Tampa reliever Paul Thorp sits down with PinstripesPlus.com for a Q&A session to talk about his hot…
Q&A with Mike Gardner
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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