Gardner Says He's Mentally Tough
PinstripesPlus.com sits down with Tampa reliever Mike Gardner for a Q&A session to talk about his two different arm slots, his repertoire, what his freak injury was in Spring Training, which Major League pitcher he would compare his game to, which of his Tampa teammates impressed him the most, and much more.
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PinstripesPlus.com: Talk about your year this past season. How do you think it went?
Michael Gardner: It didn't exactly start the way I wanted it to. I had a freak injury at the end of Spring Training and I was out for the first month and half or two months. Because of the injury, I started out in Charleston. I had been at the level before [low-A ball] and I proved I could have been in high-A. I pitched pretty well and got a call-up to AA, which was kind of an honor even though I didn't make it into a game for Trenton. Overall, I thought it was a good year. I think they have me slotted for AA-Trenton next season.
PinstripesPlus: What exactly was the 'freak' injury?
Gardner: We were doing workouts in the gym at the end of Spring Training. I was in the weight room re-racking a 45 or 50 pound weight and got my finger pinched in between the weights something good. I cut the tip of my index finger on my pitching hand. I needed seven stitches. It took me a while to get the feel back for pitching. (laughing) I've never played a game in April [in pro ball]. In both Spring Trainings I've played in, I've managed to hurt myself.
PinstripesPlus: Tell us about your repertoire. What kind of pitches do you throw and at what speeds?
Gardner: Well, I throw from two different arm angles for one. I throw up top and side-arm. My main pitch, a pitch that I throw 75% of the time, is a heavy 2-seam fastball. It is around 89-92 MPH and on a good day, I mean a really good day, I can get it up to 93 or 94 MPH. I throw that pitch from both arm angles. I also throw a slider from both arm angles. When I throw my slider up top, its around 81-84 MPH and when I throw it side-arm, I throw it around 77-80 MPH. I throw a changeup from up top, but its usually a pitch I only throw to lefties.
PinstripesPlus: How do you decide when you throw your fastball or slider from the different arm angle?
Gardner: I just base it on the hitter's reaction. I look to see if I freeze them with a certain pitch and go from there. I can tell you that a large percentage of my strikeouts are from my side-arm slider. I have a tendency to leave that one over the plate, but I catch them off guard if they have never seen it before.
PinstripesPlus: What would you say is your biggest strength on the mound?
Gardner: My mental toughness. I'm out there knowing that I have the better stuff and I know if they [the hitters] hit it, it was a mistake on my part. The mental edge I have over people is my best trait. I'm not a big fan of coming into the game when the game is out of hand. I like to come into the game with the game on the line. Then I know I can throw all 2-seamers and get the guy out.
PinstripesPlus: On the flip side, what do you think is the weakest part of your game? What do you think you need to work on the most?
Gardner: My consistency. I mean, I'll go out there for a couple of weeks and just dominate and then I'll have a rough outing or two. I just would like to put more consistent outings together. I would also like to develop my changeup better. It is by far the most inconsistent pitch for me. I would like to get ahead of the batters more. I'm trying to be a complete pitcher. Definitely, each year I've made improvements and I think that will continue.
PinstripesPlus: Who would you compare your game to at the Major League level so that the fans can get an idea of what your game is like?
Gardner: Well, I watched him the playoffs and I think we have very similar roles and stuff. Dan Wheeler, because he too throws a heavy sinker, although he throws harder. I think Jeff Nelson is a good comparison for the simple fact he changes his arm angle. He drops down and has a lot of movement on his pitches like me.
PinstripesPlus: Who from your Tampa team this past season, among the positional players, do you think has the highest upside?
Gardner: I really like John Urick's swing a lot. We've been playing together for the past couple of seasons and I've seen the most improvement in him. He was hurt this past year, but he's a good player. Justin Christian is also very good. I wouldn't see him as a second baseman. But at the plate, there's nobody else I want batting leadoff.
PinstripesPlus: Which of your fellow pitchers from the Tampa squad do you think has the highest upside?
Gardner: It has to be Tyler Clippard. I mean, he's something like 20-years old and he just dominated. I really like his intensity and his swagger on the mound. His motion is also real deceptive. I mean, he throws 88-91 MPH, but I've heard hitters say it looks like its coming in at 95 MPH.
PinstripesPlus: Some people are not as high on Clippard because he doesn't throw hard and they say his stuff is overwhelming. What would you say to those people?
Gardner: Well, I don't think they seem him on a day to day basis like we do. I'm not a scout or anything, but I've played the game for long enough to know a little something about the game. We were in every game he pitched, which is all you can ask from a pitcher.
PinstripesPlus: Which one player, positional player or hitter, would you say is the best "sleeper" prospect? Which player doesn't get the attention he deserves but will have a solid Major League career?
Gardner: Jeff Karstens. I saw him throw two or three times in Trenton. He's a tough guy out on the mound. He doesn't have the most electric stuff, but he just battles out there. I think he's going to be pretty good.
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