Strasburg leftovers

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Here are the extra quotes from Tony Gwynn on Stephen Strasburg that I promised yesterday. There’s a lot here, so make sure you have some time before you start:

An overall summary of Strasburg: “He pitches downhill. He’s really good at recognizing what hitters are trying to do. He can locate, in and out. He knows how to pitch. He’s a pitcher. He’s not a thrower. Everybody gets enamored with the velocity, but they don’t pay attention to his craft. I’m telling you, he’s pretty darn good at 20.”

On the best young pitchers Gwynn has seen: “I’ve seen guys who are good college pitchers – saw Weaver, saw Niemann, saw Prior, Aaron Crow last year, Matusz, with the Orioles. I’ve yet to see one that can combine mid-90s velocity with athleticism and location. Like I said, he’s 20, so you don’t know how he’s going to progress. But what I’ve seen at this level, he’s the best I’ve seen.”

On his comments that the team drafting Strasburg should shut him down for the year: “I only said that because I’m his coach. If the Nationals take him, obviously, the parameters are different. They need a face, they need something to get their fans excited, I get it. I understand that. You hope that it all gets done quickly so they can have that decision to make. But there’s all kinds of other factors involved that I can’t really comment on. The question was asked of me, if it was me, what would I do? Like I own the Padres or something. But I totally get the Nationals’ thinking. If they can sign him – because I think the kid wants to sign and wants to play – if they can sign him, they’ve got their own timetable for what they’d like to see happen. And you know what? He’s going to be fine one way or the other. It’s a matter of how long is this thing going to take, and if they sign him, is it going to happen quickly, or is it going to be a long, drawn-out thing? But I totally get where they’re coming from, too. They want something to put butts in the seats. I get it. I get it. And you know what? If he gets there, I think he’s going to be fine, however it works out.”

On whether he assumed the worst when Strasburg came out of the Mountain West Conference tournament with a back cramp: “I did. He’s had those before, his back starts to tighten up a little bit, it messes with his delivery. I saw him wince, sent Rusty out to talk to him. He ended up walking the guy. I’m not going to take any chances, so we took him out. You know what? His health is the most important thing. If we had planned on using him later on in this tournament, we probably should have got him out. Little did I know it was going to fly around, ‘Oh, he’s got a broken rib, you know, he’s got an oblique.’ All these reports start flying out and our funnels start blowing up, because people are, ‘Oh, what happened to Strasburg? What happened?’ Every time he has a hangnail, that’s kind of what happens. We’ve seen it before, so we just got him out, just being cautious with him. He’s fine.”

On the hype surrounding Strasburg: “For me as a coach, I had never been around anybody that created this kind of buzz. Usually, we go on the road, I’m kind of the marquee guy. So when the bus pulls up, I’m supposed to sign autographs and stuff. This year, I’ve been kicked to the curb. And it’s kind of cool for me. I think it’s cool, because somebody else is kind of the center of attention. But again, he’s only 20. He doesn’t have experience of dealing with people and telling people no. You can see it in his face. It just kills him to tell people no. If you haven’t gone through that, it’s tough when you’ve got to tell somebody no. So I just kind of monitor what he’s had to go through. In some ways, it’s like a rock star. On a college team, there aren’t many guys that are going to be noticed except by family. But with him, everywhere he goes, ‘Hey, that’s the guy that throws 100!’ It’s been interesting to kind of see that, because I’ve never had a player on my team at the college level that has created a buzz like he has. But again, it’s because he’s talented. It’s because he does what he does. People are enamored with velocity and the things that he can do. I have to tell you, I’m just as guilty as the fans are. The first pitch yesterday, I almost broke my neck to see how fast it was on the gun. I’ve been telling people all the time. It’s not the velocity, for me, that grabs me. It’s his athleticism. It’s the fact that he fields his position. He recognizes what hitters are doing. Like yesterday, they were swinging early in the count, they were being super-aggressive. So he says, ‘OK, I’ll just make a good pitch and you can get yourself out.’ And that’s what he did.”

