By JAY LeBLANC
Brad Bergesen isn’t usually the first guy mentioned when people talk about the Baltimore Orioles‘ top pitching prospects - that would be either Chris Tillman, Jake Arrieta or Brian Matusz - but he’ll be the first to get a chance to stick in the big league rotation. Bergesen, a 23-year-old right-hander who opened the season with the Triple-A Norfolk Tides despite an impressive showing in spring training, is set to make his Major League debut tonight against the Chicago White Sox at Camden Yards.
The Orioles selected Bergesen in the fourth round of the 2005 draft, and he made steady progress over the next two and a half seasons before coming into his own in 2008. After posting a 2.08 ERA in five starts for the advanced Class A Frederick Keys, Bergesen was promoted to the Double-A Bowie Baysox. He proceeded to go 15-6 with a 3.22 ERA the rest of the way to earn Eastern League Pitcher of the Year honors. A good start this year - he went 1-1 with a 2.45 ERA in two starts for Norfolk - put him first in line for a shot when an injury to right-hander Alfredo Simon opened up a spot in the big league rotation.
Bergesen doesn’t try to overpower hitters, as evidenced by his mere 87 K’s in 165 1/3 innings last season. Instead, he succeeds by mixing his pitches, changing speeds, hitting his spots and trusting his defense. The 6-foot-2, 205 pounder also relies on impeccable control - he issued just 33 walks last season after allowing just 26 free passes in 2007. In an Aug. 9 interview with The Washington Times’ National Pastime, Bergesen talked about life as a contact pitcher and revealed the secrets to his 2008 success:
Q: What was your first reaction when you learned you’d been drafted by the Orioles? Did you know in advance that they were looking to pick you?
A: You know, it happed so quick. I had about six teams calling me all at once, and all of a sudden I see my name picked by the Orioles, and that was it. I kind of had an idea that they were interested, but you never know for sure until you’re taken.
Q: You’re having your best season by far as a pro. What has made you more effective this year than you’ve been in previous seasons?
A: You know, I think it’s just learning command and a little bit more movement. I’d been working on my slider a lot more this past offseason, so I can kind of attribute it to that.
Q: Can you tell the difference in the level of competition as you climb the organizational ladder?
A: Oh, absolutely. Every level I’ve gone up, I’ve noticed a difference. It’s just like a pyramid - every best player you play against at one level, you’re playing against the same guys at the higher levels also.
Q: Could you talk a bit about the different pitches you throw and how you like to use them?
A: I throw a fastball; I throw a four-seamer and a two-seamer. I throw a split-changeup, and I throw a slider and curveball. And just kind of depending on what’s working that day, I try to go along with it. My changeup is usually my go-to pitch; I feel most comfortable throwing that in any count, and I feel like I have the best control of it.
Q: Do you consider yourself a strikeout pitcher, a guy who pitches to contact, or some mixture of the two?
A: Oh, definitely a contact pitcher. I think this year I may be getting a strikeout once every three innings, three per nine. I definitely try to pitch to contact and let my guys work behind me.
Q: What are some aspects of your game that you’re trying to improve upon this season?
A: I think it’s just being consistent with all my pitches. My curveball and slider are probably the ones I have to work on the most … just becoming a little more consistent, maybe getting a little sharper break out of them, and continuing to work on them.
Q: Is there any pitcher, past or present, that you either look up to or try to model your approach after?
A: Growing up, I always liked watching Nolan Ryan. He’s obviously a power pitcher and I don’t see myself as being that same type of pitcher, but that’s who I liked growing up. Brandon Webb, a big groundball pitcher, is a guy I like to watch also.
Q: How soon do you think you’ll be ready to help the Orioles?
A: That’s not my decision, obviously. That’s what I hope for, and anytime, I would be just absolutely thrilled to get that call-up. But again, that’s not up to me; I can just hope for the best.
Jay LeBlanc is an assistant news editor at The Washington Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Click here to view the original Brad Bergesen Prospect Q&A