ZEBULON, NC—Reds righthander Daryl Thompson has plenty to talk about. The 22-year-old Double-A Chattanooga pitcher has struggled in the low levels of the minors, undergone major shoulder surgery, been traded in an eight-player exchange and rehabbed his way to prospect status.
Thompson spoke candidly after Monday's game at Carolina about how he has changed as a pitcher since he turned pro, when he first experienced pain in his shoulder, his rehabilitation process to return to the mound, his take on the Nationals anonymously questioning his professionalism, the way the 2008 season has gone and about the progress of each of his pitches.
BA: You were drafted by the Expos out of high school in the eighth round in 2003. What made you decide that you wanted to sign out of high school rather than attend college?
DT: To be honest, school wasn't my thing. I just wanted to get in and get my foot in the door and try to get a head start ahead of some of the guys who went to college. That's the only thing—I didn't like school at all and I wanted to get my foot in the door and get a head start. I figured if I signed early then I could learn a lot more when I was younger rather than wait until I got older, then get in and try to learn everything then.
BA: If you think back to your first professional season, how would you describe yourself as a pitcher back then compared to how you see yourself right now?
DT: Back in '04 when I was in Savannah, I was more just a thrower. I would go out there and hit 94 (mph) maybe a couple times, and sometimes I could blow it past a few guys. I would hit my spots sometimes, but when it was time to do make that big pitch, I felt like I could do my job when it was time to make the big pitch. Now, it's like I'm more of a pitcher, and my velocity has gone up a mile an hour or two faster than what it was before the surgery. Now I'm a pitcher. I'm not just a thrower. I make the big pitches. Like tonight, one thing that impressed myself tonight was giving up a base hit or a walk and then getting a groundball double play. I got that twice tonight and that was big for me because I'm not a guy who gets a lot of groundball double plays. I'm just real confident. One of the big things this year for me was being in big league camp. That gave me a lot confidence and I haven't been trying to let it go. And so far I guess I've been going pretty good, so I'm going to try to maintain that throughout the year.
BA: Was there anything you learned in big league camp, anything specifically you were able to take away or guidance you received from that experience?
DT: I just watched the other pitchers pitch. One guy I that really liked to watch was Aaron Harang. Sometimes he wouldn't blow a fastball by people, but he would hit his spots. For me, I took that as: throw all your pitches for strikes and have confidence. If you give up a home run, so what? I'm a guy that's like, a home run is better than a walk. Tonight I had four walks and I wasn't too happy about that, I didn't like that at all. But as far as big league camp, I learned a lot just watching the guys and listening to (manager) Dusty Baker and (pitching coach) Dick Pole. It probably wouldn't have bothered me at all if I didn't throw that one inning in big league camp. Just being up there with those guys and learning stuff and getting a taste of what it would be like to be in the big leagues. I guess you could say that's what it did right now—I'm on a mission to get to the big leagues.
BA: A couple of years ago you were traded from Washington to Cincinnati in an eight-player deal that sent Austin Kearns to the Nationals. How did that feel to be traded as a minor leaguer?
DT: To be honest, I felt like the Nationals didn't want me. I was just happy that somebody did want me. I was just happy to be in a uniform. It all depends on how you look at it. You can take a trade as a bad thing or a good thing, and so far it's been a good thing for me. Looking back, I'm not complaining about it. I wasn't upset. The only thing was when my manager came and told me, I was like, 'When does my flight leave?' It was kind of a bad time for me to be traded because I was in the middle of rehab and I wasn't throwing that good and the first thing that came to my head was, 'Am I really doing that bad? They want to trade me?' But it just so happened that everything worked out and I'm doing pretty good now, so it wasn't a big deal for me.
BA: In our 2007 Prospect Handbook, we wrote in your scouting report that the Nationals "had some worries about his professionalism, largely because he felt that he could eat better and get into a little better shape." What do you make of the Nationals saying that? Was that a legitimate concern, or did you not feel that way at all?
