Nardi Contreras, the Yankees Minor League Pitching Coordinator, sits down with PinstripesPlus.com…
Coke Coming A Long Way
"In all honesty I think it's gone pretty good," Phil Coke said of his 2006 season, "I mean, especially after last season. I had my struggles and I had to learn how to pitch at a different level and learn how to pitch effectively. I don't know how to exactly describe it. It seems like when I got up here it got a little easier actually."
"I know I started the season pretty well up there in Charleston and I came here [Tampa] and got knocked around a little bit, but that's to be expected when you move up," he continued. "I think I've held my own pretty good, especially from all the horror stories I've heard about getting moved up a level."
He did more than pretty well in Charleston, posting a miniscule 0.53 ERA in five games with the Riverdogs before earning a promotion up to Tampa. And while he hasn't been as good in the Florida State League, going 4-7 with a 3.76 ERA in 21 games, Coke has become a more consistent pitcher in his fourth professional season.
"Control," Coke vehemently listed as the biggest difference to his game this year. "I seem to be able to control the inner-half to righties and the inner-half to lefties more this year."
His season splits support his argument as he's been effective against both right-handed and left-handed batters this year. But while control has been a key factor in his success, relaxing more and allowing the game to come to him could easily be as significant.
"Mainly, a big thing as well has been trying to have as much fun as possible," a light-hearted Coke told PinstripesPlus.com. "When you're out there and going at it everyday, it's tough to keep a positive perspective on a lot of things. If you can't do that, it hinders you a little bit. I've done that just last year."
"I was pressing too hard instead of just letting it happen. So I figure just going out there with a mind-set of just having fun over it being a job - some of these guys in the Tampa area doing road work or something - I could be out there instead of playing a game. I try to keep that in perspective too."
A more relaxed approach to the game has helped him avoid being too fine with his location, which in turn has aided his control. But stuff-wise, the development of his changeup has been a huge factor in his dramatic turnaround this season.
"My changeup is a lot better than it ever has been in my life," he revealed. "I didn't start throwing that until I was a freshman in junior college. I used to throw a knuckle-ball for my changeup so it's been a little bit of a long road trying to figure it out. I feel like I've got a good handle on it."
Aside from a good circle-changeup, Coke boasts a four-seam fastball, a two-seam fastball, a split-finger fastball, and a developing curveball.
"I have a four-seam fastball that I've touched 93 MPH with," Coke revealed. "I mean I've never really thrown much harder than that. It's between 88-93 MPH, depending on the day. I've got a two-seam fastball that's kind of developed more into a sinking fastball and that's about 85-87 MPH, somewhere in there, it's pretty consistent."
Adding to his sinking two-seamer, Coke has been able to help get more ground ball outs with his changeup, especially to right-handed batters.
"I've got a circle-changeup that I throw anywhere from 78-82 MPH," said Coke. "That varies but sometimes you've got to switch up speeds a little bit when you're throwing a certain pitch because if it's the same thing every time and that guy's seen you, he's going to light you up."
Now four years into his development in the Yankee organization, the rather slow progression of his curveball forced Phil Coke to come up with something different to keep opposing hitters off-balance at the plate.
"I throw - I call it a split-change - but it's basically a split-finger fastball and it's just a little bit harder than my changeup," said the 24-year old. "It was something I was messing around with in Extended two years ago because my curveball was terrible. I just couldn't figure it out. So I started working on throwing something else with a little bit more movement and with different action and that's what ended up happening. It was just experimentation."
"He's making some pretty good progress," said Tampa pitching coach Greg Pavlik. "He's got a good changeup, a good sinker, and he's working on his breaking ball also. That's probably the biggest thing he needs to work on."
While it has been a long and winding road for Coke to master his curveball, a timeframe that might have most other pitching prospects junking it in favor of another pitch, he refuses to give up on it and he still throws it in games.
"No actually I haven't, Coke said if he has scrapped the curveball. "I've been working with Nardi Contreras and Coach Pavlik. Every time I've thrown a bullpen he's been working with me on it, trying to help me get the idea. I've come a long way with it."
As good a season as he has had thus far, Phil Coke is already looking to build upon his success this season. Hungrier than ever, he wants to become a more complete pitcher despite coming a long way already in 2006.
"I'd say throwing my pitches more consistently for strikes," he listed as his top priority heading into the offseason. "I do throw a lot of strikes at times, but there's some times where I don't. I throw a majority of my strikes with my fastball and my changeup but I really need to mix in a third and maybe a fourth pitch. I'm trying to make sure I can throw those at any given time for a strike. I need to keep that guy up at the dish guessing."
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