Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Exclusive FJB Interview with Jason Bergmann

As anyone who's spent any time on this blog knows, I'm a big fan of Jason Bergmann. He's a fantastic guy, and while he'll never win any Cy Young awards, I think it's pretty much an embarrassment that he's spent a day in AAA over the last three years.

I see his short-comings as much as anyone--I just don't believe there's been a moment over that time that he wasn't as good or better than at least one pitcher in the rotation or bullpen. (At the moment, I'd surely take him over Kip Wells, for instance.)

Not long ago, while he was still in his rightful place on the Nationals' 25-man roster, Jason agreed to do an interview with FJB. Then, after just one (very) rough outing, he was sent down. I figured an interview with a blogger would be the last thing on his mind.

I was wrong. It says a lot about the guy's appreciation of the fans that even after getting once again bent over by the team (he's too classy to say that, but I'm not), he still did the interview. Enjoy.

First of all, tell us something we as fans might not know about what it's really like to be a major leaguer.

Hey, no problem. I actually enjoy speaking out to the fans via question and answers. I really think it helps the fan and player relate a little more.

To keep it short, I think people usually conclude that being a major league player is a piece of cake and that we just show up, play a game and then go out to clubs and party. Total misconception about our lives!

Many ballplayers arrive at the field between 1 and 2 pm and take extra everything (extra defense, hitting, video, etc.). We stretch, throw, run, take BP, have pitchers/hitters meetings and then fuel up with some food and head back onto the field to take on the other team. Most guys stick around after the game for a while and talk about at-bats or pitching sequences on certain hitters. Some guys wind up leaving the field at 11-12 pm. All in all it turns into a 10-11 hour day at the field.

Who are your best friends in the Nationals organization?

The Nationals organization is the only one I have known in my career. I am happy to say that there are many good people who play for this team. Many of the guys are very approachable and being such a young group, the guys stick together more. I feel that I have a connection with everyone on the team and that I wouldn't say any one player is a bad apple or sore thumb.

That being said most hitters hang with hitters and most pitchers stick around the other pitchers. I obviously am more in sync with the pitchers!

What coaches over your career have helped you the most?

I think a lot of coaches have been a help to me along the way. Reggie Jackson was a pitching coach in Savannah back in 2004. While I was on the disabled list with a broken toe, he helped me develop my slider. That was a great because it added another dimension to my pitching strategy.

Ricky Bones the following year kept pounding into my head that all I had to do to be successful was throw the ball down. He was the first coach that got through to me with that, and I believe I have heard it now from every other coach.

Steve McCatty has been a wonderful teacher and someone who I can rely upon to be perfectly honest and blunt when I ask a question. That quality helps Cat and I stay on the same page. I don't know how much I learn from him as much as he keeps me in line.

Randy St. Claire was my first MLB pitching coach. He put in long hours on the computer and in the bullpen keeping my mechanics correct. I think that his tireless work has definitely increased my major league career length.

Nationals and former Expos Scouting Director Dana Brown seems to have a particular affection for pitchers from the NY/NJ area. I'm thinking of you, John Lannan, Sean Black (who was a second round pick a few years ago who didn't sign), and there are several others, especially in later rounds. What makes you Jersey boy so tough?

I am not sure its a Jersey boy thing or not, but I know Dana is from the area and has a soft spot for it.

I am sure there is a notion amongst the scouts that while the southern states are able to play more baseball year round, the northern guys such as myself and Lannan are subject to shorter seasons due to weather. This, some may argue, might lead to less strain on the arm as a younger player. This may increase our career length on the back end. Who knows? I hope all those snowy and rainy days pay off!!

You've tended in the past to be a pitcher who's struggled with left-handed hitting. For fans who don't know as much about pitching, why do you tend to have so much more success getting right-handed hitters out.

That's a good question and one I am not sure I can fully answer. I believe a lot of it has to do with the simple fact that I walk more lefties and thus causing the overall at-bats against lefties to decrease. Also, right-handed batters are more common, and I have faced so many more over the years. I feel a little more comfortable with them.

The other night, you talked about not "staying on top" of your two-seam fastball. Again, for fans who aren't yet as familiar, tell us what that means.

Finger placement upon release. When fingers stay on top of the ball, it is easier to "power" down through the ball and attain some ball-action. When fingers are on the side of the ball, it can stay more flat and lose the desired movement. This philosophy is also applied to the slider and curveball. If fingers are on the side of breaking balls, they appear flat. We call those "cement-mixers"--pitches that spin but don't do anything.

You've also tended to be a pitcher who's had pretty strong flyball tendencies. Certainly back in RFK with its large dimensions that wasn't too much of a impediment to success, but in general it can lead to a lot of homers. Is that something you think about as a pitcher? And do you do things to try to develop more groundball stuff? Also, I can't remember ever reading that you threw a two-seamer before. Is that a new pitcher for you, or did I just miss that part of your repertoire?

Yeah, I just started primarily throwing a 2-seam "sinker" last month after being sent down. I had a long conversation with Steve McCatty and Spin Williams based upon how my extreme flyball pitcher status probably caused me to have a lot less success. Cat has tried to get me on a sinker for a while, but either through ignorance or ineffectiveness, I hadn't put full effort into it. I really try to throw it all the time--even in warm-up tosses to get the feel for it. I believe that I can change my extreme flyball status to average or groundball status. If able to do so I may have found an important tool to extending my career and success.