DT: I guess, I mean I was slacking a little bit. I was young and I figured that I could just go out there and pitch and throw as hard as I do, but as I got older I realized that's not the case. I did work, but I didn't work as hard. Now I know what it takes to the big leagues, I've been around the guys, they've talked to me about it and gotten advice from them. Like tomorrow, I'll be going to the gym at 10:30, and the next day I'll go. But before then, I didn't go to the gym when I was supposed to, and I was kind of on my own program when I shouldn't have been. I wasn't even a prospect or anything back then. And also when I read that comment that was written about me, it kind of motivated me to do my stuff because I'm a guy that, I don't really care what people think except for my teammates and coaches and stuff. But that stuff kind of motivated me and gave me a push and helped me out to go ahead and work out. Last year I didn't miss a workout, didn't get hurt, none of that, didn't miss a start. So it sort of made a difference to me and assured myself that, if you do your stuff, good things will happen.
BA: You had a torn labrum that ended your 2005 season in July. Talk a little bit about that. When did you start feeling any kind of discomfort? Was it something that happened all at once, or was it something that built up over time?
DT: It all happened in one pitch. We were playing in Savannah and I was pitching in the top of the fifth. It was going to be my last inning and I threw a fastball as hard as I could, struck a guy out, but I also heard a pop when it happened. I didn't say anything about it. I went a couple of days and it was hard, I could barely even throw. When it was time for me to pitch, I took some ibuprofen, and that day I was fine. I was still throwing hard, but my arm slot was different and I was leaving a lot of balls up. It just got to the point where, in between starts, I couldn't even pick up the ball. I didn't want to do anything until it was time for me to pitch again on my fifth day. But it got to the point where I was throwing in the bullpen before the game one time, and I was probably throwing , as hard I was throwing, I was probably throwing about max, 81 (mph) maybe? Not even that. Like lobbing the ball. My catcher Luke Montz told my manager, 'I can't let him go out there and throw.' So my manager came to me and was like, 'Look, I want you to be honest with me. Are you hurting?' And I was like, 'Yeah, I'm hurting bad.' I had already went and got MRIs and stuff with the doctor in Savannah. Then I went to get a second opinion from the big league doctor, and he said he didn't see anything. So I started throwing again and it wasn't getting any better, and they were just like, we've got to do something about this. Jim Bowden was our general manager at the time, and he requested me to go see Dr. (David) Altcheck. I saw him, he said I had a torn labrum and we did the surgery.
BA: That's interesting that you said you didn't want to tell your manager or let anyone know that you were hurt. It seems like a lot of times when guys get hurt, they want to suck it up and play or pitch through the pain. Why do think a lot of players do that?
DT: I figured I could suck it up. At the same time, I knew something was wrong, but I didn't want to believe it. It was kind of hard for me to believe that I was hurting. I had never had surgery before; I didn't want to have surgery at all. I was scared something might happen where I wouldn't be able to throw again. It was just crazy, so I just tried to suck it up.
BA: What was the rehab and the recovery process like for you coming off of the surgery? When did you first start throwing again, and what was your schedule to try to get back on the mound?
DT: I had surgery in July, so I didn't even start playing catch until January. It started out good, just a little bit of long toss and that was fine. And as I started getting out on the mound, getting up to 80 percent, it started getting up to where I was able to throw a little harder. All my muscles that I never worked out before, I was working out in rehab. At one point it was hurting me for like a week and they had to shut me down. Then after that everything was good and I went on to (short-season) Vermont and started there—that's when I got traded. When I came over to the Reds, they put me down in the GCL and, other than the one little setback that I had in spring training, I had one other setback at the end of the season in the Gulf Coast League in '06, everything's been going good since then, so hopefully I can keep it going.
BA: Since you've gotten back on the field, have you experienced any pain or discomfort that you wouldn't normally feel from your regular pitching workload?
DT: I feel like I'm 100 percent now. I feel like I'm all the way back. I don't feel any discomfort or anything. I just have soreness in my biceps and stuff, but that's normal. I had that before surgery.
BA: Did any doctors or coaches ever tell you why they think you got hurt, or do you have any thoughts on why you think you ended up getting hurt?
DT: You never know, it could be anything. A lot of guys that do all their shoulder stuff, (but) stuff still happens to them. I was doing shoulder stuff, but I wasn't doing enough at the time. So that's why that stuff happened. That's what I think.
