Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Spring Training Q&A

with Pat Neshek

Good morning everyone! Well, last night was the first live performances on American Idol this season. Check out my American Idol Thoughts, if you are at all interested.

It has been awhile. Too long! As you have noticed in the Spring Training Q&As so far, they have been pretty short. Well, in most of those cases, I did a post-season Q&A. However, I have not had a Q&A with Pat Neshek since our interactive Q&A weeks before his big league recall last June.

The fifth in our series of Spring Training Q&As is with Twins right-handed reliever Pat Neshek. The Brooklyn Park native has participated in several Question and Answers on this site. His first Q&A here was in February of 2005. The second came in November of 2005, shortly after his addition to the Twins 40 man roster. He also participated in last year's Spring Training Q&A. Neshek dominated AAA before his recall to the Twins where he continued to impress all of his fans. He made his debut on a Friday night in July which created the need for me to write up a special Saturday blog entry to detail it! His personal website helped make him more famous, but his performance is what is going to keep people talking about him for a long time!

The following are his thoughts as the 2007 season quickly. Pat answered these questions a couple of days before Spring Training started:

SethSpeaks: Before looking toward 2007, I have to just ask a few questions about 2006 because it was just an absolutely amazing, dominant year for you. Something clicked. I mean, you were great in previous years, but you were dominant in 2006 at both AAA and with the Twins. Did you do anything differently mechanically or something else?

Pat Neshek: No not really. 2005 was a breakout year as far as making a statement and to be honest I did the exact same things in the off-season. Like I said in past Q&A's that year when I got sent back to Ft. Myers really pissed me off and I wanted to prove everyone wrong. When I mixed in a tough workout program (thanks to my wife), tough running program and ate better with a lot of juicing vegetables and eating fruit the combination was set in place for me to succeed. From that I added speed to my fastball and that was one of the biggest differences.

SethSpeaks: You did an interactive Q&A on this site about two weeks before your recall to the Twins. Several of the questions were about your imminent call up to the Twins. Even though I think we all knew it was just a matter of time, can you even explain in words the feelings going through your mind and heart when you got that call to the Twins?

Pat Neshek: It was great to get the call. I know Patrick Reusse of the Star Tribune jumped the gun on my call up a couple times throughout the beginning of the year so when July came around I was kind of mad that I didn't get called up yet. Guys on other teams were asking why I was still there, fans were going nuts and I was sitting there wondering what else I had to do. It would have been a lot more emotional I think to get called up earlier in the season…it would've surprised me a little bit. When I finally got the call I wasn't really surprised, I was more like "finally". It was a big weight off my back because you never know if you are going to get so close and not get the call due to an injury, accident or whatever…nothing is set in stone till it finally happens.  

SethSpeaks: Tell us a little about how you found out. Who told you? How were you told? Who did you tell first? How quickly did you get to Texas?

Pat Neshek: Stan Cliburn called me at around 11am on my cell. I just got back from taking my dog to the dog park with Stephanee. I called my parents first then I took off to the field to pick everything up…My plane flight was leaving in three hours. Somehow Stephanee managed to get to Texas at the same time, different flights and we had to bring our dog Juicy with! It was a mess trying to sneak a dog into a plush hotel but it had to be done that first night. I pictured us getting down to Texas and after a long day getting kicked out of the hotel for having a dog…Luckily Juicy was really good and didn't bark. After that my parents flew down and they were able to get a hotel that took pets…ahhhh what the papers don't tell you!

SethSpeaks: You showed up in Texas, and on a Friday night you made your debut against the Rangers. What was going through your mind while warming up in the bullpen? And when you were told to go into the game, how quickly was your heart racing?

Pat Neshek: Actually I pitched 3 innings the day before so I figured they would know and give me the day off. The game started off really bad and we ended up giving up a lot of runs. Pretty soon half our bullpen was in the game already so in my head I thought I actually might get to pitch. I really wanted to get in and get the big one over with. It's really nerve-wracking sitting there wondering when you are going to pitch. When they got me up I was thinking thanks Gardy for giving me some bullpen work. After three scares they finally told me I was going in to start the 7th. I was excited but really didn't feel to well on the bullpen mound. My arm felt like jelly and I really wasn't thinking like I usually do before I go in. I got into the game still just trying to throw the ball over and finally got my first out. From there I cruised but never really felt normal out there. Lets just say I was excited to get the first one out of the way.

SethSpeaks:  It didn't take long for you to become an important part of (what I believe is) baseball's best bullpen. Talk briefly about the likes of Joe Nathan, Juan Rincon, Jesse Crain and Dennys Reyes. I know that starting pitchers often talk about how they feed off of each other's success, but I think the same happens in the Twins bullpen.

Pat Neshek: Well it was great to jump into that bullpen and help out. Those guys treat the game with the same respect I treat it with and it was awesome to see guys care so much about how each other did. Everyone pretty much knew their role and if each of us completed that role we would most likely win the game. It was really fun to have a pen that knew their role and what it took to get the job done and if someone ran into trouble they knew the rest of us would be backing them up giving 100%

SethSpeaks: It seems that Ron Gardenhire and Rick Anderson do a very nice job of using the bullpen wisely. How important is that, and what can a pitching coach do for you throughout the season, or even within a game?

