I was fortunate enough to speak with two Knights players and two Knights coaches while visiting the beautiful BB&T Ballpark in Charlotte. I chatted with Erik Johnson (the Charlotte ace and presumed White Sox 6th starter), Rob Brantly (a catcher who is having a career year), Richard Dotson (pitching coach), and Andy Tomberlin (hitting coach).
Q: FutureSox talked with you in May and you had mentioned you needed to stay consistent in your routine and delivery to maintain your success. It is now August and you are having a fantastic year, how have you been able to stay consistent throughout the year?
A: It’s how I approach it, with a methodical approach and routine. For me, if I stick to a good regimen what I do and my results become more consistently predictable. Having the same results and same success, it tells you you are doing something right.
Q: Do you have a game day routine you follow?
A: I have the same routine no matter if it’s my game day or just a regular day. You have to be your stat-keeper and your own coach out there so staying consistent and listening to what works and what doesn’t is important.
Q: Do you have a pitch that is working really well right now or anything you are trying to improve with pitching coach Richard Dotson?
A: For me my fastball is my base, that’s what you need to command and I think that’s what I am having the most success with. Especially an “add-on” fastball that with two strikes I let it ride out of the zone with a little extra on it. As far as a certain thing, I’ve been working on changing speeds and pitching with a sequence to where you can change speeds and mix things up.
Q: Could you talk a little bit about your pitching approach and how you attack hitters?
A: I know a lot of Hall of Famers, Greg Maddux for example, who have been quoted about 0-2 and 1-2 counts how you want to get that hitter out on the next pitch rather than wasting pitches. The more pitches you throw to a hitter the higher his average will be, it’s been a theory of mine and I’ve applied to what I’ve done this year. That philosophy gets you deeper into games by saving a few pitches each inning which adds up. 1-2 and 0-2 [in the count] and you are attacking it forces hitters to make bad swings and make bad contact.
Q: Does being with the White Sox previously make you more hunger for getting back there now that you are pitching so well?
A: I’ve been there and had success there and for me pitching in the big leagues has been my ultimate goal for a long, long time. I am focused on having success and having a long career.
Q: You’ve had a career year this year in the White Sox organization, is there any thing you are doing differently you can attribute it to?
A: The main thing is I haven’t been forcing anything, not trying to be too mechanical out there and just trusting my abilities.
Q: You are hitting for more power than you have in career, is that product of a new approach?
A: I’ve been zeroing in spots where I can do some damage and if it’s not there letting it go. Understanding the fact that you get three strikes and even if have two strikes the pitcher still has to throw another strike. I have been focusing on not letting the count dictate my approach and my swing.
Q: What was your initial reaction to being claimed by the White Sox?
A: None of that stuff you can anticipate or expect. But no matter what team you play for you have to understand you are a baseball player and you are getting an opportunity to play baseball and just take it from there.
Q: You have been splitting time between DH and catcher, is that difficult transitioning between those roles?
A: Every player has a mentality where they want to play everyday, to show what we can do everyday, and help the team win. However, it’s another thing where it’s out of your control and you have to take the opportunity when you can and do the very best with them. I know Kevan [Smith] is doing the best he can and we are all just trying to put our best foot forward. I mean, I was batting leadoff there for awhile and I think that’s the first time in my career I have ever done that.
Q: You were a big time pitcher for the White Sox for a long time (1979-1987), what can you say about the familiarity of being back with the same organization that you spent most of your playing time with?
A: It is nice to be back with Jerry (Reinsdorf) and Eddie (Einhorn) and some of the guys in the front office that have been there for a long time and I know. But I did take 12 years off after I played so there is a lot of new faces. Jerry is a great owner and damn, I feel like I owe him because he was so good to us and we want the best for him. I feel very fortunate to be in the White Sox organization.
Q: It seems like any time we speak to any pitching coach with the the White Sox, we keep hearing that staying tall and pitching downhill is a common message. Is that a philosophy you preach as well?
A: I like it because it’s pretty simple. We all want to get angles and pitchers that have the better angles are the better guys. I really focus on getting my guys to work their breaking balls to both sides of plate, locating their fastballs, and pitching down in the zone. No pitcher can really survive being up in the zone all the time so creating that angle to get downward movement is important.
Q: Erik Johnson has been a bit of an enigma the last few seasons, he dominated in 2013, struggled last year, and now is seemingly back to his 2013 form. What can you tell me about EJ and what his future holds?
A: I thought he was fantastic in 2013, whatever happened last year happened, it’s in the past. When this year started, Erik worked his butt off in the winter time, I know that, he came prepared and he’s done a nice job for us. Not everyone has a nice easy run through all [the affiliates] and it happens in the big leagues to the best guys. It’s part of the thought process and sometimes we get in the way of ourselves by over-analyzing things. It’s like paralysis by analysis where you have to let your natural talent take over.
Q: You’ve been in the White Sox organization since 2005 and have actually worked at all the full-season affiliates. Does that experience coaching at the lower levels help you here with the Triple-A guys?
A: Absolutely. Especially the guys who I have worked with at the lower levels who are now here in Charlotte like Micah (Johnson) and Jason (Coats). You want to make things as simple as possible and at the end of the day they have to go out and compete and let their talent determine the rest.
Q: Could you talk about Jason Coats and the progress he has made?
A: Jason was in Kannapolis with Micah and I and he was a polished hitter at that level. I always liked his game and liked his approach and he has stood out. All he has done is answer the questions anyone has. He plays all the outfield positions, hits anywhere from the top to the bottom of the lineup and never missed a beat. He understands his job and goes after it with the right approach and he has a grit and grind about him that makes him fun to watch.
Q: Matt Davidson has struggled to meet expectations here in Charlotte the past couple years. Can you talk about what Matt needs to do to reach his potential?
A: With Matt it’s about simplifying things and trying to become consistent. I know he has improved his game defensively a great deal and that is giving him confidence. Last year he came out with some pressure and probably put too much pressure on himself maybe that made him look past things. He is a fine young man and I think he will be fine and have a great career in front of him. We are just trying to stay positive throughout this process and make sure he develops into what we think he is capable of.
Q: Is there any player you would like to highlight on the strides they have taken this year?
A: I know that Micah Johnson has done a great job this year. You have Carlos Sanchez and Micah Johnson both, in my eyes, are elite players who are big league players. Those guys are going to be in the major leagues for a long time and we just want to prepare them. When they were fighting for that job [starting second baseman] in Spring Training they both mentally, professionally, and performance-wise, handled it well. They both have had to come down here at different times and I was really impressed by how they handled it. You never, ever felt like they were ever pulling against each other and were actually pulling for each other. They have both grown and matured a lot.
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