The Bowling Green Hot Rods pitching staff leads the Rays four full-season affiliates in earned run average (3.59), shutouts (9), saves (37), fewest home runs allowed (43), fewest walks allowed (352) and is second to only Durham (867) in strikeouts with 800. A huge part of the success of the Hot Rods staff has been 2011 6th round pick Jake Floethe, who after earning the opening day nod from skipper Brady Williams, has gone 9-2 with a 3.43 ERA and 1.08 WHIP in 19 starts. He has allowed only 3 home runs in his 99.2 innings of work and his strikeout-to-walk ratio is a very good 74-to-38.
Coming out of last year's draft with the bevy of first round and supplemental picks that the Rays organization had, it was easy to overlook Floethe among all of the immense talent that the franchise drafted. However, in his first full season in the organization, the 23-year-old California native has not only held his own, but has been the anchor for the Hot Rods talented rotation and is quietly becoming one of the system's best pitching prospects.
I spoke with Floethe over the phone on Monday after a morning workout and below is part one of our interview.
Rays Digest: Your were named the Opening Day starter [for the Bowling Green Hot Rods] and later on you were named to the Midwest League all-star team. The season is winding down, so if you could kind of assess your season, how do you think you've pitched so far?
Jake Floethe: The season has gone pretty well for me I think. In your first full-season you're going to go through your ups-and-downs and I've definitely gone through some good and bad times. I've dealt with for the first time being in a five day rotation consistently throughout the whole year and being able to stay healthy and grind throughout the whole season, I have to take it as a positive. I've had a good year so far, especially with the team. Being on the mound with such a good defense behind me and the catchers working hard for us, it's hard not to have a good year with those types of players around you.
Rays Digest: You pitched a little bit last year as a pro, but this is your first full season. How did your preparation during the off-season change to get you ready for throwing this many innings and getting through the grind of the whole season?
Jake Floethe: You really have to spread it out. Usually I wouldn't take too many days off during the off-season. I worked out at a place called Sportswest Performance this off-season with a lot of minor league and big league guys and just spent time talking to them and learning that a season is completely different from a college season - you have five days rest instead of seven and the workout routine changes. Some weeks we'd go heavy and some weeks we'd do agility, because that's the kind of stuff you deal with during the season for workouts and outings. You'll hit some outings where you need more strength and power to get through and other outings you need agility and longevity to get through a long inning or something like that. Later on in the season, those type of workouts really catch up to you. So working out five days a week and taking two days off and just focusing on my core and legs to get me through the season.
Rays Digest: You last pitched on July 27th and before that it had been nine days since you had pitched. I know a couple of other guys - they are kind of pulling back on their innings. Are they doing that with you too? Are they going to piggyback you with other guys as the season goes on and try to monitor your innings from here on out?
Jake Floethe: I haven't heard exactly of an inning count or a piggyback situation yet. They've talked to me about reaching close to 100 innings so far and keeping an eye on innings. I don't think I'm going to be having any 7+ inning outings, they're going to be holding us to 5 or 6 innings it seems like so we can stay around for the postseason. I think that's their goal - to keep an eye on us and make sure we don't have too many long outings so we can last throughout the regular season and the postseason. It is something they are keeping an eye on, especially as a young pitcher in your first full season, and I think they are keeping an eye on the entire staff just to make sure we stay safe and healthy in our first full season.
Rays Digest: You've been on a nice little run lately and you've only given up two earned runs in your last three starts. As you said, you have your ups and downs, and before that, you had a couple of rough outings. How do you get through those peaks and valleys of a season and get your confidence back when you have a bad stretch like that and get back on track?
Jake Floethe: You really have to focus on the one bullpen you have between starts. I kind of have to figure out the small tweaks and adjustments that you have to make in between starts. In the last rough outing I had, I realized that I wasn't getting the sink on the ball that I usually have. So I focused on staying on top of the ball and doing some flat ground work, as well as focusing in my bullpens on some different mechanical things, just to make some little small adjustments and allow me to get back to where I was before that. It helps you gain a little confidence in your bullpen and you can bring that out in your next start.
Rays Digest: One of the most impressive things about your season so far to me is that you have only allowed three home runs. I know that you get a lot of sink on your fastball, so could you tell me a little bit about your pitching arsenal and your approach on the mound and how you are able to keep the ball in the park like that?
Jake Floethe: My main approach is attacking the hitter down in the zone and hopefully getting an early, quick out. If I can pound the middle part of the strike zone early on in the game and work down, it kind of expands the zone for me later on. If they know I'm in the strike zone, hopefully I can get them to chase a little more as the game goes on and get some swings early in the count. If you can get ahead of a hitter, it puts the ball in your court and so you can attack the hitter pretty much any way you want without them putting a confident swing on the ball. Getting ahead in the count has a lot to do with keeping the ball on the ground or in the ball park due to them not having too much confidence in a fastball or a certain pitch coming in the count that they can sit on. Also being able to trust my defense behind me. Obviously with [Jake] Hager, [Juniel] Querecuto, [Ryan] Brett and those kind of guys behind me, I can trust pounding the bottom of the zone and getting a quick ground ball out.
Rays Digest: The Bowling Green team you are on - when you look at both sides, position players and the pitching staff - has so many first round picks and has some of the best talent in the system. From what I've heard, you guys are all pretty close, so what's it like playing with guys like that on a daily basis.?
Jake Floethe: It's great just being able to watch them play and develop in front of you. Most of those guys - all of those first rounders - besides Kes [Carter] and a couple of other guys, are high school guys. They are still growing up and they're real young and you see them develop throughout the whole season and mature in at bats and not chase pitches that they did early on in the year. You see bits and pieces of guys and you can tell that this guy will be in the big leagues in the future. It's pretty neat seeing a bunch of guys on your team that you've become close with that you can really see going on and making it to the big leagues. The adjustments that they make in the game at such a young age and the talent that they have is unbelievable. It's fun being able to watch them day-in-and-day-out and how hard they work.
In part two of this exclusive interview with Floethe, he discusses former Cal State-Fullerton teammate and 2012 Rays draftee Dylan Floro, the relationship with his father (former minor league pitcher Chris Floethe), why he enjoys writing and blogging and what he intends to work on going into next season.
You can also keep up with and support Floethe by following him on Twitter at @JFloethe38.
John Gregg is Publisher and Senior Editor of Rays Digest. You can follow him on Twitter at @RaysDigest. He can also be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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