By now, you’ve probably already heard the story of how Scott Richmond overcame all odds and made his way into the major leagues by winning a spot in the starting rotation spot with the Toronto Blue Jays. While that particular anecdote was penciled back in May, it turns out that the Scott Richmond story wasn’t even close to being over; not by a long shot.
Since then, Richmond has remained as one of the core members of the starting rotation and hopes to contend once again for one of the open spots in 2010. I had the pleasure of talking with the Blue Jays starting pitcher about this year’s success and the lessons he learned from his rookie year as a Blue Jay.
First of all, congratulations on your first full season in the major leagues. What would you say is the biggest thing you learned this year?
Pitching to contact – plain and simple. As a starting pitcher in the big leagues you have been entrusted with the responsibility to go deep into the game on a regular basis, in order to avoid over taxing the bullpen. The longer you’re in the game and executing well, the better are your team’s chances to secure a win, because the set up men and the closer can just go out there and do their jobs and aren’t expected to pull off miracles night after night.
From a personal level for a starting pitcher, that’s what makes Roy Halladay so good. He goes deep into games and whether it’s a win or a loss, he’s always getting decisions because he’s not leaving the bullpen to get ten outs. You have to try to go seven to eight innings, and the only way to do that is to pitch to contact to keep your pitch count down.
You were one of the anchors in the starting rotation this year, which was very rookie-dominant. Being one of the new guys can be stressful, and there were a lot of you who were in the same boat. Were there any teammates in particular that you bonded with?
Ricky Romero and I were really close all year. We started together in Spring Training and we both knew there was two spots open in the rotation and we had to battle out nine guys to try to win those spots. We ended up living together in Toronto for the whole year and we tried to learn from each other, but we supported and pushed each other at the same time.
This year, it seemed like you started to rely more on your curveball and it worked out fairly well for you. What did you and Brad Arnsberg work on in the off-season?
I’ve always been a strike thrower and I always try to pound the strike zone. With lefties, my changeup was pretty suspect all year so I was really trying to establish that some games. Overall he (Arnsberg) wanted me to be aggressive in the strike zone. That’s the whole thing as a rookie pitcher; you’re a little cautious of pitching to contact. When you’re ahead in the count you try to strike everybody out and guess what? The Red Sox and the Yankees, they spit on those pitches when they’re out of the strike zone. If you’re not careful, you can find yourself with the pitch count at a hundred, and you’re still in the fifth inning. He really taught me to stay competitive in the strike zone and not give in at any point.
With rookies on the mound, the umpires sometimes tend to squeeze the strike zone. When you’re not getting the same calls as the opposing pitcher, how do you deal with it?
For some reason, it’s always been a part of the game for as long as I’ve been aware, sort of like a rookie initiation into the big leagues, but everyone has to endure it. It can be very frustrating and difficult not to let it affect you to some degree, especially when the missed calls end up having an effect on the score line, and possibly the outcome of the game. As the pitcher, you have to learn to deal with it, and do your best not to let it get to you, or show the ump that you’re upset, so in some ways maybe it tends to make you tougher.
Being in the American League East means the Blue Jays face the cream of the crop in the American League quite often. Who would you say was the toughest hitter that you faced this year?
It’s no fun facing Jacoby Ellsbury; he’s a good and patient hitter and he hits for power and he’s got the speed when he’s on base. There are lots of great hitters but he’s been a pain in my side and you have to really buckle down and make sure you work ahead when he’s in the batter’s box. He’s an impact player and that’s why he’s leading off for the Red Sox.
If there was one hitter you could pitch to, either active or inactive in major league baseball, who would it be – and why?
It’s always been my nature that I’ve wanted to face the best every year, and throughout this season I know that I’ve faced some big hitters. Now that I’ve got a year’s experience under my belt, I’d like to get the opportunity to face guys like Albert Pujols and Manny Ramirez just to challenge myself. A lot of guys on my team have faced Manny before and they’re really happy that he’s not in the AL East anymore because he’s such a great a hitter and he’s an impact player. I’m kind of the opposite – I want to face him, I want that challenge.
Is there an area of your game that you feel that you would like to see a definite improvement in for next season?
There are a few specific areas that I intend to work on – I’ll continue working on developing confidence in my changeup, I’d plan to develop more movement on both my 2-seam and 4-seam fastballs, and I need to assert my claim to the inside part of the plate and not allow batters to feel comfortable crowding the plate.
