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Gettin' Ziggy With It (vol. 6)

Good afternoon, everyone! It’s been a busy week, but it’s been great to get back in the swing of having official workouts everyday. Minor league pitchers and catchers reported on Wednesday, and the position players joined our workouts yesterday. I was able to dress out with the big leaguers on Saturday (in Tucson vs. the White Sox) and yesterday (split-squad in Tempe vs. the Angels). I had a lot of fun, but I was never called upon to pitch in the games.

As far as my workouts go, I threw bullpens on Thursday and Sunday, and both went well. The submarine motion is feeling more and more natural, and my consistency is getting better. This week, I think I’ll get to face hitters in a simulated game on Wednesday, and then our minor league games start Friday (I’ll most likely be scheduled to pitch on Saturday).

Moving on to a few of your questions...

* With "Old Man" Zito gone, is there anyone on the staff who appears to be taking a leadership role? Not necessarily rah-rah, but someone the younger guys go to to talk about pitching. -- sslinger

My encounters with the big league pitching staff have been pretty limited. But in my little time around them, I haven’t necessarily seen any one guy stepping up to lead the’s been a MAJOR group effort. All the guys I’ve talked to are MORE than willing to answer questions I have, and it’s made it much easier to approach them. I’d say it’s pretty well-accepted that Harden is the ace of the staff if he’s healthy. He’s got electric stuff, and he’s been consistently dominant when he’s been healthy (including spring training thus far). And he’s a great guy – always willing to visit about pitching, cars, whatever. But I haven’t seen a guy yet who pushed minor leaguers away when they asked questions.

* Do pitching coaches or catchers offer the best advice to you (the pitcher) about your mechanics, release point, etc.? I know you are in the middle of changing your style, but who sees more? -- Mike Heath

In my experience, the higher up you go, the more the catchers spot the mechanical things that you’re doing wrong. Higher-level pitching coaches, while understanding and teaching the aspects of mechanics, tend to focus more on philosophies and situational pitching in their teaching. They try to put you in a game-like mindset to try to help you visualize pitching against certain hitters in different game situations. By the time a pitcher gets to AA or AAA, most pitchers’ mechanics are very solid, and only need minor adjustments to stay consistent. A lot of times, it’s easier for the catcher to pick up the flaws in mechanics simply because of their vantage point. And in the higher levels, the catchers have learned what to look for on each pitcher, especially if they’ve worked their way up the farm system together.

In lower levels, the catchers are learning about the pitching mechanics just like the pitchers are. They’re trying to grasp the idea of calling a game in pro ball while being able to help their pitcher out if they see a mechanical flaw. That mostly comes with experience in the game, and experience in working with each individual pitcher.

The A’s are loaded with solid catching prospects (Brown, Baker, Suzuki, Powell, and others...) and have a tremendous coaching staff, so it’s been very easy for me to make adjustments throughout my career. But now with the new motion, everyone’s going to have a lot of different things to look for on me than they’ve gotten used to the last couple years.

* Can you talk a little bit about travel in the minor leagues? The big leaguers stay at the nicest motels, have chartered flights, etc. How is life on the road for a minor leaguer? -- salb918

I, personally, have never minded the travel. It’s something you just get used to, and understand it’s a minor part of getting to play the game you love. When I was with the Phillies in the short-season NY-Penn League, we had a couple 14-hour bus trips overnight, where we’d leave after a game in Ohio, drive all night to Maryland, arrive at 1 PM, and play that evening. But as you move up, the leagues get a little more compact and the travel gets a little easier. In the California League (high-A), our furthest bus trips were around 6 hours, with several that were much shorter than that. And in Midland, they were usually never more than 5-7 hours. In the Texas League, if you have a day off, you might drive the longer trips. But if you had to play the next day, we would fly to the new city. And in the PCL, the only trip they take a bus on is from Sacramento to Fresno (3 hours or so).

For the most part, the hotels are plenty comfortable for what we need, and they get nicer as you move up in the organization. I’d say one of the biggest differences in big league travel compared to minor league travel is meal money. Minor leaguers get $20 per day, no matter what level you’re at, and I would guess the big leaguers get significantly more. However, the clubhouse dues at the major league level are a lot higher, too, so the difference isn’t as drastic as it first appears.

* People often complain about how much the big leagues make, but how many sacrifices in regards to a set life and family do the guys in the minors make? Also, how do the big league guys treat you, especially when they don't seem to know you? -- Blez

Life as a minor leaguer can be extremely difficult, especially for those of us who weren’t drafted very high. The minor league salary in A-ball when I first started was $850/month. I think the minimum now for that level is $1200/month. First year AA players make around $1500, and AAA starting pay is around $2200. And we don’t get paid in the off-season – only during the 5-month portion of the minor league season.

So that being the case, a lot of guys get host families or room with 3-4 other teammates to help save on expenses during the year. It’s very hard for players who are married, because if your wife comes with you, you have to get your own apartment, which often eats up your entire paycheck for rent. Most of the time, wives stay back home, and will just visit occasionally, with the exception of high draft picks who can live off their signing bonus for the first few years.

* Maybe you can fill us in on what its like to hang with Swisher, Chavvy, Harden, etc... -- iloveoakland

I’m not going to get deep into specifics with this one, but I will say that, while I haven’t met them all, the big leaguers I HAVE met have been really nice and easy to talk to. It’s a fun clubhouse atmosphere with the A’s, and there are a lot of unique personalities. But I think that’s one of the things that makes this organization special – they don’t try to change guys. As long as they’re not causing trouble, guys are allowed to be themselves, and I think that’s a big reason why the A’s are successful every year. It’s so much easier to play better when you’re not having to worry about other petty issues about having to be clean-shaven or how long your hair is – if you are just yourself, you’re always a lot more comfortable than if you’re trying to fit a mold someone else has set for you.

I hope everyone enjoys the week. I’m looking forward to getting into a game, and I will give you a full report next Monday. Keep the questions coming!