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q+a with tyler herron: "more fresh than everyone else"

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i interviewed stl pitching prospect tyler herron more than two weeks ago but haven't had a chance to get our conversation transcribed and posted. with the minor-league seasons winding down and the cardinals coming off their last open date of the year, i figured i'd better seize the opportunity to get it out there.

herron pitched a couple days ago and threw very well --- 7 shutout innings, 2 hits, 0 walks, 7 ks; he took a no-decision as quad cities won 1-0 in 11. a supplemental 1st-rounder out of the rich 2005 draft, herron struggled his first two years in pro ball but has produced some sterling results this summer, viz. a 5:1 strikeout-walk ratio, a k/9 just under 9.00, and only 5 homers allowed in 134 innings. it was news to me that herron didn't take up pitching until just over two years ago --- ie in 2005, during his senior season in high school. some of you more devoted farm-system followers probably already knew that, but i didn't. in my mind, it's no small thing for a kid so new to pitching to exhibit that kind of dominance in an age-appropriate classification (he's 20 years old and in low A ball). for all the strides he's made this year, herron still might have a lot of untapped room for growth. pj walters seems to have emerged as the top right-handed starting pitcher in the system; herron might be right behind him.

my thanks to ben chiswick for setting up the interview. by the way, erik chatted with herron's teammate kenny maiques and posted that interview yesterday at Future Redbirds.

You guys are in first place and probably headed for the playoffs. What's it like to be part of that?
We're playing really, really well right now. We've got a lot of new position players who are swinging the bats really well, so we're scoring a lot of runs. That's helping us out as a pitching staff. We've been holding teams to not a lot of runs, and our guys have been scoring runs. It feels really good.

I wanted to ask you about that turnover, because so many guys from this year's draft have joined the Swing. Does that create any difficulty, having a bunch of new guys in the clubhouse?
No, it really hasn't. It's been really good, actually. All the guys have come in are really good guys --- really good ballplayers and good guys off the field, really easy to get along with. We lost a lot of guys from earlier in the season, our big sticks [including Brandon Buckman and Mark Shorey --- L.B.], but these guys are coming in and filling in those gaps really well. It seems like we've been together all season.

Have you had to work with a lot of different catchers this year because of all the turnover?
We've only had two guys as our main catchers all year. We just got Derba and I like him a lot, he's a real good catcher. He really likes to listen to the pitchers and really talks to us about everything. He's been doing a hell of a job. One of our other catchers [Chris Grossman --- L.B.] got set up to high A.

Have you worked with Steve Hill at all as a catcher?
Yeah, I threw to Steve once.

I know they're excited about his hitting so far, and if they can turn him into a catcher that'd be a big plus.
He can swing the bat, I know that.

How did you like pitching in the 8-man rotation?
I didn't like it at all.

Give me some more information --- what did you not like?
Our pitch counts were so low --- when we were starting it'd be like 70, 75 pitches and when we were relieving it would be like 55. Now our pitch count is 85, 90, so we can go deeper into games. We weren't able to go past the 5th inning before, but now we go as long as we can.

Have you found yourself getting tired at all as you go deep into games? You were conditioned for those 4- and 5-inning stints; now you're going 6, 7 innings.
No, definitely not. As a team, we're in better shape now, physically, than we were at the start of the season. Some of the teams in our league look weaker than they were at the start of the season. I think we've been getting stronger. So the piggyback system might have helped out --- we didn't throw all those innings at the start of the season, so now we're kind of more fresh than everyone else.

Tell me a little bit about your repertoire. What are your best pitches, and when you're in a jam what do you go to, what do you rely on?
I mainly rely on my fastball. I'm more of a groundball / location guy; I have to hit my spots as much as possible and try to get ahead in the count, then use my off-speed stuff from there. If it's an RBI situation, I'll usually go to off-speed and try to keep the fastball low and on the corners.

What kind of off-speed stuff do you feature?
I throw fastball, sinker, change, curveball.

And out of those breaking pitches, which one do you trust the most?
Right now it's the curveball, but I've been working on the changeup a lot lately, and it's almost as good as the curve. But for right now, the curveball and fastball are probably my two best.

And the fastball you throw ---- it's generally a sinking fastball, correct?
Yeah, a two-seamer.

Is that the fastball you came into the organization with, or is it something you've developed since joining the Cardinal system?
That's what I've always thrown. I'll probably only throw three or four 4-seam fastballs a game. So I'm pretty much all two-seam fastballs.