BA: Since you've joined Cincinnati, have the Reds changed anything about you mechanically, either something major or little things here and there to try to keep you healthy?
DT: Actually, no. I guess they've been pleased with what I've been doing; they haven't tried to change mechanics or anything. If I get excited in a game or something and I rush myself to the plate, the only thing they tell me is to slow it down, stay back, but that's about it.
BA: Just looking at the numbers, it seemed like you had a solid year in 2007. How do you feel like last season went for you?
DT: It went OK. I felt pretty pleased with it, but I'm coming out here this year trying to do better than I did last year. It's like every start I do this year, I try to do better than I did the week before.
BA: Obviously it seems like you've had a pretty smooth transition to the Southern League so far this year. How do you feel like you've adapted to Double-A?
DT: Right now, I don't give any of the hitters any credit, unless they're on my team. That was a problem for me last year when I went up to Sarasota. I gave a lot of the hitters credit and I got hit around a little bit. This year I'm not giving them any credit and I'm not giving in to anybody. I'm going to challenge every hitter with anything. My best pitch is my fastball. I don't care who you are, I'm going to challenge you with my fastball no matter what. That's what I like about myself, is I'm not scared of any hitter and I'm quick to challenge you. If you beat me, you're going to beat me with my best stuff.
BA: Yeah, it seemed like you really went after hitters tonight with your fastball and challenged them to hit that pitch. Is that something that you've done more often this season than you had done previously?
DT: Well, I mean I've always been going after hitters with fastballs. Last year I added a slider to my repertoire and my changeup has gotten a lot better since last year. I've just been able to work with all my pitches, and when I'm able to throw them all for strikes, I'm more effective.
BA: Of the three offspeed pitches—your curveball, your slider and your changeup—is there one secondary pitch you feel like is your go-to pitch right now?
DT: Well my curveball I usually throw for a first-pitch strike, or say if I go 1-0, I'll try a get-me-over curveball. My curveball's real slow, so it's not really a strikeout pitch. I try to throw it high, you know, like a little Frisbee, just straight up. But for an out pitch, I've been working with my slider. Last year that was my out pitch. I leave it up sometimes, and that's what I'm working on out in the bullpen, just trying to bury it and then throw it for a strike when I need to. Last year it was kind of like a cutter, so it was low-80s, mid-80s, but this year my pitching coach, Boz, (Chris) Bosio, he's been working with me and showing me how to throw it. So it's getting better, I've just got to get back to being comfortable with it.
BA: You threw the curveball mostly in 68-70 mph range tonight. Do you ever add or subtract from the pitch to throw it at different speeds?
DT: Sometimes I can throw it and it can be mid-70s, but that's when I'm rushing and I'm not really throwing it like I need to. But if I throw it like I'm supposed to, I can throw it and it can be 63-68, 69 or something like that.
BA: Your curveball seemed to have some pretty good break on it. How would you describe the way the pitch breaks for you when you're throwing a good curveball?
DT: It breaks pretty good. As far as righties, I try to throw it at their shoulder because I throw my curveball to break more across the plate instead of 12-to-6. So I try to throw it at the shoulder. And the break, if I throw it like I want to, it can be a pretty good pitch. For a lot of hitters, it changes their eye level and it's slow, so sometimes they're out in front.
BA: How do you feel like your changeup is coming along?
DT: It started the season out really good, but right now it's kind of shaky. I've kind of lost the feel of it and I need to get that back. When I get that back, I think it'll be a lot better. Right now I throw it better than I throw it to lefties. I don't know why—it used to be the other way around. Now I'm so comfortable throwing it to righties, and lefties hit it a couple of times. I just need to get the confidence back to where I can just throw it and not worry about it. This year I've been feeling like, say if I give off a leadoff double, I don't even worry about it because I have enough confidence in my stuff where I feel like I can get out of a jam.
BA: As you progress in your development, is there anything specific that the coaching staff here in Chattanooga or that the Reds have told you to focus on as you try to take that next step forward?
DT: Yeah, they've talked to me. Sometimes I need to control myself on the mound—I get too excited and I rush myself to the plate. If I can just get control of myself on the mound and stop rushing to the plate, just take some time in between pitches but also keep the tempo going, then I can make a lot better pitches.