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BCB Interview: RHP Evan Anundsen

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Evan Anundsen prepares to strike another batter out with his nifty new slider. <i>(Mark LoMoglio)</i>
Evan Anundsen prepares to strike another batter out with his nifty new slider. (Mark LoMoglio)
The Brewers' 4th-round pick in 2006 out of Columbine High School in Colorado, Evan Anundsen had definitely flown under the radar in his pro career before this year, but not anymore; throwing a no-hitter tends to do that for you. He's also bumped his strikeout rate up from 6.5 to 8.8 per nine innings while maintaining his excellent walk rate and as a result has posted a shiny 2.03 ERA at High-A Brevard County. The Manatees were supposed to have a game on Tuesday night, but as happens so often in Florida, the rain had other ideas, and Evan was kind enough to spend of bunch of his new-found free time talking to me.

BCB: You guys got rained out tonight. Big surprise, eh?

EA: Yeah I know, this weather has been terrible. But maybe it’s what we need as a team to kind of jumpstart this second half.

BCB: Is it hard getting rained out so much? They say starting pitchers thrive on routine.

EA: [laughs] That’s actually a great question. This year, I’ve been tested with it plenty because I don’t think I’ve pitched on a normal rotation for over a month now. I think it depends, though. Sometimes its great to have an extra day off, and sometimes you wanna stay in a groove and keep it that way. Generally, I think if you’re struggling, a day off is the best thing possible, and if you’re hot you wanna keep everything the same.

BCB: You've been hot a lot more than you've been struggling this year.

EA: Well, I guess things have just been going my way this year more than in the past, and even though I’ve strung together a few good starts, any pitcher could tell you when you just have that feeling where you’re either unstoppable or cold. Sometimes it gets masked in this game, because you can go out there with your best stuff and get shelled or your worst and no one can touch you.

BCB: So has anything significant changed for you this year that's allowed your numbers to take the big step forward they have?

EA: I‘d probably have to say just experience from last year, mostly. Like, I haven’t noticed a huge difference in competition, just that knowing that your focus can’t change whether you’re dominating a team or when you’re losing. Just that every pitch you throw can either hurt the game or end the inning.

BCB: The Florida State League in general and Space Coast Stadium specifically are notoriously pitcher-friendly. How much do you think the environment has helped you?

EA: I mean, obviously it helps all pitchers, I think, and there have definitely been times where the large field and sea level have assisted in getting me out of jams and stuff, but I’m a ground ball guy, so if I’m giving up line drives and fly balls then I’m in trouble regardless. Just because I’m not giving up home runs doesn’t mean they aren’t hitting in the gaps and whatnot. So I’d say that I like pitching here, but I don’t think it affects me as much as it affects other guys.

BCB: Yeah, I was going to say, you've always been a ground-ball pitcher, so the heavy, humid air and whatnot probably don't help you as much as they would a fly-ball pitcher.

EA: Yeah, but there’ve been times where guys have hit the ball well and it just dies, so I can’t say it hasn’t helped me out. I’d say that the games where I’ve given up most of my runs are the days where it helps out most versus most other days, because that’s when I’m leaving the ball up.

BCB: That makes sense, and it’s a great point. I was wondering how much of your grounder-oriented approach has to do with going to high school high up in Colorado.

EA: [laughs] Honestly, it really has nothing to do with it, as strange as it sounds. My arm took a beating in high school, and ever since I signed I’ve yet to get that velocity back. So when I was in Helena in ’07, I decided I needed to change something until my velocity came back, so I decided to pick up a sinker. I used to have plenty of tail on my fastball but I had never had much depth to it, so I started fiddling around with grips and next thing led to another and my sinker became a reality.

BCB: You had tail on your four-seamer, you mean?

EA: Yeah, back in high school I had tail on my four-seamer. Never had a need to throw a two-seamer back then.

BCB: How hard were you throwing back in high school and then as a pro?

EA: Let’s see, my senior year I sat 90 to 93, and now I’m throwing 85 to 88. I’m in the process of finding a better offseason routine specifically to increase my velocity.

BCB: That 90 to 93 vs. 85 to 88 is four-seamer vs. two-seamer, though, right?

EA: No, not entirely. I mean, when I pull out my four-seamer now, I get it up to 88, 89 usually. And back then, I’m not sure whether my arm was in better condition or just the easy schedule of starting once a week and the season only lasting two months. That, and I also just threw in high school. I mean, I had a general idea of where I was throwing it, but not nearly the kind of control I’ve obtained over the past few years.

BCB: The fact that you said your arm took a beating in high school, you feel like there's some sort of physical cause behind your velocity loss too?

EA: Well, I’ve pretty much looked back at everything to try and figure out why my velocity dropped. All I can really think of is either throwing 85 innings in about 12 starts, with no care on how many pitches I threw per game, or just I realized that I needed to learn how to pitch and I have just lost some of those quick-twitch muscles that I need to build up again.

BCB: Do you have any bitterness when you look back at those 85 innings in 12 starts?

EA: Well, I’m not a hundred percent sure if that is in fact the direct reason as to why it’s dropped, but back then I didn’t care. My arm never really felt bad, and I was throwing harder than I had ever thrown in my life. So I now know it was reckless and stupid, but I can’t say I regret it at all. It was the best time in my baseball career at the time, and it was also the most fun time.

BCB: Do you ever just rear back and throw like you were then to see how high you can dial it up?

