Long time Blue Jay fans know the name Mel Queen. Queen spent time in Toronto as pitching coach and even managed the Jays for five games on an interim basis. Mel Queen gets a lot of the credit for remaking Roy Halladay's delivery. Rumour has it he got on Pat Hentgens case from time to time. Recently Queen returned to the Jays organization as a roving instructor. When I showed up in Lansing last weekend I met Mel Queen for the first time. I didn't think I was going to meet him so I didn't have time to prepare some historical questions so I just took five minutes or so from him and had him answer a few questions.
BB: I am talking to the manager with the best winning percentage in Blue Jay history, isn't that right?
MQ: Well yes, but that was only five games (laughs)
BB: In Toronto your big claim to fame is the work you did with Roy Halladay. When you first got that job did you think it was something you could do, that you had a chance of success?
MQ: Well I knew we could change him, I had no idea he could be what he turned out to be until after I got him changed and I saw what was coming out of his arm. Then I knew he had a chance to be something special.
BB: So every time you see him in the spring does he buy you a big steak?
MQ: You know I don't think I have seen him in person since we did the work in Knoxville.
BB: Have you done the same work with other pitchers like you did with Roy?
MQ: No, you know I have changed guys grips and done stuff like that but to completely re-work a guys complete delivery, his arm angle, the grip on the fastball and all that, no I never have done that.
BB: Again you have the reputation in Toronto of getting tough with some guys when you needed to get tough with them like Pat Hentgen, do some of these guys need a dose of reality as to what's going on?
MQ: Well you have to pick your times and when you feel it needs to be done then you have to do it. You are not doing it to be tough or to be a bad apple, it's for their benefit and if you don't do it then you aren't doing your job as a pitching coach to make them the best they can be. There are times you pat them on the back and there are times when you just have to chew them out and level with them.
BB: There is a lot of emphasis these days on pitch counts, when you were pitching there were no pitch counts, what do you think of it?
MQ: I think at times it gets overdone but with the amount of money they have invested in these people you have to. Years ago when I pitcheded they didn't care how many pitches you threw as long as you could win the game. But on the other hand they didn't have a whole lot of money invested in you and they didn't want to see you get hurt but if you did get hurt they had somebody else to replace you. Now if you have a Halladay or a CC Sabbathia you have a lot of money invested in that particular pitcher you do not want to see him get hurt by fatiguing him and a lot of times that's how you hurt yourself by fatigue. When you ask muscles to do something they are too tired to do you get hurt so I can see them being cautious with the pitchers.
BB: I understand that in your role as a roving pitching instructor you have spent some time recently in Las Vegas. What about a guy like David Purcey who has lots of talent but hasn't developed good control. Did you see anything in his delivery to help him?
MQ: I was talking with Dane about Purcey the other day and I explained what I saw. Dane said he hadn't seen it before but it was with his right foot, his landing foot for a lefty, he has a tendency to open it a little bit before he lands and that opens his whole body up but I only saw him on the side I missed seeing him in a game. But I saw him play catch for four days and I saw him throw a side session in the bullpen and if he is doing that in a game that needs to be corrected or it will be very hard for him to command the strike zone with his fastball.
BB: Most of the time he seems to miss up and away or down and in.
MQ: The reason he misses down and in is that he feels he is open so he cuts his arm off to try and get it in the strike zone and he cuts it off. If he went rhough with a normal delivery it would be up and away.
BB: Did you see Cecil or Mills pitch in Vegas?
MQ: Yes I did, I saw Mills pitch twice. The first game he struggled a little bit and he is just a young kid, there was a strong wind blowing straight out to centre field and he was throwing into about a twenty mile an hour wind with that big curveball of his and anytime you are throwing into a wind with your curveball it makes it break even more and he couldn't get it to home plate, it was bouncing in front of the plate. He hadn't pitched in a windy situation like that to know he has to elevate it a little more. The next start he was much better, there was no wind and he commanded his curveball, commanded his fastball to both sides of the plate and pitched much better.
BB: Here last night I liked the live arm shown by Dustin Antolin, do you see much potential in him?
MQ: Well you always look at the upside of a kid, you never say well I don't think he is going to make it you always find something positive. Say if he is a two pitch pitcher you try and give him a third pitch to make him a major league pitcher. You find something to help him make it. Now they all don't but if you don't have that approach then you are not going to do your job. If you don't think a guy is going to make it then you have a tendency not to work as hard as you should with him. In my mind I always think this kid has a chance if I can help him to do something better than he is doing. So I did think (Antolin) threw the ball real well and so did the starter Beck.
BB: So as you start around the minor leagues is there any pitcher who caught your eye that you liked?
MQ: Well I liked Ray in Las Vegas, he only had the one start and I was hoping he could get another start before they called him up, but they needed somebody and he went up and pitched very well before he came up with a sore arm. But I like him, he has very good stuff, nasty slider, good sinking fastball, a lot of movement. And I liked Cecil, I saw him pitch two games in Vegas. He is going to be a very good pitcher, he is still very young, he just needs to command his fastball a little bit better.
BB: Have you seen tonight's starter Henderson Alvarez?
MQ: Yes I saw him in spring training and once previously this year, he has a chance to be pretty good.
BB: So to finish up here, going back to your major league Blue Jay days what is your fondest memory of your time with the big club?
MQ: I would think it was probably Pat Hentgen winning the Cy Young simply because I had him in the minor leagues when he was 17 and he was warming up to pitch a game in St Catherines and I'm standing behind him and I am saying to myself this kid is going to get crushed, the ball looked as big as a softball going to home plate. Then I went down to home plate and stood there and I saw the ball real good but in the last ten feet the ball kind of jumped on you, so he had that late sneaky movement. And so for a kid that was 17, to see him mature and to become the pitcher he was and to win the Cy Young that was very rewarding.
Batters Box thanks Mel Queen for his time.