Pat Neshek: Well that's a good question because bullpen management is crucial. Coming up through the system you would see how different moves in the bullpen would win or lose ballgames. In the big leagues it's all about matchups, lefty vs lefty and so on. I think Reyes commented on it somewhere that the way Gardy and Andy run the pen is the best he's ever seen, I would have to agree…it makes a big difference and I think gets overlooked a lot by other managers.

SethSpeaks: Pitching for the Twins, you get to throw a lot of your pitches to Joe Mauer. Can you talk just a little bit about Mauer, the person and the teammate, but also explain what he does well for a pitcher?

Pat Neshek: He's great to play with, you can tell that no matter what time of the day baseball and getting better is always on his mind. He's quiet in the clubhouse and does the talking on the field. You always know you are going to get full dedication from him and can trust him to compete 100% everyday.

SethSpeaks: I've mentioned several times that the Twins team is now full of stars. Mauer, AL MVP Justin Morneau, AL Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana, could-have-been AL Rookie of the Year Francisco Liriano, Gold Glove winners, Silver Slugger Award winners, the best closer in baseball and more stars in the making. The beauty of the Twins is that despite all of the stardom, this team truly seems to be a team, and the players really seem to truly get along. Is this an accurate assessment? Is the clubhouse as fun of a place as the media makes it seem to be?

Pat Neshek: Yeah that's what makes us unique. Most of us have come through the system together and feeling comfortable and relaxed is the biggest part of the game. I feel bad for other teams because I truly sense they don't understand the team concept as well as the Twins stress it. Also I feel bad for younger players on other teams who have to play with guys who all they care about is making more money and how they do individually.

SethSpeaks: Once you got to the big leagues, was there a moment when you really felt you belonged, and that you were there to stay?

Pat Neshek: Yeah my third outing I struck out the side and really felt comfortable being in the clubhouse. Like I said before you have to get comfortable to your surroundings and feel at home as quickly as you can or else you'll be eaten up. Luckily for me it only took about two weeks to get use to everything!

SethSpeaks: Aside from making your debut, what was the highlight of your rookie season? Was there a favorite moment? (My favorite - striking out AJ Pierzynski on a high and tight fastball to end an inning a night after he went yard on you! That was a pretty intense moment and I did a big fist pump. Ha!)

Pat Neshek: There were a lot. Making my debut was high on the list, winning the division on the last day…Coming into games and stranding inherited runners. Too many to choose from. I think overall that White Sox game was the biggest heart pumper of the year. Man, coming into the game with a 2-0 count and bases loaded 1 out was tough. Then consider it was a two run game during a playoff run against our biggest threat in a sold out stadium with fans swearing at you. That was awesome…that's why I play baseball.

SethSpeaks: Do you have any trouble getting over those nights that you would love to have back, that you would like to get a "Do Over" on? I know you didn't have many of them, but as a reliever, you have to be able to get out of them knowing that if you pitch in 70-80 games in a season, you will have at least a couple of tough outings.

Pat Neshek: They are tough, I always tell myself that you are going to have a bad one usually every five outings on average so if you can keep up that pace all year you're in good shape. When something does go bad it's best to just move on. It's tough but just let it go and watch old video of when you dominated! That's the best remedy.

SethSpeaks:  How much fun was coming to the ballpark and playing so many games in the heat of a pennant race?

Pat Neshek: You know those games felt like just another ballgame. Anytime I step onto the mound it's Game 7 World Series time no matter where I am…You can put me out at my Alumni game and I still want to strike out the side. But just experiencing that at the top level of baseball was really nice to know I could do.

SethSpeaks: You have had a very busy offseason with a lot of commitments and personal events (wedding, honeymoon). Have you been able to find the proper balance between baseball workouts, and getting away from the game?

Pat Neshek: Yeah that has never really been a problem.

SethSpeaks: Tell us a little about your offseason workouts. Throwing and running outside isn't a real good option in Minnesota in the winter. You also talk have mentioned your nutrition as being very important to you. Give us an idea of a daily routine.

Pat Neshek: Real simple I do all the leg and arm exercises, usually it goes day 1 legs, 2 arms, 3 legs, 4 arms, then day off. I run 2-3 a week for 20 mins and in between I'll sprint. Nutrition is a big part of my game. I'm a big fan of Juicing Vegetables and eating fruit smoothies. I don't want to go into everything because most people wouldn't understand what makes these special, if you do there's some good books at the library. Basically a fruit smoothie in the morning, 3 apples or 3 oranges, handful of strawberries and two bananas everyday. Later in the day two times, veggie juice.

SethSpeaks: Do you feel physically and mentally prepared for the upcoming season?

Pat Neshek: I'm ready to go.

