Justin Fiske has enjoyed quite a rise in his stock this past season. After having his contract purchased from the independent league Joliet Jackhammers just a little over a year ago, Fiske to now pitching in the Arizona Fall League, which is considered to be the “finishing school” for a professional club’s top prospects. During the regular season, Justin pitched in relief for the Quad Cities and Palm Beach and was moved to starting for AA Springfield. Cumulatively he averaged over a strikeout per inning and posted a 3.20 FIP, impressive for someone who throws a mid-eighties fastball. He has only thrown two innings so far in the AFL due to a sore shoulder, but has kept busy with a number of baseball activities, including a little blogging on the side. Justin kindly agreed to answer some of my questions during his down time.
Is Justin Fiske your stereotypical off-the-wall left-hander?
I like to think I’m pretty normal. I would have to say that I do some goofy or off-the-wall things sometimes, but over all I’m just a laid back and easy going guy who loves the game of baseball. I do have a few superstitions but nothing too crazy. For example, I always jump over the white line. Simple things like that, but I don’t have very many.
Is pitching simple, or is it complicated?
To me, pitching is both. Pitching is an art at times. Just like anything else you can feel great about what you are doing on the mound and then all of a sudden you hit a wall and can’t get guys out. I think sometimes people make it more difficult than it has to be. There is definitely a difference between being prepared to perform and face hitters, and over thinking and trying too hard to pitch to a hitter’s weaknesses. The idea behind pitching is what seems to be simple. From an outside view it’s just getting the sign from the catcher and then throwing that pitch. A lot more goes into each pitch than what the average fan sees. Usually hitters will tell you what they are looking for or what they are gearing up to hit. So it’s the job of the pitcher and catcher to work together and see these things and pitch accordingly.
What does the term “pitch to contact” mean to you?
Pitching to contact is more like pitching in a way that you get the hitter to make “weak” contact. If you just throw the ball up there to get contact, you won’t be in the game long. Hitters will take advantage of those pitches. To get weak contact, a pitcher simply wants to throw a lot of strikes low in the zone. By keeping the ball down you force the batter to hit balls into the ground resulting in a lot of ground outs. When you pitch to contact in that way, you can certainly help yourself out by keeping your pitch count low and keeping the pace of the game up.
How would you describe your pitching style? Give us a little scouting report on yourself.
I would definitely say I am a backwards pitcher. Most people pitch off there fastball where as I pitch off my change up. My change up is my best pitch so I’ll use it to get ahead in the count and even to strike guys out. My fastball does come in handy when hitters are looking for my change up. Running a fastball up and in will get them off my change up. Sometimes I’ll even get swing and misses on those pitches. Not many hitters go up to the plate looking forward to hitting an off speed pitch. So when they see a fastball they like to jump on it. Because I don’t throw very hard, my off speed pitches are my go to pitches. That allows me to use my fastball more effectively.
How different is starting from relieving? Do you prefer starting?
Starting and relieving are very different. To be honest, I really like both roles. When I’m a starter, I have a set schedule during the week to get myself prepared of the next game I throw in. It also gives me 4 days in between starts to fine tune a pitch that I have been struggling with. As a reliever, you have to be ready everyday. There are situations during every game that the manager may want you in so you have to be prepared for that. Because relievers have to be ready everyday, they aren’t able to work as much outside of the game on pitches. But, because they throw more often, losing control of a pitch doesn’t happen as easily. Also as a reliever, there are some intense situations that I may be put into, and personally I love pitching in those situations.
Prior to the season, did you see yourself moving up the ladder as quickly as you have with the Cardinals, going from Low A all the way to AA and now to the Arizona Fall League?
Certainly there was no way for me to expect this to happen this year. This was my first full season in pro ball and I was just excited to make a full season team. When I got the promotion to Palm Beach I had reached my goal for the season. If it weren’t for the injuries that we had throughout the system, I don’t know if I would have had the opportunity that I got this year. But when I did get the call up to AA, I wanted to stick. I just thought to myself, “It’s the same game, just different hitters.” That seemed to help me be confident that I could still throw my game and be successful.
What is your experience been like working with Bryan Eversgerd?
It was a great experience because he too was a lefty pitcher. He helped me tremendously with the sinker that I was trying to develop. He was also able to give me a ton of insight on what to expect as I continue to play this game. He was a great pitching coach because he would tell you when you’re doing good, but at the same time he would point out what needed to be worked on. It’s always a great opportunity to get advise from people who have made it to the big leagues and who have seen what it takes to stay there.
With an obvious need for left-handed relief for the big league club, do you see this fall league as an opportunity for you to garner some attention?
I think everyone who is a Cardinals fan knows about the lefty problem we have. I certainly see it as the biggest opportunity I’ve received since becoming a cardinal. Being out here in Arizona with 2 other lefties means I’ve still got to perform to get the job. I’m not going to assume what they have in store for us, but I would be dumb to think I can just sit back and relax because I was chosen to pitch in the AFL.
Having played in Davenport, what was your experience with the flooding this year?
That was certainly a once in a life time event for me. We had to walk through the water and get our equipment out to play the next 3 games at other parks. The craziest thing about it is it was snowing on our way out. So imagine walking through flood water and getting hit with snow at the same time. I never knew that was possible. Sure it was an inconvenience, but we certainly didn’t have it as bad as those people who had to worry about their houses flooding. I was there only for the first flood so I don’t know how bad the second one was. I heard it was pretty bad as well.