Friday, May 31, 2013

An Interview with Astros RHP Jake Buchanan

If you haven't been paying attention, you may not know that Jake Buchanan is having an extraordinary season. In 13 games (nine starts) for the Corpus Christi Hooks, he is 6-0 with a 0.77 ERA and a 0.686 WHIP. That's impressive enough until you look at little more closely at his May numbers. In six appearances (four starts) in May, he is 4-0 (having won his last four straight games) with a 0.00 ERA and a 0.651 WHIP. One of his most impressive stats to me is that he has only walked four batters all season.

Although Buchanan was named the Astros Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2011, his success didn't exactly translate in 2012. So what is different this year? I asked the man himself when I was in Corpus Christi last weekend.

Jake Buchanan - May 2013
Photo by Jayne Hansen

On what he's doing different this year: "Not too much different. I guess they're just hitting it at people this year is what I've been telling people. Been pretty lucky. The defense has been great. Everybody this year has made great plays behind me. I think about every break that could have been my way has gone my way. The other night, Santana throws a guy out at the plate, saves a run. Defense has been great. Been down in the zone more I guess. Getting more ground balls.

"It's just been different. I feel more like I belong here. My last year I was new. Last year was more veteran guys and this year, I kind of feel like the veteran guy now that all my friends have moved up to AAA."

Is he having fun?: "Definitely, a lot more fun this year. Last year was a down year, probably one of the worst years of my career for me ever since I've been playing. This year's been a lot more fun. Just enjoying it."

Is there a particular coach or manager in the organization that has made an impact on him?: "I've had [Pitching Coach Gary] Ruby for two years and this would be the third. He's pretty good with the mental approach of the game, just sticking with what works best for me, not trying to do too much. Just sticking with the sinker and trusting it. Other than that ... he's been my pitching coach for 3/4 of my career so I guess props to him for sticking with me and helping me with that."

Any rituals or superstitions?: "So far this year, everything's been the same. I've been afraid to change anything up because everything's going so well. Still wearing the same cleats and glove, undershirt, everything like that. I haven't changed that up yet. I guess when the bad one happens, I'll probably change something up after that."

On the tandem approach to pitching: "It's working well for me. I know some guys probably don't like it but I like knowing I have five innings that day to go out [and] get 15 outs and you can try to give it your all for five innings. I know last year when I was starting, you'd try to kind of conserve some in case you had to go seven or eight, trying to save some the first couple of innings but now you have five innings, you kind of let it go. Out of the bullpen, if you're on the road and you're down, you could possibly throw only three innings. You just go out and throw everything you've got."

On eventually stretching out his innings: "I've so far been pretty efficient, not throwing too many pitches in five innings. I still feel like I have some left. It's definitely going to be different when they tell you 'go as long as you can.'"

On having one less day of rest: "I've always been pretty lucky with recovering pretty quickly, not too sore after my starts. And this year I've been a lot better. I guess because we're not throwing as many pitches. For me, that's not really a big issue, but I know some of the guys, it could be hard to do."

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When I told Coach Ruby what Jake had said about just being lucky this season, Ruby replied, "That's typical Jake. He's come so far. He's matured so much as a pitcher. Last year, he had struggled some times. Now he's been phenomenal because he's got better feel for everything around him. His stuff is really good. Besides his sinker, his cutter, curveball, changeup have all been effective. He's been great. He's got everything in order which is nice."

When I pressed Ruby on what one thing made the difference from last year to this, he responded, "I think it's more the maturity process, how to get out of trouble when he's pitching. He's a sinkerball pitcher. He throws a lot of double plays, a lot of ground balls. Now he knows how to use his weapons. That's the difference."

Manager Keith Bodie agrees, "Tremendous maturity. He's grown. All he does is go out there and throws the ball over the plate and gets soft contact, ground ball contact." Bodie added, "He has developed a curveball that he's mixed in which really has made him more consistent, more viable pitcher, especially starting. He's proven that he can get people out and get them out consistently."

Well, whatever he's doing, it's working. When I interviewed Mike Foltynewicz the next day, I told him that he was in danger of losing his Studmuffin of the Year crown from 2012 (a tongue-in-cheek award stemming from the nickname Folty's girlfriend bestowed on him) to Buchanan. Folty laughed and admitted that when Alex Sogard got promoted to AAA and Jake Buchanan took his old locker, Folty wanted Jake's locker in hopes that some of his incredible 2013 mojo might rub off.

But it's more than mojo. It's talent and maturity that are putting Buchanan back where he was in 2011, an early front-runner for Astros Minor League Pitcher of the Year (and a chance at the coveted WTHB Studmuffin of the Year award to boot).

Thank you for your time, Jake, and the best of luck as the season unfolds.

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