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AN "Sixclusive" With Brandon McCarthy (Part I of V)

At FanFest, the A's generously made time available for a select group of bloggers to hold 15-minute interview sessions with Bob Melvin, Brandon McCarthy and Cliff Pennington, Josh Reddick and Seth Smith. As it turned out, all 6 invited bloggers were members of AN, with two (myself and Optimst Prime) there representing AN directly, and four (dwishinsky, jeffro, doctorwojo, and vertig0) there also representing other sites. I believe I have correctly identified who asked each question, but my apologies in advance if I have "misquoted" any of the other five!

Part I (after the jump) features Brandon McCarthy, who was joined by Cliff Pennington for this session. Look for parts II-V to run in the next week or so, as I get each segment transcribed...

Nico: Brandon, I was wondering if you could walk us through the "stress reaction" injury that you have -- just what it feels like, what you learned last year. I just can't quite picture that whole injury.

McCarthy: You're not alone on that one, because most doctors can't picture it! It's not really a thing that exists, at least in the minds of most people. It's just right here (points to just under the shoulder blade almost around to the armpit/underside). It's a group of muscles that decelerate your arm. When you're throwing and your arm is trying to pull itself out of its socket, these are the muscles that say, "No you stay here." And they attach right through the scapula...and for some reason mine doesn't pull -- everyone else's does it fine, but mine would pull and pull and pull, so eventually the muscle keeps pulling on bone, the bone cracks a little bit and if you keep cracking it, then it turns into a full fracture. I usually shut down before it gets to a full fracture now, to where it's just an extreme "stress reaction". If there's a "feeling," it just feels like there's a knife in there --

Nico: And you'd pitch through that?

McCarthy: Yeah, I mean on game days is the one day I'm ok. The adrenaline kicks in, and you can take an injection where you feel ok. You treat it like a football player for one day: "I can get through this". It's the days in between where it becomes unbearable. It's just the 4 days in between where you can't play catch anymore, and then you lose feel. And then everything kind of becomes an uphill battle to get back. It becomes a "quality of life" thing. Eventually it's like, "OK now it hurts to pull the sheets over," everything starts to hurt, and then if I stop and do nothing, 5 days later, I can go.

You have to let it heal, but we did cut the recovery time in half last year...and then we found some stuff last year, found a bone doctor who had some theories, and when I came back there was absolutely nothing. And usually it goes to a certain point and then it just starts to break. It's just there's been a pattern, and then we passed that (hurdle) in the second half last year, and we MRI'd it a few times and everything was pristine. So it gives us a lot of hope going into this year that maybe we found (the solution)...and at least if it does happen we know how to work around it a little faster to where it's not just a whole season-interrupting deal.

dwishinsky: Last year you led the AL in FIP and a lot of that was your low BB-rate, and I know you struggled with control earlier in your career. What is it that changed, because you were never walking anybody this (past) year!

McCarthy: I think it's just confidence more than anything. If you look at my minor league rates they were all pretty well in tune with what they were last year. Something I always prided myself on was I could remember each walk: I hated them. And I remember it just slowly became a thing as I went along that walks were just "a thing that I did". To the point where there were bad walks in bad situations -- and it's not just walks that show up, it's being in a 2-1 count instead of a 1-2 count.

When I got to the big leagues with the stuff that I had, I found that the margin for error is a lot shorter and it was really the first time in years that I had failed. And I don't think I handled it all that well: Just mentally I think it becomes a struggle, you start to nibble a bit more, you lose your confidence, and once you lose your confidence it's a hard thing to get back. So it really wasn't until I made wholesale changes that I think I got that confidence back, where "Screw it, I can throw this in the zone -- hit it, do anything you want to do with it and beat it into the ground."

Nico: Was there any point in the season, or (after one particular) start, when you were like, "Wow, I'm actually really good"?

McCarthy: After the first month...My only goal when I started all this changeover was I just didn't want to suck anymore, I was just sick of it. And after the first month I realized that everything was in line in terms of normal metrics, advanced metrics -- everything said I was where I wanted to be and what I had aimed for. So I said, "OK I think now I have an idea, I'm competing at this level, I've had some bad starts and some good ones, I know what I'm doing, the recovery's there." I didn't feel as lost, and just felt like I knew what I was doing again.

dwishinsky: So Brandon, are you considering a professional career in tweeting (after you retire)?

McCarthy (tongue in cheek): No, just a professional career in being mean. Just being able to be sarcastic and mean to people is all I care about.

doctorwojo: There's a debate about whether or not pitchers can control the quality of contact on hitters. Last year, for instance, Guillermo Moscoso had a very low batting average on balls put in play.

McCarthy: I go kind of back and forth with it. There are days when I feel like I can, and there are days where I can't which, the way my mind works, makes me believe that you can't. I think command (interrupts himself) -- I really don't know how to answer the question because if you watch Roy (Halladay), you watch the best, you watch Cliff (Lee), they get a lot of bad contact, so I think there's something to it: The kind of stuff that you have combined with command, it's just much much much harder for hitters to hit it, so maybe they just don't hit it as well.

But I don't know why that doesn't show up anywhere else and why you can't quantify that, so I don't know -- I just know I've had games where I feel like I can absolutely control it and days where I still feel sharp (but) they're gonna hit the s*** out of everything hard and if (the fielders) aren't there then I'm gonna give up 100 runs, so I really don't know.

dwishinsky: When we asked Bob (Melvin) about leadership, he specifically named both you guys (McCarthy and Pennington).

McCarthy: (laughing) We're the "young old guys" now...It's just weird, team-wise: You can (be a leader) here, and then you can get traded to the Yankees tomorrow and then we still have to sit in the corner of the clubhouse and shut up. It's just all situational. But personalities will always rise up and especially on a young team like this, you'll find sometimes a guy that has the personality for it that everybody can kind of revolve around and somehow that works and nobody questions it, and then some teams you have to have a veteran guy. But a guy like Cliff is a natural for it -- he just has that personality, you can see that he works hard, and that's what usually translates in the clubhouse. Can people follow your example? Are you a hypocrite? And if you are (a leader by example) then people just sort of naturally gravitate to that.

Nico: Do young guys sometimes think they're "that guy" and they're not?

McCarthy: Ya. And it's really, really awkward. (room erupts with laughter) Those are the people that are really kinda delusional, and usually those are the people that you guys can see too, from the outside: Nothing seems quite right, and it never comes off (well) in a clubhouse and it's...really awkward.

Hey, sounds like me! Next stops: Pennington Station, Reddick Line... Plus, Seth Smith discusses hitting lefties and braving the transition from hitting at Coors to hitting at the Coliseum. Oh, and look out because you're also going to get a Melvin.