Your bottom-line performance has really improved this year, just looking at the stat lines. What do you attribute your improvement to most?
Getting ahead in the count with my fastball. I've been really able to establish that first-pitch strike. Once the batters are behind, they take defensive swings and chase more pitches out of the zone. So getting ahead of the hitters is always kind of my game plan when I get out there.

Are there big-league pitchers who you admire and have tried to pattern yourself after?
Not really. I actually didn't start pitching until my senior year in high school. I always played shortstop or third base. So I didn't really pitch much at all. And then all of a sudden, scouts are looking at me for pitching. This is only my third full season throwing.

What was the motivation behind that move? Did you request it because of what scouts were telling you? Was it your high school coach's idea?
I always had a strong arm, and one time late in my junior year our pitching coach had me get out on the mound. I was throwing pretty hard with no mechanics at all. He put a few mechanics together and went over it with me, and then guys started talking to me about my pitching.

I didn't realize you were such a recent convert to pitching. This is really all a learning process for you.
Oh, definitely. I learn more every day. It's unbelieveable, this game --- especially pitching. I was learning how to field groundballs and trying to hit, and it wasn't working out all that well. Now I'm learning something totally different.

What are the biggest things that you've learned this year?
I feel like I'm a lot more consistent about throwing strikes, both with my fastball and with my off-speed pitches. I'm better at identifying weaknesses in hitters, learning what to look for --- like if they like inside pitches, or whether they'll chase pitches away. I'm learning a lot about setting up hitters, like throwing a fastball up and in for a purpose --- not to be a strike but to back them off the plate a little bit, move them off my off-speed, and then come back with a curveball down and away. Or move my pitches around and maybe get them to move their feet. There's so many things to think about it gets ridiculous sometimes.

At the class A level, what kind of scouting reports do you get on opposing hitters? Just taking your own team as an example --- you've got all these guys in the lineup who just came into pro ball a couple months ago. If you face a lineup like that, do you have any information to go on?
Well, we chart on the days when we're not pitching, so if I'm throwing late in a series or it's a team we've faced before, I can always look back at those charts and see what they've done against us, what kind of hitter they are. And just watching the game from a dugout, you can get a pretty good feel for what type of hitter guys are.

Are there particular types of hitters who give you lots of trouble?
It's not so much the type of hitter. If I can't get ahead on a guy, that's usually when I get into trouble. They'll start getting on my stuff real quick. It's not overpowering. I gotta hit my spots. Lefties usually like the ball low and in or high and away, so I try to pitch them up and in or down and away. But that might change depending on whether the guy's a high-ball hitter or a low-ball hitter.

Based on what you've told me about your repertoire, it sounds like you might have some things in common with Clay Mortensen, the college pitcher who got drafted this year and joined Quad Cities in July. Have you guys compared notes at all?
Definitely, we're similar in a lot of ways. The only thing different is he throws a slider and I throw a curveball. But we're both sinkerball pitchers who get groundballs. All the pitchers help each other out as much as we can. Before every game, all the pitchers go down and have meeting about the game the night before --- what worked, what didn't work. We all talk to each other.

You have a chance to pitch close to your hometown [Herron is from West Palm Beach] next season if you're at high A. You must be excited about that possibility.
Hopefully I can skip there and go to double A. And actually, it's not gonna be my hometown anymore --- I'm moving out to California.

What's prompting that move?
A catcher in our organization, Bryan Anderson, is a good friend of mine. We're going to move out there, a little north of San Diego, and work out together in the off-season.

How did you guys get to know each other --- I know you were in the same draft class, but did you ever play together?
Yeah, same draft class and we played together the first year at Johnson City.

He's having a very good year up at double A. Have you had a chance to see him play at all this season?
Only once, I saw him start in the Futures Game. But I talk to him a lot. That kid's a goooood hitter.

So you mentioned getting to double A yourself next year --- is that a strong goal?
Yeah, it is. If I finish the season here, I'd definitely like to make double A out of spring training next season. But we really have no control over what happens to us. You just have to take each game as it comes. Game by game, you know? Once I'm done with a game, I automatically start thinking about the next one.

Do you miss hitting?
Oh yeah. For sure.

I think most guys do who've made that conversion from hitter to pitcher.
At least I'm in the National League though, so if I'm still a starter when I get to double A maybe I can hit a little bit.

There you go. Hey, a lot of Cardinal fans have noticed how you seem to have put everything together this year. I appreciate you taking the time to talk things over.
Sure, thank you very much.