Wednesday, May 22, 2019

PhoulBallz Interview: Lakewood pitching coach Matt Hockenberry

Matt Hockenberry, image- Jay Floyd
Recently, I sat down with Class A Lakewood pitching coach Matt Hockenberry to talk about his pitching staff.

Hockenberry, in his second season as a professional coach, was the Phillies' 9th round pick out of Temple University in 2014.  He pitched for four seasons in the minors before making his coaching debut with the Gulf Coast League Phillies West team last year.


Among the players discussed were left-handers Manuel Silva and Ethan Lindow along with right-handers Kevin Gowdy, Kyle Glogoski, James McArthur and Ben Brown as well as plenty more.

Read ahead for all the exclusive remarks from Hockenberry.

-What can you tell me about Manuel Silva (0-1, 4.50 ERA in 4g), who joined the team a few weeks into the season?

To be honest I think he's got a bright future ahead of him.  He's the kind of guy that's just now starting to understand like the smart side of baseball.  Like actually thinking about what he's doing on the mound compared to just grippin' and rippin'.  The biggest thing for him development wise I think he's been with Hector Berios not only in spring training this year, but he had him last year in extended (spring training) and up in Williamsport and just things Hector did with his delivery allowing such a small frame to have that kind of output that's coming out of his hand it's awesome that he's able to do the things with the baseball that he does and he's just a true competitor in my mind.  He goes out there and he doesn't care who's in the box.  He's gonna try to get you out with three or four different pitches.

-What about Ethan Lindow (1-1, 2.41 ERA in 9g), who has been one of the team's most consistent pitchers?

He actually threw his bullpen a couple days ago and we were talking about who he would compare himself in the big leagues past or present and I found out that his travel ball coach when he was in travel ball in high school was Tom Glavine.  So, I mean, obviously, if Glavine was working with him that is a real reason why, for me, he's one of the most intelligent pitchers that we've got when it comes to sequencing his pitches and the new thing that they're calling "tunneling", working certain pitches off of the same tunnel, so they present in the same way.  And (he's) another guy that's a true competitor when he's got his rhythm and tempo.  And on top of that, he knows what to do with his pitches.  He knows how to work back and forth in the zone and then change up second time through the order, working in and out compared to back and forth and then he can also come up and down.  So, he's got a pretty good feel for the zone and then he's a workhorse.  He takes his bullpens seriously.  He takes his throwing program seriously.  And I'm sure out strength coach and our pitching coordinator would say the same stuff about his arm care and lifting program.

-Do either of those guys have a standout offering that would jump out versus other pitches or other guys?

I think both of them, to be honest, it's their change ups.  Silva doesn't throw his change up as much as he should. That's definitely one of his focus points moving forward, is to offer more change ups.  Especially to right-handed hitters.  But Lindow's change up, one hundred percent.  You know, that's a swing-and-miss pitch.  It's got good speed differential.  It does die off.  And he can locate it in any count.  Another thing with Lindow that stands out to me, it's not necessarily the pitch, but the ability to just locate his breaking ball.  There's been multiple times this year (when) he's in a 3-1 count with runners on base and he'll flip two in there and punch a guy out.  And the confidence with what he's throwing, I think, is really advanced for this level.  You know, there's still some things he's got to work on, such as commanding the ball inside to lefties.  But, yeah, overall I think both of them, their change ups are really good pitches.

Kevin Gowdy, image- Jay Floyd
-For Kevin Gowdy (0-1. 3.00 ERA in 6g), is the coaching staff excited for him to be going now after his career was put on pause for so long with injury concerns?

Oh, yeah!  Kevin's a workhorse.  Kevin does a lot of stuff off of the mound.  So, he does a lot of dry work with myself and some of the other pitching coaches during spring training and obviously when the pitching coordinator's in town, so doing a lot of delivery stuff.  Having a reconstructed elbow, that's a pretty significant injury and there's definitely a mental side to that (recovery) where you've gotta overcome it, trust it.  And I think Kevin is doing an outstanding job trusting that his elbow's healthy, 'cause it one hundred percent is.

The big thing with him is he's starting to realize he doesn't have to throw the ball as hard as he possibly can every time he offers it at the hitter.  Really preaching locating his stuff.  The sky's the limit for that guy.  You know, he's got an athletic delivery.  He's got an athletic build.  To be honest, the way he moves on the mound, he kind of reminds me of Nolan Ryan.  And I know that might be a stretch, but the way he wears his stirrups, the way his body moves down the slope, his arm action, there's so many good things that are going for Kevin right now.  Biggest thing is making sure he's staying on top of his throwing program and making sure that he's working hard in his bullpens and then, obviously, what he has done this year has transitioned.

-James McArthur (0-2, 5.56 ERA in 8g) has a good reputation, but hasn't shined like some of the other guys.  What's the outlook for him?