SethSpeaks: What are your thoughts heading into spring training this year? It is now your second big league camp, but you are also now fairly established and set on the Twins roster. Are you more comfortable, or is the feeling generally the same?

Pat Neshek: It feels good knowing you have a spot. I'll use spring training to get ready for the season and also to work on a new pitch. I think I'm going to go back to a pitch I threw a little in 2004. It's basically a submarine fastball, kind of like Chad Bradford, Wes Littleton or Cla Meredith's. All my pitches are thrown from the side and this one is coming from under…I throw it as hard as I can and it sits around 84-86 with a lot of sink. I'm going to use this for lefties and it'll get a lot of groundballs hopefully. This will be a big pitch if I can master it.

SethSpeaks: In general, what does the start of spring training mean to you?

Pat Neshek: Just a time to get ready and back into the swing of things. A lot of guys come in thinking it's do or die. I can't think that way, the season is too long and it's stupid to blow yourself out in the first month.

SethSpeaks: Have you set any goals for camp, and more important, for the 2007 season?

Pat Neshek: Just the usual, era under 3, over a k an inning, 1bb every 3 innings and a whip around 1 and get out every inherited runner. If I can do that it will be a great year.

SethSpeaks: One thing that you mentioned to me last year was that you were trying to develop a changeup to throw against lefties. I just kept thinking that during the season, in games, was not really the time to work on that pitch. It appeared that with the Twins, you probably went with 99% fastballs and sliders. Did you spend time working on a changeup, or another pitch, in the off-season?

Pat Neshek: Yep I spent some time throwing the change-up but I really want to see how the submarine pitch is going to work…I think that will work better than a change up. I still got the change up and will whip it out the problem is I don't like getting beat in big situations using my change up. I'd rather lose with my fastball. I'm excited I get to use the new pitch during spring training hopefully it will be another good pitch for me to use.

SethSpeaks:  To me, the game of baseball is a microcosm for life. (I know, this is deep) Baseball, like life, is all about making adjustments. In baseball, hitters are studying pitchers, and pitchers and studying hitters, trying to find an advantage. I am sure that in the off-season, teams have been looking at ways to try to hit you. This happens at every level of the minor leagues, but especially in the big leagues. Is there a way to prepare for that, or is your thought... "Hey, they have to show that they can hit me first"?

Pat Neshek: In all honesty I think fans and people in general give baseball teams and players way to much credit for studying other players. I don't even think most teams have guys that analyze things like that and I know most players only study things like starting pitchers and what the first pitch might be. The best you are going to find are advanced scouts who write up reports. I'm not worried about anything like that and think it is funny when people say things like "figured you out". Figured you out…does that mean teams are going to miraculously to start ripping the ball off you when they haven't before. If that happens it will most likely be because of other reasons like a sore arm or making a bad pitch not because a guy has figured you out.

SethSpeaks:  On your website, you have been trading some of your game-used major league, minor league and even some Butler equipment and other things for autographs. What gave you the idea to do that, and have you been able to acquire some good autographs? 

Pat Neshek: I got too many request in the mail to trade cards for my game used items…People were sending me like 50 cards and basically saying "Give me a game used items for these cards" I had to turn a lot of people away and then I decided it would be cool to do an auction so I can get some cards in return for my collection…It worked out awesome, I think it's a better idea than trading my cards for other cards!

SethSpeaks: Did you enjoy being on the Twins Caravan? Any highlights or stories?

Pat Neshek: I loved the Caravan, a lot cooler than I thought it would be. Basically it was Perkins, Gardy and Rick Anderson. We had a blast just sitting on the bus telling stories and making fun of John Gordon! There were too many stories that would take a long time to write on here. 

SethSpeaks: Did you enjoy Twins Fest this year? After several years of being in the 'free' autograph line, people showed up in very large numbers to pay for your autograph this year! You really seem to enjoy such events and the fan interaction. 

Pat Neshek: Yep Twinsfest was huge this year…lots of people getting stuff signed. I like getting to see all the fans and that's just another event that the Twins do a great job at.

SethSpeaks: Although there are several question marks in the Twins starting rotation, the bullpen and the lineup should again be very solid. There are several starting pitchers that have high ceilings and are close. Heading into spring training, 1.) do you believe that the AL Central could be the toughest division in all of baseball and 2.) that the Twins will be able to compete with anyone in the game?

Pat Neshek: Well we basically have our core back, bullpen back and have some depth in the starting pitching. I don't see how we wouldn't be favored. It's kind of like stock picking, everyone can do it but only 1% are right. All I know is that I do this every day and we are going to be a tough team to beat, I don't even care where others pick us, I find it comical.


Thank you very much to Pat for taking some of his time before the start of Spring Training. Obviously we wish him the best of luck in 2007!

There are still some Spring Training Q&As yet to be posted. I will also have some other topics in the near future. IF you have any ideas for topics, any questions for me, or comments, please e-mail me. So, be sure to check back from time to time.. Please leave Comments or follow-up questions that I can take back to Pat for response. Thank you, and enjoy your day!! 



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