Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Q & A with Derek Johnson

Vanderbilt's Derek Johnson, one of the nation's best pitching coaches, sat down with The Sports VU following the Commodores' 5-1 victory over Western Kentucky to talk about a number of topics including, Nick Christiani's outing and second-half expectations for his staff.

Sports VU: How important was it for you guys to get off to a good start this week?
Derek Johnson: It was obviously important for us coming off the weekend, but probably more important for (Christiani). He’s kind of been back and forth, had some good outings but inconsistent. So for him to go as long as he did in the ball game was huge.

SV: What was the key for Nick tonight?
DJ: It’s the same as it always is with him. It’s being able to throw the ball across the plate and it’s being down in the zone, where he can use his defense, and he did that tonight. He mixed his pitches well and was down in the zone for the most part and they didn’t hacks off of him.

SV: He said being able to throw the off-speed for strikes was important.
DJ: Yeah, it was huge, but just overall, he has a tendency to be up in the zone and when he is, he gets flat and that’s when things don’t go well for him so just his ability to command the zone better tonight was a big deal.

SV: Confident that Nick will pick it up in the second half of the season?
DJ: I think if he pitches like he has in the fall, then I feel very confident. Up until this point, he’s been inconsistent. He’s shown more confidence in what he’s doing out there as of late and that’s a good sign so my confidence goes up every time he goes out there and gives us a good performance.

SV: With Brett Jacobson, another junior, is it a similar situation?
DJ: Very similar. Both (have been) up in the zone. The bottom line for us to be the pitching staff that we want to be and that we need to be and to be able to play through the postseason, those two guys have to help us, and they know that. Both of them know that. It’s a situation where if we can get some consistency going from them, the younger guys have held their own, we should be in good shape.

SV: Both guys seem to have the tools to be successful, so is it just a matter of putting it all together?
DJ: It’s putting it together. The bottom line is we’re in the second half of the season. The first half sometimes is inconsistent. It’s not what you want it to be, but if you have a good plan, which they do, and you work at it, which they do, then consistency can come. In the second half, that’s what we’re looking for.

SV: Coach Corbin said yesterday that this team has been a joy to coach because of the fact that things haven’t gone smoothly and guys have been tested. Would you agree?
DJ: It’s absolutely a process. Yeah, we didn’t have hiccups last year. We were 20-3 at this time and nothing was wrong. There aren’t many baseball seasons that are that way. Most seasons will have an up and down or peak or valley, and you’ve got to find out what kids are going to be like and what they’re going to do when that happens. We’re finding that out now.

SV: Thoughts on the freshmen’s performance thus far?
DJ: I like them. It’s very similar to those older guys we were talking about. They’ve had their ups and downs. You can’t call them consistent, but they’ve gone out there and thrown strikes and you know what, you’ll take that. Now it’s that second half, you turn it up a notch.

SV: Do you think the book is finally coming out on some of the younger guys?
DJ: I think overall for us to be successful it’s not about what other hitters do; it’s about what we do and how we go about our business and how we adjust to things that are going on. Not so much about what hitter is standing up there or what team we’re playing.

SV: Thoughts on the younger guys getting adjusted to pitching on the road?
DJ: If you look at our numbers, they’re way better at home than they are on the road, and I haven’t been a part of many baseball teams where that hasn’t held true, especially with a younger staff. We’ve got to learn to pitch a little better on the road and I think we will.

SV: Was Minor’s performance last weekend just a matter of not matching up well with Ole Miss, which had a number of right-handers?
DJ: It might have been a bad match-up, but I just think he didn’t have his best performance. He didn’t pitch terribly; he just didn’t pitch like we were used to seeing.

SV: Are you confident that the staff can get to the point that you need it to be by the end of the season?
DJ: I like our younger guys. They work at it, they have good arms, they’re going to be really good and it’s one of two things: they’ll either be good next year or at the end of this year. We’ll have to wait and see what happens.

SV: Weekend rotation?
DJ: We’re still kind of looking. We know Mikie is pitching Friday and past that we’re kind of looking at our options and seeing what the best fit is.

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