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blake test

the report from davenport is encouraging. mulder needed just 57 pitches to get through five innings, holding the opposition to 2 hits and 2 walks. it didn't bother me so much that he only struck out 1 guy, but i wasn't pleased to hear that he yielded a homer. the single biggest difference between mulder v2006 and mulder v2005 is the elevated dinger rate --- he yields them more than twice as often this year (one hr every 5 innings) as last (one every 11 innings). but that's just a quibble. based on yesterday's outing, the targeted date for mulder's return -- next wednesday vs cincinnati -- seems within reach. here's the box score, and here are recaps from the cards' official site and the swing of the quad cities team site. also reverend redbird attended the game and filed a spot report; ditto rob haneberg at the birdwatch, who logged all 57 pitches and has the most in-depth dissection of the outing that's out there.

mulder is next scheduled to pitch on friday at triple a or double a. if the latter, maybe he can ask blake hawksworth for some advice about pitching with a rehabbed shoulder. hawksworth, who tonight makes his 8th start for springfield, mangled his shoulder in early 2004, halting a double-time march through the low minors. at the time he got hurt, hawksworth ranked #1 on baseball america's list of the stl organization's top prospects; BA's scouting report that year said he had "the highest ceiling of any St Louis pitching prospect since Rick Ankiel" and projected him as a front-of-rotation starter with an ETA of 2005.

alas, hawksworth required surgery in 2004 to repair a torn labrum and spent most of 2005 in extended spring training, pounding the creases and kinks out of his arm. but with a strong performance this season, he has returned to the front of st louis' prospect class. hawksworth ranked 3d among VEB readers in DJ87's community top-prospects poll. i spoke with him late last week; here's the transcript of our conversation.

what would you say is the biggest difference between double a and a ball?
this is definitely a hitter's league. it's loaded with prospects, and the ball travels well here. generally the florida state league has been a good pitcher's league. there's obviously more talent here, but good pitching will beat good hitting at any level.

are there specific parts of your repertoire that have been more difficult to translate to double a -- maybe a certain pitch that fooled class a hitters but not double-a guys?
i don't think so. i feel like i can locate all my pitches. the only adjustment i've had to make up here is mixing in more off-speed pitches in hitter's counts, changing speeds more. at palm beach i threw a lot of fastballs and dared guys to hit it, because the ballparks [in the florida state league] are so big you could get away with a lot more. up here you've got to mix it up a little bit more.

what is your repertoire? obviously your fastball is very good; what else do you throw?
changeup, curveball, slider.

you mentioned the changeup first -- is that your primary off-speed pitch?
yeah. it always has been.

there's a lot of talk among cardinal fans these days about the different types of fastballs, 4-seam vs 2-seam. what type of fastball do you throw?
i throw both. before i had surgery i threw a little bit harder than i'm throwing now, but hopefully i can regain some of that strength and maybe next year get back to where i was before surgery.

even within this season, it seems as if you began striking guys out more regularly in about the middle of june. has your arm strength increased since the beginning of the season?
funny, i was just talking to my dad about that. i think it's just that my overall stuff has gotten a little bit sharper. at palm beach, it was still fairly new, i was getting some rust off. i just have a better feel for all my pitches at this point. i think, too, in this league hitters chase a little bit more. they'll chase my off-speed a little bit more. if you're throwing strikes, they'll chase.

do you think there's a tendency for guys to expand their strike zones at double a because, as you said, there are more hitting prospects at this level? you know, they don't want to take a walk -- they want to hit the ball hard and show what they can do?
yeah, i agree with you. from what i've heard from guys who've played at triple a and in the big leagues, as hitters develop and play longer, they look for one pitch -- and when they get it they generally put a good swing on it. i think here you've still got some young players who are still trying to establish their zone, so i think definitely you can get away with a little bit more. but i think it all comes down to locating strikes and throwing inside and out. that'll pretty much set the table for them to expand their zone.

there are a number of guys at springfield this year who started this year at palm beach or finished there last season. are you with a bunch of guys now who you've played with before?
no, last year i was in extended out of spring training. then i rehabbed with palm beach but didn't pitch for them, and i went to new jersey for july and august and got a few innings in. the only guys who were at palm beach when i played there [in 2004] were [travis] hanson, [kevin] estrada, and [reid] gorecki, so i'm playing with those guys again. but i've never played with pomeranz or lambert until this year.

is it good to have those guys around? pomeranz, lambert, parisi -- guys who've made the transition to double a already. can you learn stuff from them?
yeah, we all get along good. we're all pretty close. i pick lambert's brain a lot because he's been here a while and he's seen a lot of these hitters, and we're similar in style; he's a changeup guy. it's good because we're all competitive too, and i think we make each other better.

that's a pretty good rotation at springfield right now. you guys have a healthy competition, i take it?
yeah, it's healthy. we all support each other, we're all pulling for each other, but we're definitely all competing to get moved up. i'd be lying if i said we weren't. so if one guy pitches good, the other guy wants to go out the next day and do better.