On dealing with all the attention: “We’ve had a conversation. I said, ‘Look. When you’re as good as you are, there’s kind of a responsibility that comes with it. People are going to want to know everything about you, and that’s your choice as to whether or not you want to let people in and let them see who you are. But you’re not only representing yourself, you’re representing San Diego State and the baseball program. And I know, it’s hard to say know. But you know what? As we move forward here, it’s going to be tougher and tougher. You’re going to have to learn to say no. And it’s going to be OK. Because you’re 20. Nobody’s paying your salary. Your job is to help San Diego State win, and whatever you need to do so that you can do your job the best is entirely your call. But just remember, we have a responsibility, still.’ And he gets it. He totally gets it. I’ve seen him come through the front door after games and there’s 100 kids out there. He’s been great. But he’s learning. He’s learning he’s got to say now. When we got to the ballpark yesterday, there were a few guys down there. And because it was a few, he took care of business. But if there’s a lot, he’s just, ‘Hey, I got to take care of my business.’”

On learning when to say no: “That’s kind of the nature of the business. You have to learn the hard way. There’s been many a day where I’d sign, sign, sign, and one person doesn’t get it, and now I’m a jerk. It comes with the territory. You’re not going to please everybody, no matter what you do. Stephen’s got a really good sense of who he is, what his responsibility is, his obligation to answer questions. He’s got a really good sense for it, a really good feel for it. I don’t really have to say too much. We kind of warned him last year, when our season ended, that this was coming. We’re probably going to have to sit him down again, if we’re able to get to a regional and say, ‘Hey, it’s going to keep going. It’s going to build, and there’s going to be more of it.’ But I think he’s smart enough to figure out it’s going to get bigger.”

On the importance of signing and getting into professional baseball: “I think he knows already. But my responsibility’s San Diego State. I could give a dang about that part of it. Of course, when it comes, if he has questions, I’ll give him the best answers I can. I played in the big leagues for 20 years. I’ve never been where he’s been. I’ve never been considered the first guy, the best guy, and I have no idea what that entails other than the fact that I know he wants to play. And that, for me, is a comfort, knowing that I know where his heart is. He wants to play. And how all this stuff is going to get done, that’s out of my hands. But I know this: He wants to play, and he wants the opportunity to show people he can pitch. And I take great comfort in that, because I know who his advisor is going to be, and I know he has a history of drawing it out. But in my mind, I know he wants to play, and I’m cool with it. And I’ll be pulling for him like crazy, that hopefully they can get something done – quickly. Because I’m interested too, I’m interested in seeing what happens if he can. But negotiations can be very difficult at times. And from what we’ve been hearing, the numbers could get pretty big. I can’t go to him and say, ‘Hey man, look, you gotta sign and start playing.’ But I have told him the goal is to get to the big leagues. You’re going to get to the big leagues, you’re going to make a gazillion dollars if you’re good. If you’re good, you’re going to do fine. But I don’t know if Scott believes that. I don’t know if he believes the same thing. I wonder if he thinks you should get it all up front. But either way it goes, I think he’s going to be fine. When I signed, I got 25 grand. So I don’t know how that part of it works. I could never even imagine a big-league deal when I got out of college. I could only imagine working hard and trying to get there. That was my thought. Times have changed, haven’t they?”

