During the Double-A Reading Fightins’ recent road series in Trenton, I sat down with the team’s pitching coach Dave Lundquist to chat about his pitching staff. “Lundy”, who pitched in the big leagues with the White Sox and the Padres, is in his eight season coaching in the Phillies’ organization after spending three years in the Pirates’ system.
Lundquist spoke about his group of well-touted starting pitchers including specific comments on Zach Eflin, Jesse Biddle and recently promoted righty Aaron Nola. He also shared some thoughts on his bullpen hurlers and how a player like Tyler Knigge, who gets moved up and down between levels could be impacted by the movement, among other things.
Read ahead for that full interview…
-We talked back in April about the group of five starters you entered the season with that included Tom Windle, Jesse Biddle, Zach Eflin and Ben Lively. Almost halfway into the season, what can you share about that group?
I think what we talked about early still is true. They’re a very talented group. They are a group of guys that have really good stuff and they’re still learning situational pitching. You know, but as a group, they’re all getting better. Command, breaking stuff, holding runners, every thing. All around I feel pretty good with what they’re all doing.
-How about your bullpen? You’ve got a couple guys that can crank it up on the radar gun and things? Is there anyone among that group who has stood out?
Well, (Stephen) Shackleford has been very good closing games for us. (Tyler) Knigge was very good his last outing, very aggressive. More aggressive than I’ve seen him in a few years. Colton Murray‘s done a nice job attacking hitters with a pretty good secondary pitch to finish hitters. I don’t want to miss anybody, but there’s been a lot of good with the whole staff.
-You mentioned Knigge there and he is a guy that has been yo-yo’d a bit between Triple-A and Double-A…you used the word “aggressive” and I heard he was hitting the upper 90’s. Can that type of change be a result of the mental impact of being moved up and down, like frustration building or that sort of thing?
It can. I think in many instances it sometimes will light a fire. Light something that, not that they don’t have it, but it can shift them into another gear or something like that as far as trying to show off what they have and what their potential could be. I mean, no one likes to have to go through that, but it’s a part of the game. I don’t know with him the exact situation that it was, but for a lot of people, me included, at my point, it was a wake up call. I had to do things a little differently.
-There have been some moves of late with the promotion of Nola to Lehigh Valley, some guys going from there to the big leagues and some chain reaction stuff like Mark Leiter Jr. coming here. How can that shuffling impact the team?
I hope it impacts in a positive way. Our job is to get them moved up to the next level. In A ball their job is to get them here. As an organization, I think what we’re doing with the pitching is good and with Leiter coming up we just want him to continue what he was doing, so he can come in and step in and we’re not losing anything and we’re gaining a new pitcher.
-Zach Eflin started out really hot with an ERA around 1.00 through four starts and his production has been more human every since. He has a fair outing on Wednesday (six innings, four runs- one earned) that frustrated him, it seemed. What can you share about Zach?
Well, you look at (Wednesday) night, he had one long inning, a couple unearned runs in there. For me, it turned into a good outing for him because he was able to stop any momentum that they had and really sharpen up his stuff. You know, I think overall there’s been some stuff that we’re working on- tightening up some secondary pitches and he’s done that. For him, it’s just a matter of keep going. He’s on the right track and everything’s good. So, I don’t want to change too much because he’s done a lot with his slider and change up ’cause he’s always been a strike thrower and I think he always will be a strike thrower. So, it’s a matter of when he gets ahead, learning how to expand the zone a little more with two strikes and finish hitters.
-Biddle is a guy that folks around the media box and beyond would say should be challenged at the next level this year. I am not asking you to commit to if that’s happening and when, but do you agree that he would benefit from that soon?
I hope so. I think all of them can. All of them will find a way to rise to that level. His last few (starts), he’s been getting better and better. Obviously, that call is not mine, but we’re doing everything we can to get him ready for that level. I hope he does. A matter of when? I don’t know. He’s doing things better more consistently, so it’s just a matter of time.
-Aaron Nola makes his first Triple-A start for Lehigh Valley on Thursday night. Lots of excitement surrounding that. As guys move up and onward, are you able to keep tabs on them pretty well?
Well, I mean with him pitching (Thursday) night, obviously, I have our guys here that I have to worry about, but, of course, after the game I’m going to look and see how he did and hope that he had a good first outing up there. You always have that connection with guys that do move on, but, again he’s at a different level, a different place and I have to keep my focus on these guys here and get these guys ready to get them up there.
-You mention him being literally at a different place and a different level, but people used that term about him figuratively, prior to the promotion, saying he’s on a different level competition wise and that sort of thing. How did he stand out among the crowd here for you?
You have a guy that could throw the fastball to both sides of the plate, a finishing curve ball, a change up for a strike, and a finishing change up, was pretty good at holding runners and was good fielding his position. Everything that you look for a starting pitcher to do. There’s not much panic in anything that he does when he’s on the mound. He’s just very poised out there. He’s very confident in everything he does. That’s what you want him to do and that’s what they’re supposed to do to be ready to leave this level.