Dane Johnson is the Blue Jays minor league pitching coordinator. Dane has jined us several times in Da Box. Most recently Dane talked with us last summer. I caught up with Dane over the phone last Sunday.
BB: Henderson Alvarez pitched this weekend after a ten day layoff. Did he have a physical issue or did he need a rest?
DJ: The schedule just setup that way. He had the all-star game in there and he had a start where he took a ball off his calf and he had to be removed early. So when the schedule was put together it just worked out that way.
BB: Chad Jenkins did OK in Lansing but he didn't knock the lights out. He would pitch well, then have a bad inning, and his first Dunedin start was the same. He seems to have had an up and down year.
DJ: Well he did a nice job at Lansing after he made some adjustments. When you move up a level you try and make adjustments when you probably shouldn't make them and overall if he sticks to what he was doing in Lansing Chad should be fine. He got the ball up a little bit but he was getting his groundballs still and that's what we want out of Chad. He is going to be a groundball guy, some will go for hits but some will turn into double plays. If he sticks to his gameplan he will be the same as he was in Lansing.
BB: When I was in Lansing they said he needed to work on his change-up and when he got into trouble he would try and overthrow and get the ball up. Are those still the two major things he is working on?
DJ: Well if you sign a contract with the Blue Jays, no matter who you are, you will be working on your change-up. His change-up has gotten better, he has better location with it but we do want him to keep working on it.
BB: I saw Zach Stewart pitch a few weeks ago in Erie and I saw a pitcher with a plus fastball, a plus slider but a change-up that needs work. It appears that the first part of the season the staff were working on his delivery, now the focus is on his off-speed pitches.
DJ: It is. If you have seen him recently he has had s tring of nice starts. Some of the concentration recently has been on his change-up and he has been working on his mechanics, getting on top of the ball and driving it downwards, which he has done a nice job of. But also keeping his arm speed on the change-up, not telegraphing it or pushing it up in the zone. It's such a feel pitch and it is just a matter of consistency, we know it's in there.
BB: Kyle Drabek keeps producing similar starts in AA, six, seven innings, 5 or 6 hits, 4 or so walks, and a bad inning or two that pumps his ERA. Has the team seen progression in him this year?
DJ: Absolutely. Kyle's a battler and he has good stuff. Some of the things we see that he needs to work on are total concentration all the way through the inning; getting hitters into his counts and then putting them away without letting them hang around. He is still young, his stuff is good, mechanically speaking he is hitting on 80% to 85% of his deliveries right now. We like what he is doing and he knows what he needs to do. He needs to stay in his delivery and get the ball in the lower half of the zone on a more consistent basis and when he does that he's pretty darn good. Sometimes when he gets in hitters counts he gives up runs because of his own undoing not because his stuff is not good.
BB: I see Bobby Bell is back on the DL. Is that the same issue he had earlier in the year?
DJ: Yes, it is, a bit of shoulder tendonitis. We don't think it is serious and we expect to see him back real soon.
BB: Danny Farquhar was hit around a bit today after a few good appearances. What do you think he needs to do to get to AAA and cut down on his walks?
DJ: Tighten up his command. We think he will have a chance to do that with more innings. We are looking at him as a seventh, eighth inning guy right now to get him more time and more repetitions on the mound to tighten up those areas that he needs tightening up in. He has good stuff, it's like Kyle (Drabek), getting ahead and keeping the counts in your favour and putting hitters away and he's quite capable of doing that.
BB: Bobby Ray and Brad Mills, are they throwing yet?
DJ: Yes, you should both of them at the end of the first week of July.
BB: Is Rommie Lewis a starter now?
DJ: Yes he is starting to get more repetitions out of the role so he can work on the things he needs to work on. Namely fastball command and his secondary pitches, tightening up his slider. It works better on a five day rotation and he is able to get more work with the pitching coach also.
BB: Rey Gonzalez and Luis Perez have had a rocky start to their AAA experience, what do they need to do to get better?
DJ: Rey needs to get back to the basics of what he did last year, commanding the baseball, getting all his pitches over the plate and being able to change speeds. He is not a guy who is going to blow you away, he needs to work inside and use all four pitches, pitch back and forth, and pitch to contact on his terms but it hasn't gone that way for him. The PCL is a tough league to pitch in, I am not making excuses for him, but once he realizes he is able to pitch there and use his whole repertoire, and know how to do so, hopefully he will get it rolling and be able to find success like he did last year.
Luis is in the category of being able to command his pitches and keep the counts in his favour. A lot of time he is falling behind. He needs to tighten up his secondary pitches particularly his breaking ball. He had spent a year and a half to two years at AA so he needed to be challenged at AAA.
BB: You had told be previously that Drew Hutchison was pitching well and you sent him to Auburn where he has had a few nice starts.
DJ: Last year he came into the organization and an eighteenth or nineteenth round draft pick and this year he did a nice job in the extended spring program, built up his routines and his pitch counts and he is responding well in the five day routine in Auburn. He has a good head on his shoulders, he has three very good pitches and he pounds the zone. I would be surprised if he has any struggles at that level with his stuff and what he has shown so far.
BB: What are his three pitches?
DJ: Fastball, change-up, slider which is more of a slurvy breaker, call it a slider or a slurve if you want to. He throws one harder and one softer so he changes speeds on it, it's very effective for him right now. His fastball is 90-92 with good sink and late life.
BB: You have just signed two new draftees, Aaron Sanchez and Noah Syndergaard. Will they stay in the GCL for the next two months.
DJ: I haven't seen them yet but yes they will stay in the GCL.
Batters Box thanks Dane Johnson for his time.