I'm the pitching coach, so I'm gonna say the sky's the limit for everybody, but "Mack" is- coming from college at Ole Miss and they have their philosophies on how they did things there and he's transitioned to the first full season.  He's had to face some adversity and part of that is because Kevin's UCL injury last year, he's been starting a lot, so McArthur's been doing a nice job mentally taking over the piggy back role and knowing that he's always going to come out of the bullpen when it's his day to pitch.  And the stuff that has potential coming out of his hand is electric.  He has a good, riding fastball.  So, with all the analytics that the Phillies are working with this year, and it's helping us develop guys, his ball doesn't drop with gravity, so he has a lot of success up in the zone. So, a constant reminder to him to pitch up more often, especially because he has two breaking balls that he can work back down in the zone with.  But, yeah, he's got one of the better arms on this staff, I believe.  And his (velocity's) constantly 92, 94.  I think there's still more in the tank.  We're working on it.  He's putting everything he can into his dry work and his bullpens.  Right now his focus is dominating hitters.  There's a lot of times he gets ahead with his fastball, but then he doesn't want to finish them with his fastball, so kind of teach him he's not a conventional "Hey, I'm gonna throw two fastballs and then I can get you out with off-speed".  He's the kind of guy that has a power fastball that he can really go after guys until they start proving they can hit it.

-What are the other two breaking pitches (for Mack) you mentioned?

Curve ball and slider.  So, he's got a curve ball that's got some pretty decent tilt, almost 12-6.  And then he's got a slider that when he's on time and he's out in front, it's a pretty good pitch that's got some depth and he does produce a lot of swings and misses on it.

-Who else on this pitching staff has a wipe out pitch?

Probably Kyle Glogoski (2-1, 0.79 ERA in 4g).  He has a wipe out change up.  Throws it with arm speed.  Throws it with conviction.  Looks like he's trying to throw it harder than his fastball and guys have a tough time picking it up out of his hand.

-Who else on this staff should we talk about?

(Ben) Brown (0-0, 0.00 ERA in 4g), he's done an outstanding job.  He was actually in extended (spring training) to start out the year and he has some fight in him.  Cleaning up his delivery a little bit and making sure he understands he can also throw at the top of the zone and work off his curve ball.  He's a real competitor, but another guy that's got the same ceiling as McArthur, sky is the limit, Dominic Pipkin.  Pipkin's done a really good job being willing to learn, willing to change.  We tinkered with his delivery a little bit free up his hands, so he's got a little more consistent release point.  But he's a 19-year-old kid that can run it up to 97 (MPH).  You don't see that a whole lot and normally when you do, those guys don't know where those balls are going.  But Pipkin challenges guys and he puts it in the zone.  Sometimes if he misses he misses, but it's pretty fun to watch, especially when his delivery is on and his timing and his delivery are there.  The ball jumps out of his hand and it's cool to see a 19-year-old kid have the success he's having at this level.

-You probably have more fun in your role than any other coach I have seen.  It's really clear to see and nice to watch.  If you can, comment on your spot and on your development through a new phase or career for you.

I mean there's so many different things to say.  Obviously, I thank Rafy Chaves for giving me the opportunity but it's my job to bring the energy, especially because our guys are so young.  It's funny because when I pitched here I was 22, 23, I was like, "I'm not young!"  But in the game you're young.  You've never experienced this level before.  You've never experienced what it's like to toe the rubber against other professional guys and it's easy over a long season to kind of loose energy, so I kind of give it to everybody too.  I don't just give it to the pitchers.  It's a position player crushes a ball that gets caught, it's picking them up.  You don't gotta be a hitting coach to pick that guy up.  But, part of it too that's part of development.  It's not just my development of like me being a better coach.  It's the development of the guys realizing like when you get to the ballpark, you've got to invest your energy here.  A lot of guys think, "I've gotta save energy for the game."  No, you've got to use the energy for when you're throwing your bullpens.  You've got to use your energy when you're taking (batting practice).  You've got to use your energy when you're practicing or running bases.  That energy that you're putting into that is what you're gonna get when it actually comes to game time.  And it's almost if you practice enough, those instincts take over.  You hear about muscle memory, repetitions, no- it's instincts! When we've got a guy that goes first to third on a slow ground ball to right field, that's instincts.  That's the kind of things we're trying to preach is "Do more!  Do more!  Be more aggressive!"  So even as a pitching staff, we're not the best.  The whole league knows that.  I think we're actually the most losing team in our league right now, but we're also the youngest.  And being able to show these guys that I don't care if we lose, but I care if we lose the wrong way.  You know, making sure we're taking care of the little things.  It kind of falls on deaf ears, 'cause that's the motto for anything in life.  The more that these young guys start to take care of the little things now, when they start to transition from (here) and they go to High A and the year after that they go to Double-A, they're gonna have a more narrow focus of what exactly they need to do to prepare and preparation is like a huge thing for us.  'Cause these guys have never seen that before.

So that's studying the other lineup.  Watching video of the other lineup.  Knowing who the other lineup's damage guys are.  And it's funny- we have a term called heat mapping.  We heat map the other team and then obviously there's some expletives in there, but it's being able to look at data and being able to look at what guys do statistically and with percentages and giving out pitchers a general focus of "This guy struggles with fastballs up."

I couldn't ask for anything better.  Obviously, being a big league pitching coach would be awesome, but you're not in the trenches up there.  Down here, you get to grind with the guys.  You get to be a part of their grind and, hopefully, I inspire them enough to take care of the things they need to take care of so that one day they can be making a lot of money without having to grind as hard.  'Cause they're gonna do it efficiently instead of balls-to-the-wall all of the time.

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