On when he knew Strasburg was special: “The first time he got on the mound. People make a big deal out of that. But you know what? The thing with him was, he just didn’t know how. He didn’t know how to work, he didn’t know how to prepare. And so, the pitching part, I think he’s always had the ability. But I think finding out that, in working out, it made pitching easier for him. His velocity shot up. I think he saw that, recognized it and he ran with it. Everybody makes a big deal about that first day, that sprint where he was puking up his guts. But once we incorporated the conditioning with what he does, he found out that he was better at doing it. We didn’t have to say anything after that. He got on the mound that first day in the bullpen, and it was like 97. My eyes shot out of my head. I looked at Rusty, because he’d been telling me the whole time, ‘There’s more in there. I can get it out.’ I thought, ‘OK. I’m not convinced yet.’ He was standing in the corner puking after three 100s, and I’m like, ‘Hey, I ain’t convinced.’ And then he got on the hill, and it was 97, and it just changed everything. His confidence started to grow. That year, we had other guys we thought were in roles we thought were best for him. And he’s throwing 97. Rusty’s like, ‘Jeez, we’ve got to get him in the closer’s role.’ We had another guy we thought could close. So we took him out, put him in the rotation and put Strassy in there. He came in against USC, he walked the first three guys in 12 pitches. He struck out the next three in nine. His confidence just took off from there. Rusty was believing the next year he could be a starter, and again, I was kind of skeptical, because if he went more than two innings, you could see the dropoff. He was in his ear – ‘Hey, you’re going to have to do this, this and this to be a starter.’ And the next year, he came out – meat.”

On Strasburg sticking to his fitness routine as well as he has: “It’s a credit to him, because he did all the stuff that he knew he needed to do. And this summer, he goes out and pitches for the Olympic team, and he comes back and he’s better this year than he was last year. This year, he’s so much better. He can pitch to both halves of the plate, he can change speeds, he can go up the ladder, he’s got a little left in his tank where if he needs extra, he can go get it. He does things that guys who have been pitching in the big leagues for five years do. He fields his position, he can go after you. He pitches downhill. He’s got some tilt on the breaking ball. All these words that I’m using, I learned in the big leagues, and he can do these things now. I’m always skeptical of blowing the story out of proportion so people think this guy’s Superman every time he goes out. I’m just telling you, he can do those things. If the Nationals decide to take him, I think it’s a great pick, myself. People will see. All I can tell you is, if you haven’t seen him pitch, watch him pitch, then make your judgment. Big leaguers, I’m sure are sitting there saying, ‘Yeah, Tony, sure, we’ll bust him.’ That’s a typical mentality. I’m just talking about getting on the hill, there’s a presence, there’s action, there’s stuff, there’s athleticism, there’s knowledge. It’s all there. The package is there.”

On how well Strasburg already understands the ins and outs of pitching: “I think he’s picked that up. I don’t think he had that. I think Rusty’s been in his ear and taught him a lot of things. But I think he’s also paid attention to what other guys are doing, and watched other guys pitch. The Olympic experience, I think, was really good, because he got a chance to play with people who were already playing professional baseball and had a chance to pick their brains. It’s an acquired trait. It isn’t just something you pick up watching games on TV or watching other guys pitch. You actually have to get out there and work at your craft. That’s why, going to the next level, as much positive things as I’m saying about him, when he goes to the next level, he’s still got more to learn. You only get that education at the next level. You don’t get it pitching in college. You’ve got to get it pitching against professional hitters. And I think he’ll do fine. He’s going to take his lumps. He’s not going to win every game. But he’s going to learn from those experiences and be better because of it.”

On what he needs to learn to be successful in the majors: “Being more aggressive, throwing more strikes. At the next level, he’s going to have to throw more balls over the plate. In college, you can get them to chase the bad breaking balls, you can get them to chase balls up the ladder. At the next level, it’s a little harder to do that, so he’s going to have to throw more strikes. I think composure-wise, he can get better. But other than those two areas, I’m sure there’s something else, but I just don’t see it right now. He hasn’t had a whole lot of adversity. His last start, he gave up two runs in the first inning, was behind 2-0. There hasn’t been a whole lot of adversity. And think how you handle adversity is going to be a great indicator of what kind of pro you can be. After he gave up two, he settled in and went eight, and pitched great. I think at the next level, you’re going to have to handle some, and it has to come at the next level. I’m sure at some point, somebody will probably put some runs on the board against him, but that’s a different kind of adversity. Adversity at the next level’s a little different.”

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