I’ve spoken to your father Dr. Bob Richmond, and he seems like a really insightful man who has a true passion for baseball. What kind of pointers has he given you on your game?
Being a chiropractor, he taught me the importance of reducing and neutralizing the huge stresses that a pitcher’s body is subjected to over the course of a long season. When you’re an athlete, your body is your number one tool of the trade, so it’s your first responsibility to treat it with the highest respect. You need to train well, be nutritionally diligent, get the right amount of rest and develop a routine that works well for you. On top of that, he stresses the huge importance of my need to continue developing and strengthening the mental side of my game and has given me some books to work from.
We talk almost every day during the season, and he usually sends me an inspirational email before every start, with a few specific pointers. We also discuss ways of gaining the psychological advantage over the batter, to keep them off balance by being unpredictable, and pitching backwards on occasion, by throwing off speed stuff in fastball counts. Since we are similar in many ways he understands what makes me tick maybe better than anyone else, so I find his input helpful.
He’s from New Zealand and has been an athlete his whole life, but my dad didn’t really follow baseball much until I started playing in college. He noticed that I had pretty efficient pitching mechanics, and saw that maybe I had a chance to play professionally one day. He has really helped me realize the importance as well as the complexity of the mental side of being an effective pitcher.
I’ve never had any major injuries of any kind and I credit that to the preparation in the off-season, getting regular chiropractic care and making sure my body is in the best shape possible for the season ahead, to handle the abuse that it takes. Some people take a lot of medication to mask the pain, but if you take care of your body in a natural and preventative way, then I feel that you are more likely to enjoy a longer and more productive career.
Speaking of father figures, Roy Halladay seems like the kind of player who would take younger players under his wing and try to help them improve their game. Has Doc given you any you pitching tips this past season?
He’s a great pitcher and I love watching him go out there and do his business and in turn that’s how I learned to pitch to contact. His work ethic is second to none, he knows his body and he’s very in tune with himself when he’s on the mound. I ask him questions when the time is right, and what he told me is “if you make a bad pitch, forget it. The next pitch, make a good one”. Just simplify things and go one pitch at a time.
You guys get the odd day off during the regular season, which means you get to relax every once in a while. I know Dirk Hayhurst kept himself busy with writing, your former teammate Alex Rios liked to fly model airplanes … what do you do during downtime in between games?
Rest – especially in the rookie year. Other than that, in all of these cities I’ve been to this year, I like to take some time to check out the city and take some photographs. When we were in Washington, I would go out and see some of the sights like The Washington Monument, The Lincoln Memorial and The White House, but I don’t like to overdo it …it can be tiring in its own way. You really need to relax and get your rest when you can get it; you have that responsibility to yourself and to the team.
Your brother Brandon Kaye was drafted by the Blue Jays earlier this year. He was in Toronto back in late August and you guys got a chance to practice together. What was it like to have him there right next to you in a Blue Jays uniform?
It was great – I just put myself in his shoes when I was his age. I wish I could’ve gone to a big league field and watched what it was like to be there with the players. It just motivated him even more to try to make it and really work hard at what he’s doing because he sees how much fun it is and how the big leagues really are. It really invigorated his drive to keep pushing forward, to keep working hard.
And it always helps when you have a family member on the team, too. Have you heard if he’s close to signing yet with the club?
Not yet – he was drafted in the 45th round so he’s going to go to UBC and play there for this year and hopefully he’ll be drafted higher after a year at UBC.
You had many career highlights this past year, including the AL Rookie of the Month award in April. What would you say was the personal highlight of the 2009 season for you?
Aside from the RoM for April, I’d have to say the game in Philadelphia on June 17th which was my best start of the year. It was broadcast as The Game of the Day all across the US, and it was supposed to be Roy Halladay going against Jamie Moyer. I ended up getting the start and went eight innings with eleven strikeouts against the defending World Champions in Philadelphia.
Scott, once again let me congratulate you on a great season. What are your plans for the off-season?
I’ll be going down to Los Angeles with my fiancée Deanna and we’ll stay at our place there. She and I are actually leaving for Mexico for 10 days, and that will give me a bit of time to reflect on my rookie year and let it all soak in. When we get back from Mexico, we’ll go back down to Los Angeles and I’ll get back into the routine with my personal trainer once again, to work hard to get into the best shape possible and be ready for Spring Training in February.
I wish Scott Richmond all the best of luck next season and beyond! Congratulations on your first full season in the big leagues Scott, and hopefully we’ll see you back in a Blue Jays uniform next season in the starting rotation.