EA: I did a bit last year, and I got it back up around 90 to 91. But I truly think I need to start focusing on it at the beginning of winter workouts. I mean, you can’t just throw one way for six months and then all of a sudden add seven miles an hour to your fastball just by hurling it. I mean, I’m confident that I’ll figure it out. I just seem to have tried all the wrong programs to fix it so far, so it’s now just finding the right one.

BCB: Reid Nichols was quoted in the Milwaukee paper the other day saying about you: "He wasn't a very good athlete when we drafted him. He learned how to work out, got stronger and in better shape."

EA: Yeah, in that regard I've gotten better. I’ve gained weight and pretty much advanced in every other category except my velocity. It’s just one of those things that I don’t know exactly what I need to do, whether it be a new offseason throwing program or different long toss schedule. I’m not quite sure as to what I have to do, but this offseason I’ll be trying everything possible to bring it back up.

BCB: Does the team design the workouts for you or tell you which programs they want you to do?

EA: Yeah, they give us workout schedules and whatnot, but I like to mix it up with my own personal trainer back home to possibly give me an edge, and I don’t think that it’s my lifting that has hurt my velocity. I think it’s more the actual throwing side of it.

BCB: Well, we've talked a lot about your fastball. Can you describe the rest of your stuff?

EA: As in what I’m throwing now, or what I’m working on?

BCB: How about both?

EA: Let’s see, well, I’m throwing both a curve and a slider, and a changeup. I just picked up the slider this year. I’ve been juggling with my changeup grip for the past few years, but I think I have finally found a quality grip, so I’m happy about that.

BCB: Which grip are you using now?

EA: Well, it’s always been a circle change, but just finger placement and how much pressure I put on the ball from each finger has changed.

BCB: And what are you tinkering with?

EA: Well, it’s really just my slider and my changeup. Like, I know how to throw them both, but there are so many different ways to throw them, like where you can get bigger break but less depth or a harder and tighter spin with later movement and less break. It’s been interesting to try them all out.

BCB: You’ve picked up a lot of strikeouts this year while keeping your walk rate static, which is a pretty rare thing--is that because of the slider?

EA: I would definitely have to give it a lot of credit, for sure. It’s become my first out pitch I’ve ever had, and it’s turning into my best pitch. The exciting part about it is that I just picked it up, and I can’t wait to see it in a year or two. On top of that though, I think all of my pitches have advanced since last year, and that’s allowed me to set up hitters in different ways because I can rely on not just my fastball control.

BCB: Do you feel like you can get a strikeout or a ground ball, depending on what you need? Are you actively trying to strike guys out more?

EA: Well, I mean, all pitchers love strikeouts, so I’ve always tried to strike people out. But now it seems that if I’m in a situation where I need a K, I feel confident that I can get one. And this year I’m focusing on my pitch count more than anything, so I’m trying to get through innings as quickly and easily as possible. But yeah, I feel I can get a groundball when I need it.

BCB: Your slider must be pretty damn good then if you're actively trying to keep your pitch count down and you're still getting so many more strikeouts.

EA: It’s definitely added some power to my stuff, but overall it’s been the combination of everything that’s helped me this year.

BCB: How do you use your stuff differently depending on the handedness of the batter?

EA: Generally I stick with fastballs and sliders to righties, as of late, and changes and curves to lefties. I use my change to both sides when needed, but I haven’t used it as much because it’s my hardest pitch to control right now, but it’s getting better.

BCB: We haven't touched on your no-hitter yet. Can you tell me about it?

EA: Well, the game was a 10:30 commuter, so we got the wonderful 6 A.M. bus time for that morning. Honestly, it was really like every other game, except I seemed to be able to throw whatever I wanted wherever I wanted and they all hit it right at people. It was really just funny how you really do need everyone’s help, mostly the other team’s hitters’, to get you into that kind of position. Anyways, during the game I tried to keep everything the same. Like, I’m a pretty outgoing guy, and I didn’t want that scene where everyone is sitting on the other side of the dugout from me. So I really just hung out in between innings, and I think the best help was the fact that the game was so early that I was too tired to think about how big the situation really was.

BCB: Yeah, the article said you were pretty depressed about the early start.

EA: [laughs] Well, with our schedule it’s pretty routine to be going to bed around three every night, so when you go from a night game to an early morning game, it’s really difficult to adjust for one day.

BCB: What was going through your head when Brent Brewer dropped the pop-up with two outs in the 9th?

EA: Really, it didn’t bother me so much that I might give up a hit to the next guy. What bothered me was that now the tying run was on second, and I was not going to blow this game with two outs. I just wanted to win. That’s really all I ever want to do--whatever it takes, you know?

BCB: You said you were going to take a nap and then cook out after the game. Best burgers you ever tasted?

EA: [laughs] Well, actually we went fishing, and yeah, it was a great afternoon, apart from being on the phone for about six hours solid after the game [laughs].

BCB: [laughs] Well, that's about it. Any interesting non-baseball trivia, hobbies, or skills?

EA: [laughs] No, not really anymore. Baseball has taken away a lot of my old hobbies. It really is a full-time job. Weird to think, since they give us a whole offseason, but you really have to work at it every day.

BCB: Well, whatever you're doing, keep it up. We hope to see you in Milwaukee soon. We have fewer rainouts here.

EA: [laughs] Thanks a lot.