While Drew Hutchison missed out on Baseball America’s preseason Top 100 list (he was ranked ninth in the Toronto Blue Jays organization), he did appear on lists compiled by notable talents scouts such as Frankie Piliere (79), John Sickels (73), Project Prospect (60), and Keith Law (42). The 21-year-old righthander blew through three levels last season (Low-A, High-A, and Double-A) en route to an Eastern League championship with the New Hampshire Fisher Cats.
Hutchison is back in New Hampshire this season, where he started on Opening Day against the Trenton Thunder. In three starts so far, he is 2-1 with a 2.26 ERA and 12/3 SO/BB in 16.2 innings. We sat down on Monday, the day after the first loss of his Eastern League career, and talked about his thoughts on the loss, what he gains from working with Toronto’s many talented catchers, and how he stays successful even when he doesn’t have his best stuff.
You took the loss [Sunday]. Different guys I’ve talked to handle that differently. Some guys get pissed off, some guys go home and they just put it away. When you lose a game how do you deal with it?
Obviously, you play to win the game. Obviously. You want to go out there and you want to compete and you want to win. [Sunday] was just one of those games where it just didn’t happen for us. We ran into a good guy [New Britain’s Luke French] over there, he had a good game, it was a game you knew runs were gonna be at a premium, and just came up a little short. I felt like I threw the ball pretty well and we played pretty well. We just ran into a good arm and it just wasn’t our day.
It was French yesterday, right? Do you notice when you’re pitching against a guy who’s got major league experience, or do you think differently about it?
Honestly, I didn’t know. I didn’t know who we were facing. I was worried about what we were doing over here. But you do get the sense during the game that runs are going to be hard to come by, and you get that feeling you want to bear down a little more. I don’t know if a little more, but you’re definitely in the zone. I don’t worry about who I’m facing. I just go out there and execute my game plan.
The last two seasons, speaking of what’s happening over here, you’ve dealt with some highly regarded catchers: A.J. Jimenez, Travis d’Arnaud, Brian Jeroloman. Is it important for a pitcher who’s developing to work with different catchers, no matter who they are, to give you more experience?
Yeah, like you said I’ve been real lucky to be able to work with the catchers I’ve worked with. Everybody I’ve thrown to in this organization – last year at Lansing, Carlos Perez and Jack Murphy, all those guys, we have really good catchers. Pitching and catching is hand in hand – when a pitcher has success it has to do with the catcher behind the plate also, it’s just as much him as it is me, working together and getting on the same page. So being able to work with those guys, I’m real fortunate. And the staff is also real fortunate to have those guys behind there.
Even if you just take the guys in here now, A.J. and Brian, what do they do individually that helps make you a better pitcher?
We just work together a lot. Like you said I worked with A.J. last year, so he knows my game, he knows me, we’re on the same page. And Brian, we’ve talked a lot, me and him have. He caught me yesterday, beforehand, what I should do in certain situations. He’d caught some of my sides so he knew how my ball worked and things like that. So it’s all about getting to know each other before you worry about what the other team’s doing and getting on the same page.
Right now the rotation you guys have got here is you, Ryan Tepera, and then you’ve got three former first-round picks. Does being drafted in a later round than some of the other guys provide you with any motivation at all?
Not really. Like I said, I just continue to try to get better and go out there. Everybody got an opportunity, and that’s what the most important thing was. I was given the chance to play professional baseball, which was always a dream, and just try to take that and run with it, which is basically what I’ve tried to do. So you know, not really. You just go out there and continue to get better.
You’re the youngest guy on this team. And not only that, but you’re one of the youngest guys in the entire league. Do you take pride in reaching an advanced level at such a young age?
No, because if I stay here for the rest of my career and never make it to the big leagues, you’re not excited that you were the youngest guy on your Double-A team. I don’t really put a big deal on age. I never have. It’s all about competing and going out there and trying to win as a team, and even though I am one of the youngest I don’t want to get caught up in age. I want to go out there and just set the tone whenever I pitch and really just go after guys. I don’t think age is as big a deal as people make it.
I wanted to talk a little bit about the pitches you throw. I’ve read fastball, changeup, slider. I think I read that in Baseball America. What I heard in a previous interview was two-seam, four-seam, changeup, slider, and also a curveball. How often do you use the curve?
It was just something last year I toyed around with. I haven’t thrown it at all this year. I’ll toy with it on the side every now and then. It was just another thing I was working on, but really it’s just the two-seamer, sinker, the four-seam, the changeup and slider is really what I use.
So the curve is something that’s like, you mess with it and see if it feels right, if you get a good feel for it it’s something you can use, but otherwise it’s not something to waste your time on?
I’ve thrown it twice in a game in the past two years. That’s that.
So it’s not even an issue?
[laughs] Yeah, it’s not even something to talk about.
And again, in Baseball America, they said that your slider can get slurvy at times. And actually, that’s a description I see from time to time with various pitchers, and honestly I’m not entirely sure – I wanted to find out more what it means. Is that just, a slider you’re expecting a tight break, is that like a loosening up of it?
Sometimes you just come around a little bit. It’s something I’ve worked really hard on, something I think I’ve gotten a lot better at. Especially this year, so far, I’ve been a lot better with tightening up and getting more depth on it. Less side-to-side and more downward tilt on it.
So what causes that? What causes you to lose that?
You’re just not getting your fingers on top of the baseball and getting out in front. Just coming around the side of it, it’ll get, we say bigger, you’re looking for that good finish on it.
So when that happens you just try to work on it on the side?
Yeah, it’s something I’ve been working real hard on, and I’m starting to get better, starting to be more consistent with it. That was the thing – sometimes it’d be good, sometimes it wouldn’t be. Right now I’m being more consistent with it.
Do you make in-game adjustments on that? Like you realize that you’re not doing it right?
Yeah, some days you’re gonna have those days where you just gotta get through it and you gotta make adjustments. That’s a big part of this game, is being able to feel what you’re doing wrong and make an adjustment and not continue to make the same mistake over and over.
You’re working with three pitches. Is there ever a time where you’ll – I don’t wanna say ditch a pitch for a while, but move away from it if it’s not working out for you?
Sometimes you have to. On your worst days you have to find a way to win and keep your team in it. That’s what’s fun about pitching, is those days, when you don’t have the stuff, if you can go out there and still give your team a chance to win and get through it. It’s just a lot like how you handle things, and that’s something that when you don’t have your best stuff, you have to do that.
Is that when it becomes more of a mental game?
I’d say a little bit, little bit. If it’s not there, throwing it over and over’s not gonna help. You can go to something else and come back to it, make some changes and get it there, but you just have to work through it and keep your team in the game.
Thank you to Drew for his time and to New Hampshire’s Chris Shuker and Tom Gauthier for coordinating this interview.