Monday, May 21, 2012

An Interview with Lancaster Closer Kirk Clark

RHP Kirk Clark was signed as a non-drafted free agent in 2009 and recently surpassed the 50 save mark for the Astros organization. At Lancaster this season, he has a 2-1 record with a 2.76 ERA, a 1.163 WHIP and five saves in 15 games.

WTH: First things first. Since the Lancaster games aren't available on MiLB.tv, I've never gotten the opportunity to see you pitch. If I got that chance, what would I see? What are your best pitches? Velocity? Movement?

KC: Well the first thing you'll notice is that I'll be the aggressor. I'm going to go after hitters. I'm not gonna just let em get a free base. I'm going to challenge them with strikes. My arsenal consists of a fastball that just hovers at 90 with some good movement. My next pitch is a circle change up that when it's on looks like a split. Thirdly, is a curve I've been working on this season.

WTH: I know it's still early in the season (and that bullpen ERAs are subject to a lot of volatility), but your ERA and WHIP so far this season are substantially better than last season. To what do you attribute that? Have you just figured out how to be more effective in the tough environs of Lancaster?

KC: My thought process is just to go after hitters no matter what the conditions are here in California. If I get hit, it's gonna be because I fell behind or made a bad pitch. I've been just working a lot on locating and not giving teams free bases. It's also easy when I have a great defensive team behind me as well. I feel confident if or when they put the ball in play, that the play will be made.

WTH: Speaking of Lancaster, I have a theory. It seems to me that if a pitcher has decent command to start with, Lancaster can actually help him become a better pitcher as he fine-tunes his command. In other words, he has to pitch, not just throw. Am I on to something or am I just full of it?

KC: You are on to something. You can't just gear up and throw fastballs by people here. Hitters are always looking for something out over the plate that they can drive. You have to be able to read people's swings [both] when someone else is pitching or in the middle of an at bat. Not always is a well executed pitch going to work in your favor but most of the time it will.

WTH: I also noticed that you aren't striking out as many batters so far this season. Is that by design, trying to get more groundball outs? [The day I sent Clark this question, he struck out the side that night.]

KC: I usually don't pay attention to strike outs. As long as I'm doing my job by getting outs and winning games, that's way more important to me. ... [If] I'm throwing a lot of strikes or pitches that look like strikes coming out of my hand, [it] makes hitters antsy [that I will be] around the zone so [they had] better be ready early in the count. And as I said before, the defense has been great making plays for me as well so I know when I pitch to contact, they'll be ready to make the play for me.

WTH: You haven't gotten a lot of save opportunities so far this season. Are you being used in a different role? [At the time I asked this question, Clark only have three saves; he's gotten two additional saves since.]

KC: I've been in games where I'd come into games in the 7th, 8th, or 9th. I really don't think about getting save opportunities. I just think about doing my job no matter what it is and putting our team in a good spot to win.

WTH: As someone who was signed as a non-drafted free agent, what can you do to set yourself apart?

KC: To be honest I don't think about being a NDFA. As long as you produce, do your job, and work your butt off, you'll get the same opportunities as anyone. You just have to come out guns blazing all the time and compete. Some days you'll get beat, some days you'll beat yourself, some days you'll do your job. You just have to be consistent in what you do.

WTH: I understand that you pitched in the Alaskan Summer League a while back. Can you tell me a little about that experience?

KC: Well the Alaska summer league was amazing! Just imagine playing ball games at 10 pm and not having to worry about lights. It's gorgeous. It's 75-80 everyday with no humidity. It was a great experience. The people up there are also just amazing. Everyone was extremely friendly and would always lend a hand if you needed any help. Go glacier pilots! And ... it [was also ...] so much fun because we had a bunch of great guys on the team and we became great friends.

Thanks for your time Kirk. I hope to see you in Corpus soon!

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