played in the outfield and i was pitching. and that took a toll on me on the mound. my arm was just tired because i had to go play in the outfield after i was done pitching, and my legs were tired. and my senior year, what they did was they just said, 'look, we just want you to pitch. we think you can help us out more on the mound than in the field." it freed up a lot of time. i had a lot of time to work on extra stuff and run a little bit more and do some other stuff to get in good shape as a pitcher. and that helped a lot, not having to worry about hitting and just being able to focus on pitching. i miss hitting, but i definitely wasn't as good a hitter as it turned out i was on the mound.
they started you out last year in the new york-penn league. what was that transition like, coming into professional baseball?
it was tough -- more mentally than physically. just being able to get yourself prepared every single day to go out and pitch was something that i had never done before. it was tough to get used to. i was real thankful to have had a good year considering all the changes that i went through to get ready for professional baseball.
you grew up in texas and then went to college there. was it a big change to find yourself playing professional ball on the east coast, in new jersey?
it wasn't that big a shock. i mean, everything's different, but i've traveled a lot for baseball, and really texas isn't all that different from anywhere else. so it wasn't that bad.
this year you're on a team that has some of the most talked-about prospects in the cardinal organization. colby rasmus -- until the last couple of days, he was your teammate. bryan anderson gets a lot of attention, mark mccormick gets a lot of attention. jaime garcia started getting talked about a lot this year. does that make it harder or easier for you to be surrounded by guys who are touted as some of the top guys in the cardinal system?
i don't know if it's harder or easier, but it makes it a lot of fun -- so i guess, really, it makes it easier. to watch some of the guys play, it's a treat. to watch rasmus, or to be able to pitch to anderson -- those guys are 19 years old, and they're both more mature baseball-wise than i would consider myself right now. it's just a lot of fun. i love baseball, and to see talent like that and to be able to see it every day -- really, it's a blessing. i enjoy it.
tell me a little bit about your repertoire as a pitcher -- what's your best pitch, what are you developing, what do you go to in a jam?
i throw a fastball, curveball, a slider, and a changeup. and it depends on what day it is as to which one's my best pitch. i consider my fastball probably my most valuable, because most of the time -- not every day, but most of the time -- i can put it where i want to, which makes everything else just a little more effective. but i need all of them. i don't throw hard, so being able to kind of trick batters is how i work. that's how i get guys out.
what do you top out at with your fastball?
i think this year the hardest i've thrown one is 88 or 89. i hit 90 or 91 last year, but that was out of relief. i don't throw hard, and if i try to throw hard, it seems like the harder i throw the more i get hit. my curveball breaks pretty good; it's easy to pick up but it's got a big break, so it's pretty hard for them to just crush it. but it's different for every batter that comes in there. it just depends on what they hit better, but the curveball is probably my out pitch.
i'll admit i'm a little bit surprised -- just looking at your stats, with all those strikeouts, i thought you were gonna tell me you threw it 100 miles an hour.
no, in fact if you go and watch me throw, you're not gonna think a whole lot. i'm not lighting up the gun or blowing it by anybody. i'm out there chipping away, trying to get outs.
you've been on a pretty impressive run since you joined the rotation -- an era in the 1.00s with a low hit total and a lot of strikeouts. is there anything in particular that you can put your finger on to explain why things are working out so well right now?
i couldn't say one thing, just trying to stay focused. when we play teams, i try to pay attention to what their hitters do [when i'm not pitching] and try to figure out how other guys are getting them out or how i think i could get them out. when i'm on the mound i try to stay calm, don't panic about anything. if i give up a home run or a double or whatever, just handle it as it comes. because if you start getting worried out there on the mound, that's when things really start going bad.
what are you working on in particular to try to get yourself ready to move forward in the organization?
i probably need to get a little more movement on my fastball. it's pretty flat, pretty straight. if i can add a little sink on it, that would be good. also being able to pitch inside a little more, keeping guys off the plate, keeping them from getting comfortable. there's always something. i'll never have this thing figured out; there'll always be something to fix.
how do you like working with bryan eversgerd, your pitching coach?
i like him a lot. he's not too controlling. he kind of lets you do your own thing, but he gives you advice. i've learned a whole lot about myself and about how i should pitch. it's been good. i've liked working with him.
is there a pitcher who you really identify with, or rooted for as a kid growing up?
probably greg maddux, just because of his style. the way he throws is a lot like i throw. of course, he's 100 times better than me, but he doesn't throw very hard, and he has to hit his spots. to watch him throw, it's amazing to see what he can do.
maddux of course is sort of the gold standard of precision pitchers. are there other guys in the big leagues from that same mold -- maybe not hall-of-famers, but guys who succeed without throwing it very hard -- who are sort of examples to model yourself after?
oh yeah, we talk about it all the time. it doesn't really matter how hard you throw. the guys who don't throw as hard have to be a lot more fine; you can't make as many mistakes, but you can still make it. a lot of these hitters would prefer a hard fastball as opposed to a slow one.
the cardinals drafted you in the 28th round. were you expecting to get drafted after that great senior season you had at corpus christi?
i really didn't know. to tell you the truth, going into my senior year, i thought that was it. i was starting to look for places to interview for jobs. the only scouts who talked to me were a guy for the astros and joe alvarez, the guy that drafted me for the cardinals. i didn't know what was gonna happen, to tell you the truth.
joe alvarez has gotten some notoriety lately because he's the guy who scouted jaime garcia, who's also from texas. did you know jaime before you guys became teammates?
no, i hadn't met him. but he's definitely a guy to watch. he's a big leaguer. if he can stay healthy, i really believe he'll be up there.
are you the first guy from texas a&m corpus christi to ever get drafted?
me and the guy that was drafted by the cardinals the round before me, a centerfielder. we were both drafted by the cardinals, and we the first two to get drafted out of corpus christi. he's at state college right now. his name is charles carter.
you grew up in astros / rangers country. did you root for those teams as a kid?
oh yeah. i'm a huge astros fan -- i probably shouldn't say that. . . . . my dad's a huge fan [of the astros], he probably doesn't miss a game the whole season. i grew up watching biggio and bagwell, all those guys.
you must have seen a few games that darryl kile threw.
oh yeah. in fact, not too long ago on espn classic i watched one of the no-hitters he threw for the astros.
you were telling me a second ago about getting ready to do job interviews. if you hadn't gotten drafted, what line of work were you interested in going into?
to tell you the truth i had no idea. i was three classes away from getting just a business bachelor's degree, and was hoping maybe to get a job to help me go through flight school. i was kind of wanting to be a pilot. but i didn't really have a clue as to what i was gonna do.
thanks a lot trey, i appreciate your taking the time; best of luck.
hey, it's an honor to have you guys be interested. i was really surprised to hear that some cardinal fans were paying attention to us down here, and i really appreciate that. i had no idea, to tell you the truth. it's neat to have people who actually care and do pay attention, because you don't see that a whole lot.