Righty starter Shane Watson is quietly having a good season. Following a successful first seven starts to his season, the 23-year-old, who was the Phillies’ top draft selection in 2012, earned a promotion and has looked solid helping Clearwater push into playoff contention in the second half.
Overall in 20 combined starts for Class A Lakewood and Class A Advanced Clearwater, the six-foot-four 235-pounder sports a 6-7 record with a 3.76 ERA while striking out 88 and walking 38 in 105 1/3 innings through 20 starts.
Watson, who missed two years while recovering from two shoulder surgeries, took time this week to chat about his efforts this season, the Threshers’ playoff hopes, his recent stint on the disabled list, his 2015 drug suspension and more. Read ahead for that full interview.
-I wanted to ask you about your disabled list stint in July, because you mentioned to me at that time that it was diabetes related. Was there fatigue, or what exactly was the issue that forced that to come up?
Well, what happened was I had a bug bite. Something happened where it got a little swollen and with Type 1 diabetes, me fighting off infection is going to be slower than a normal person who doesn’t have diabetes. And that’s all it was: precautionary, where my arm feels great and it’s just for precautionary reasons, nothing too serious.
It was a bug bite. Something along those lines. I thought it was a spider bite when I first saw it and it kind of just got bigger. And I kind of just went to Mickey Kozak, the trainer, and I said, “I cleaned it and should I do (anything else) with it?” And he said, well, I’ll send you to (a doctor) and we’ll hopefully see what they say. It wasn’t all that– I just went in for a check up type thing to make sure everything was going good and since I have Type 1, they wanted me to skip a start.
-Where was the bite on you?
The bug bite was on my leg.
-You’ve had some good success of late, but before we talk about that, the start when you were fresh off the disabled list you went just 2/3 of an inning, was there something in your opinion that was missing that day? What do you think the issue was?
I think it was just me being out a start and I just wasn’t in control of my body necessarily. I felt like– I was just off on the mound. It was hard for me to control the fastball. It was hard for me to, you know, just– I think that is what you need first and foremost is just control of your fastball because that opens up everything else and that’s what I was struggling with.
-Okay. And then, like I mentioned, you’ve had a good string of success since the All-Star break and you’ve been going deep into games. What’s been the difference for you, when you have been able to put in some good innings and keep your team in games?
Getting ahead of batters. Once you fall behind, that can be two or three extra pitches and doing that twice in an inning can add up. I just think ultimately trusting the catchers (has helped too). And Austin Bossart and Chace Numata have done a really good job this year. Probably the best catchers I’ve had in– I was hurt for two years, but I think just getting ahead and trusting my catchers, Chace and Austin.
-You credit the backstops there. How about Threshers pitching coach Aaron Fultz. Has he been a lot of help to you since you’ve been down there?
Yeah, I was going to say Fultzy! He’s been amazing honestly. I had him in Lakewood in 2013 and we became pretty close. You know, he’s taught me little things like, just from a big league mindset. Don’t give a hitter too much credit. He’s still gotta hit and three times out of ten they might get a hit. More often than not, they’re going to get out, so he just says to challenge them with your best pitch.
-I know the Threshers are kind of battling for the top spot in your division and fighting for a playoff spot. Is there a lot of buzz among the team with chasing that playoff berth?
Yeah! Everyone wants to win and go for it. In pro ball, usually, guys can go out for themselves. That’s just typical minor league baseball- you do what you have to do to move up, but I think this team right now is all playing for each other, playing to win.
-That sounds great. I wanted to ask you about your teammates, because you’ve got a starting staff that, along with you, they’ve done great. With Drew Anderson, Elniery Garcia, Luke Leftwich, some other guys. Are you guys supporting each other and learning from each other as the season goes?
Yeah, you know, I think it’s kind of funny…Brandon Leibrandt asked me how I throw my curve ball and I told him, “I hold it like this.” And I think it’s gotten a lot better. It’s almost– He threw one curve ball and (it was so good) I laughed and said “Can you teach me what I just taught you? That was pretty good!” And then I asked Leibrandt about his change up, and he showed me his grip on that.
I think, ultimately, the starters have gone fairly long in games, going five or six (innings) and that helps our bullpen in turn. So, I think that’s big for us getting a playoff chance.
-We talked about you having some good success down there. Was there an adjustment period to the Florida State League, once you got down there, whether it was to the competition or the weather?
Definitely, yeah. I was in Lakewood and they have hot times and we go down to North Carolina where it gets pretty humid, but nothing like down here pitching in a day game. My big adjustment was just covering my arm in rosin, so (sweat) wouldn’t drip down on the ball. And that’s big, especially with my curve ball.
And another adjustment, I think, me not giving the hitters too much credit and trusting that my best pitches are better than their best swings. You know?
-Do you give any thought to the upcoming off-season and 40-man rosters spots with you being Rule 5 eligible? Does that creep into your mind ever?
Uh, yeah, somewhat. To a certain degree it’s out of my control what they do, but I’m just trying to– honestly, my one goal was to finish this year healthy. I’ve been lucky enough to pitch pretty well too, so…
-So the thought creeps in there, but you try not to focus too much on it.
Yeah, exactly. I’m trying not worry too much about it, but obviously, the thought’s always in the back of my head. It would be nice if they did (add me to the 40-man roster), but I’m just trying to pitch and do what I can do, take care of what I can control.
-I wanted to ask you once more about something you’ve declined comment on in the past. I talked to Skylar Hunter recently about his suspension and I wanted to see if you were at a point where you might talk a bit about your time away from baseball for disciplinary reason.
No– I mean, honestly, that’s something that was just in the past, you know, and like I said before I just want to keep it in the past. It wasn’t anything (along the lines) of cheating or anything like that or what people were hinting toward or anything like that. All I’m saying right now is it wasn’t on the cheating aspect.
-Understood, man. I got it. Would you say dealing with that helped you with your personal maturation and growing up somewhat?
Yeah. I think that, definitely. Just for two years, not playing, and seeing my best friend J.P. Crawford playing and all those different guys playing and stuff like that, I think it’s just me being immature and selfish and not thinking about my future and it was a dumb mistake. That’s all it was.
-Going down the stretch here, you talked about wanting to finish the season healthy and we talked about trying to get to the postseason…if the playoffs don’t come and you don’t get maybe a couple extra outings, do you think you’d get any action in the off-season?
I don’t think so. I think with the number of innings I have, I’m at 105 1/3, so I think they’re just going to shut me down. I’m not sure though. We haven’t really spoken much about it. I’m just trying to focus on finishing this year healthy and whatever happens in the off-season with winter ball or instructs happens.