I've written on the blog many times that I think you've been treated somewhat unfairly by the team, getting yanked from the rotation and sent down to the minors several times after just one bad outing. You obviously aren't going to criticize your employer, and I don't want you to. But I wonder--do you think all the back and forth to AAA has affected your development as a pitcher?

I first want to point out that it flat out stinks getting sent down--under any circumstance.

I think that there are some instances where flip-flopping from starting and relieving helped a lot. Mostly the areas that were helped out were mental. The mindset starting versus relieving greatly differs, but I feel after doing both it just comes down to: pitching is pitching whether starting or relieving, balls over the plate are strikes, balls that are not are simply balls. That doesn't change from starting to relieving.

I would like to stay in one role and work on that as much as possible though.

Anyone who's met you or been around you knows what a nice guy you are. You spend time with fans and kids as much or more than anybody on the team, and always have. Is that something you learned from other veteran players, or is that just your personality?

I enjoy being around people and engaging them in conversation or helping them out along the way. I feel that I have a very outgoing personality and encourage kids and fans to ask questions about things they are uncertain or curious about. Any experiences I have had I like to share with people.

There are times when I forget that my job is a dream and that I take my place in peoples lives for granted. I come to the ballpark and absolutely love it, but it changes over the years from a long-shot to a reality--a reality with very hard work and little room for failure. I try to give back a little to the fans and the kids, whether it be a batting practice ball thrown into the stands or some field-stands interaction or especially a Q&A with an esteemed blogger!!

This year, the Nationals in spring training immediately declared you as a reliever, even though I think a lot of fans could see that you were performing as well or better than some of the starters who broke camp in the rotation and your performance in 2007 especially was outstanding as a starter. Do you see yourself as more of a starter or a reliever going forward?

As I said above, I am a pitcher. I have said this for a few years now. I want the ball. I have had success and failure. I get better with each. No one is perfect, but I want to be. In spring, I went up to Manny Acta and asked him what my role was going to be. I did this to not be confused and in order to apply myself to one role fully. I just want to pitch and pitch in the major leagues.

There are a lot of rumors about Manny Acta's job security right now. Tell us about your experiences with him as a manager.

Manny is quiet on the outside, but has a lot of fire and passion for the game. He is definitely a player's manager and treats everyone with respect. I'm not saying he is a pushover, just that he is fair.

How about Randy St. Clair? He was fired a couple weeks back as pitching coach, and for a long time he was the only MLB pitching coach you'd ever had.

Saint was indeed the very first pitching coach I had. Like I said before, he was a tireless worker who never gave up on anyone. I definitely believe another team will give him a shot once again to be a major league pitching coach. He deserved better than getting fired, but the bottom line is the pitching staff was not pitching well and that falls on the pitching coach.

Why do some pitchers jump over the first base or third base line on the way back to the dugout? I've always thought this was silly.

I have no idea. I walk or jog in and out never touching the lines, but certainly not hopping over it! I know everyone has their own superstitions and little idiosyncrasies and maybe that plays a part! I think the only little gimmick I have is always walking around the first base side of the mound. The third base side of the mound is like a foreign place for me!

If you could choose between pitching in the NL and getting to hit or pitching in the AL with the DH, which would you choose?

Either! Really they both have their ups and downs. Certainly the NL is more appealing because of the simple fact that there is another pitcher in the lineup instead of a designated hitter! The downside of the NL is of course being that pitcher and in tight games being pinch hit for. The AL allows you to go deeper into games based simply on the fact that no pinch hitter will be needed in the sixth to replace the pitcher. However, the DH brings an added offensive force that offsets it! Each league is fairly balanced though!


Basil said...

Bergmann's okay, but I still think that Danny Rueckel was the best pitcher on the '05 Senators.

Dave Nichols said...

nice work here Steven.

Ben said...

This is a great interview. I can't believe that 'options' is the company line on sending this guy down, making him feel worse about himself just so we can hold onto some of the junk in our bullpen.

Anonymous said...

this guy worries about everything except for pitching. Maybe if he focused a little more on that he would still be in the MLs

Anonymous said...

The guy wants to answer some questions and all of the sudden he doesnt concentrate on pitching? At least he took time out to do it. Good interview.

James Bjork said...

Great interview, Steven. Bergmann is a stand-up guy.

Souldrummer said...

I think Bergmann is at the point that if we're fans of Bergmann we have to root for trading him for somebody's low level prospect or packaging him in some kind of deal for offensive minor league talent in centerfield.

We clearly are not willing to give him the long leash that we've given to Wells [who should never have been brought back to DC in the first place], Colome, or Hanrahan. We don't seem to like fly ball pitchers either and it will be interesting to see what will happen now that Tyler Clippard has finally been freed from his Syracuse prison.

Can anyone think of any other assets that it may be time for us to move in a minor league deal a la the Mike O'Connor move and the move of Alabadejo for Clippard?

I feel Bergmann has the talent to be a back end reliever if given a chance, but I don't think this organization is the place for him to get that chance.

E said...

A lot of !!!! from Berg, but solid interview. Hopefully management realizes that you can't let your dog shit in the house one day and make him go outside the next. In the words of Dave Chapelle, that shit is freakin confusing. Let the man have some consistency in his life and he'll figure it out.