- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 18, 2007

Jason Bergmann did a lot of bouncing around last season, back and forth between the starting rotation and the bullpen, between the Nationals and the minor leagues. The right-hander went 0-2 with a 6.68 ERA in 29 games with the Nationals, six of them starts.

In this camp, Bergmann is expected to challenge for a spot in the starting rotation. He sat down with Ken Wright and talked, among other things, about what he needs to do to make the Opening Day roster.

Q: What’s the plan now for you in this camp?

A: Well, I think the plan so far is that I’m coming in as a starter. I think it’s in everyone’s minds that if starting doesn’t work out or something happens — like they decide to go with someone else — that it’s easier to go from starting to relief instead of relief to starting.

So, the plan is going in, start and make the best of the opportunity and then go from there.

Q: Was it difficult last year to go through that, not knowing whether you were coming out of the bullpen or starting?

A: Not for me. I was comfortable in either role. I just think throwing a lot in different roles may have taken a little wear on my arm, but my mind-set was right there. I could have gone either way all year and been pleased and very happy.

Q: Is this camp good for you with all these pitchers? There’s a lot of competition for just a few spots.

A: Yeah. I’ve seen already that I’ve pushed myself a little harder in some areas, come in for early workouts. There’s a little bit more motivation this year and especially with four available spots [in the rotation]. In order to get one of those spots, you have to impress people. There’s about 35 other guys that want those same four spots.

The only guarantee is pretty much John [Patterson]. After that, who knows? It could be anybody. It’s not like we’re a ragtag bunch. Everyone has experience one way or the other: Triple A, major leagues, spot starts. These guys are very capable, and I’m just happy to be considered.

Q: The club knows you. That should help, shouldn’t it?

A: I’m glad [pitching coach] Randy St. Claire is back this year for another year. We get along well. He knows me, he knows what I’m capable of doing and how to get that out of me. I think I’ve worked hard this offseason to work on several mechanical adjustments and come in and do my best.

Q: You were called up and then sent back down four times last season. How tough is life in the minors?

A: It can be. I think it’s harder in the low minors because you don’t really know how far you can go. I really didn’t think I had a shot at the major leagues until probably Double-A. Until then, I was just having fun, and given the opportunity that I had, I didn’t think I would make the majors when I was at short-season or low Class A. I was just working to get out of there.

Once I hit Double-A, I said to myself, “How many guys actually get this opportunity? I have a shot.” But life in the minors for guys that move around a lot — getting sent up and down, an apartment here and an apartment there, close that apartment, close the next apartment. Family, friends, girlfriends and wives — they have to travel and come with you and see you play. Just arranging all that.

At one point last season, I was getting sent up or down and I made plans to go somewhere — I think it was during the All-Star break — and, sure enough, I got sent down. I had to cancel all those plans. It’s really tough to deal with that. The hardest part is staying where you are. They only way you can do that is performing day in and day out.

Q: How was your offseason?

A: My offseason was very good and exactly what I wanted. I moved to Pennsylvania, just north of Wilmington, Del. I’ve got a very nice condo right next to a workout baseball facility. So, I’ve decided this year, more so than every other year, to get at least another month head start. After moving in, I went to the gym right away and worked out three to five times a week, depending on my life, and started pitching.

I’ve been throwing at batters since early January. I worked out with West Chester University — they’re a Division II team. They were kind enough to let me work out with them and throw to their hitters and their catchers and really get ready. I think I’ve come in more ready this year than I have any other year professionally.

Q: I guess that means you won’t be moving to the D.C. area any time soon?

A: It depends how long I’m in Washington. It’s expensive there. Where I am in Pennsylvania, it’s about 1:45 away, but I would still have to relocate eventually. If I need to go home or something, it’s no big deal. However, anything’s possible. Of course finances always enter into any decision you make about moving. That would be a big move.

Q: If you weren’t playing baseball, what do you think you would be doing?

A: If I would have never played baseball, I would probably have done better in school. I think that was a big key. I find that I like teaching a lot. And I would like to pursue something in that when my career is over, coaching or maybe get into the professional ranks in coaching. Scouting. I’ve always wanted to be a general manager, but that’s way off in the distance.

You’ve got to get the right connections, the right people, the right name, the right attitude. That’s the stuff I like to do.

Q: Have you ever spoken to general manager Jim Bowden about your dream?

A: Oh, no. I don’t want to say anything about that. I have my own interests, and while I’m here it’s focused on my job, which is pitching.

Q: As a Rutgers grad, you must have been ecstatic over that football season the Scarlet Knights had.

A: I felt for the first time in a long time a renewed pride in Rutgers University. I saw Coach Schiano just got a great deal, and he deserves every penny he got. In my first year, I think we went 1-11 or something like that and had five total wins the whole time I was there. The program that he’s put together in a couple years — congrats to them, they’ve done an awesome job.

Q: Well, they certainly shocked the world. Nobody expected anything like that out of them. Did you see it coming?

A: I think they’ve been underrated all year. You can’t fault everybody for doing that because they had such a poor record the past couple of years. But, keep in mind, they’ve also put some NFL talent out there: L.J. Smith, Mike McMahon, Gary Brackett, all these guys came out of Rutgers. Not every team puts out an NFLer every year and this team seems to do it. Ray Rice is sure to be.

Q: Have you developed any new pitches during the offseason?

A: I’ve improved the pitches that I have. I think it’s more important to improve on what you have than make something new. I fully intend to come in this year with a better pitching mentality, utilize more of a sinker, a little more movement, a little more deception. Yeah, but it’s curveball, slider, changeup, and four-seam [fastball], and two-seam [fastball]. Those are the pitches that I’ve always had and will continue to have. Starting, it will only help me. In relief, it will help me even more to have more looks.

Q: It’s early in camp, but where do you think your arm is right now?

A: I’m about 100 percent. Last year coming into camp, I was pretty stiff because I had surgery the year before, and I still don’t think I came in 100 percent. This year, like I said, I’ve been pitching for almost a month-and-a-half. I feel really good. I’m not sure where my velocity is at, but the ball seems to be going over the plate, which is more important. All my pitches are working, they’re all going over the plate, and they’re all doing exactly what they’re supposed to do. That’s something to build off.

Q: When the whole team arrives, how is the clubhouse different?

A: The mood lightens up a little bit. You’ve got guys — I was pleased to see Robert Fick back, I think he brings a lot to the clubhouse by joking around and making guys feel a little more calm and comfortable. But just seeing the guys that are going to be playing every day, it’ll brighten the atmosphere a little bit.

You see Nick Johnson around. When you see him, everybody is going up to him to see how he’s doing. But, it’s just getting more of a team feel. It’s getting ready for the season that is close by with games coming up. And seeing the guys that you are not in competition with helps, too.

Previous Q&A; sessions:

Nook Logan

Matt Chico

Ryan Church

Brian Schneider

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