it seems like overall there's starting to be a lot more competition within the organization.
definitely. when i first signed we had dan haren and narvie [chris narveson], but the general rap on the farm system was that it was bad. every year in baseball america, we were at the bottom. and now, reading about some of these younger guys who i haven't seen play yet, it seems like there's some good talent coming up.

was it in any way a burden to be named as the #1 prospect in the system -- kind of the man, with the whole organization counting on a lot out of you?
it was an honor; i don't think it had any negative effect on me. it never made me work less hard. there are some other things that come with it; you have recognition around the league, so some other guys are gonna get up a little bit more when they face you. i enjoyed it, there were no negatives.

this year there were zero expectations for you, since you were coming off an injury; did that make it easier to just concentrate on pitching?
yeah, i liked that. nobody paid me much mind -- and i don't blame them, i hadn't pitched much the last couple of years. it kind of made me hungry to get back and try to regain some of that status again.

you've gotten to know another #1 prospect, anthony reyes, pretty well. have you stayed in contact with him?
yeah. last year and the year before that, i lived with reyes -- he was my roommate -- and i worked out with him this winter down in california. we've got the same agent so i got to play catch with him a little bit. we talk occasionally on the phone. obviously he's a big-league guy now, so he doesn't return the calls as much -- and i let him know that. (laughs)

he's a big shot now.
yeah, but we talk still.

he's an interesting case. there's been a lot of discussion about the transition he's had to make to the big league and the adjustments he has been asked to make.
yeah, they've been trying to get him to throw more sinkers.

do you hear anything from him -- is he frustrated about the things he's been asked to do?
i know he's been working on it, and he ultimately wants to help that team. he's gonna do whatever he needs to do. but anthony, ever since i've met him, he's been really confident. he's always thought, ever since he signed, that he's a big-league guy. so in that way -- i don't want to say he's stubborn, but he knows he's good, which is huge for success i think.

there is such a thing as a good kind of stubbornness -- having faith in yourself.
exactly. and that's what he is. it's never disrespectful, but he knows when he's on the mound that he's the best thing out there.

when you were growing up, were there certain pitchers you rooted for or identified with?
pedro martinez. i always liked him a lot. and roger clemens obviously, like everyone else. pedro used to have that super changeup; not a lot of right-handers in the majors have a plus changeup.

what are you are working on right now? what's at the top of the "need to improve" list?
honestly, my goal at the beginning of the year was to make every start. so far, so good. i don't feel like i'm 100 percent back to where i was when i first signed, but i feel myself getting closer to that. my biggest battle still is to get ready for that 5th day, healthwise. pitchingwise, it's more mental -- mental adjustments, being confident, trusting your stuff. all of that seems way more important than getting your side work in. i'm pretty sure my mechanics are fine; i'm just trying to learn the mental side right now.

you had a couple of rocky outings right after you got called up. was there a confidence factor in establishing that you belong at this level?
yeah, exactly. i think when i first came up here, i was pressing a little bit, trying to show people why i'm here and that i belong here. and that's not a very good formula. obviously every pitcher's gonna go out on certain days and have good stuff but still get hit around, so i'm not gonna say that i've gotten over that. but now that i'm able to relax a little bit and be confident, it's worked out good.

and it was a long time coming to get to this level; at the time you got hurt, you were right on the cusp of getting to double a. does that make the adjustment harder?
the injury, obviously, was physically hard -- dealing with the pain and the rehab process. but mentally, it just kills your confidence. it makes you doubt yourself a lot more than you ever did. so that was a big hurdle to get over. and it took some time for me to actually believe, ok you're healthy; now just go out and pitch. and you'll be the same guy, it's still there, just trust it. and that took a long time. in spring training i battled through it, struggled. i was fortunate to have derek lilliquist -- he'd been my pitching coach at johnson city and peoria, and i had him at palm beach this year. he knows me, so we got some good work in toward getting me back to where i was.

was there anyone inside or outside the organization who'd already been through a shoulder rehab who you could talk to?
narveson just came off a shoulder, so i talked to him. josh kinney's had a bunch of surgeries, so i picked his brain a lot.

narveson made some rehab starts at palm beach this year while you were there, didn't he?
yeah. narvie, when he got tommy john surgery, he was at johnson city rehabbing my first year, so i got to know him pretty well.

does it help to have guys ahead of you who you know, to see them move through the system and maybe blaze a trail for you to follow?
when you get to double a, it kind of dawns on you that you're getting close to the big leagues. when you're in a ball, it just feels so far away. but when you get here you can see the light at the end of the tunnel. it's exciting, but at the same time, if you do your work and put up the numbers, it's gonna happen. i try not to think about it too much, but it's definitely crossed my mind that if i keep pitching well, something's gonna happen.