Strikeouts Pile Up For Giants' Surkamp
Eric Surkamp spent two months knifing through hitters in the Eastern League when Giants vice president and resident pitching guru Dick Tidrow paid him a visit at Double-A Richmond.
Surkamp thought he'd get a pat on the back. Instead, Tidrow tied one arm behind it.
"I asked him, 'How long do you want to pitch in this game?' " said Tidrow, recalling the meeting in which he told Surkamp to stop punching out hitters with his plus curveball.
"You can do that here. You can't do that everywhere. You can throw it to knock guys out, but you need to pitch off your fastball in the major leagues. To his credit, he went out and did it."
The Giants are accustomed to churning out pitchers with heavy fastballs and power stuff. Witness Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner and Brian Wilson. Surkamp isn't quite in the same mold, but he's putting up numbers to rival those heralded pitchers.
As he prepared to make a start at Akron on Aug. 26, Surkamp led the EL in ERA (2.02), strikeouts (165) and WHIP (1.08). His five home runs allowed were the fewest in the league of any pitcher with a minimum of 100 innings.
He didn't make that start at Akron, though. With Jonathan Sanchez and Barry Zito both out with ankle sprains, the Giants called up Surkamp to San Francisco. He made his major league debut Aug. 27 with six strong innings against the Astros, getting a no-decision in the Giants' eventual 2-1, 10-inning victory.
"He showed some quality stuff," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "The poise he showed is what you want on the mound. He didn't get distracted or unraveled when things went bad. He was unflappable."
It was an upset that Surkamp, a sixth-round pick in 2008, made the big leagues before Andrew Brackman, his more highly regarded teammate from Cincinnati's Moeller High and North Carolina State. Brackman, a first-round pick of the Yankees, was still sorting through command issues at Triple-A.
Because of the attention Brackman received, Surkamp never had a problem being seen by scouts.
"I don't think anybody missed him," Tidrow said of Surkamp. "Some people thought his fastball was a bit light, maybe. But he could throw a plus changeup, and he always had a good curveball. Any lefthander with two plus pitches like that, you can't walk away from him."
Surkamp said he and Brackman get together often in the winter and text occasionally during the season.
"He was always the big-name guy and I was fine with it," Surkamp said. "I kind of flew under the radar. It's been fun coming up with somebody like that from home, who can relate to the lifestyle and has the same goals as you."
Surkamp was well on his way last year when he tore a labrum in his hip during a fielding incident at high Class A San Jose. He rushed off the mound to try to scoop up a high chopper, then turned abruptly to avoid colliding with first baseman Michael Sandoval, the older brother of Pablo Sandoval. His cleat stuck and he ended up having season-ending surgery.
"It's been good all year," said Surkamp, who turned 24 on July 16. "Early on, by the third or fourth inning, I would feel it. But now it's gotten stronger."
So has Surkamp's fastball command.
Under orders from Tidrow, Surkamp started throwing more four-seamers to both sides of the plate while mixing in sinking two-seamers in ground-ball situations. He hasn't nibbled, either. His 165-to-44 strikeout-to-walk ratio (in 142 innings) is the best in the Giants system.
"Coming into this year, the main thing was wanting to be more consistent, which I've gotten better at," said Surkamp, who didn't post an ERA over 2.97 in any single month with Richmond. "Fastball command, you can never be too good. Early in the count, if I throw a breaking pitch, I'll throw a slower one. Maybe I'll hump up with two strikes and try to bury it on the back foot of righthanded hitters."
Surkamp hasn't had any problems pitching to righthanders at Double-A. Through 361 at-bats, they hit just .197/.286/.260 with three home runs. Lefties had fared better at .250/.269/.346 through 156 at-bats.
"The last couple times, I'd see four or five lefties in the lineup against me," he said. "That was a new thing."
Surkamp also credited Steve Kline and Ross Grimsley, minor league pitching coaches who understand a lefthander's plan of attack.
Now he's hoping Brackman will reach the big leagues, too, and Moeller can boast a few big league pitching success stories to go along with Ken Griffey Jr. and Sr., Barry Larkin and Adam Hyzdu.
The pair of Cincinnati kids look forward to toasting their success over some Skyline Chili.
"And two cheese coneys," Surkamp said. "For sure."