OKLAHOMA CITY — I had the opportunity to catch up with Oklahoma City pitching coach Matt Herges; some of that conversation is going to be used in my daily reports as they will relate to the pitchers on the mound that day. However, here are the parts where we talked about Wilmer Font, Julio Urias and the importance of the OKC catching expertise to their success. This interview has been slightly edited for clarity.
Where is Julio Urias at right now this season and his development?
“He’s talented enough to be there, to be in that rotation but we’ve still got to be careful, we’ve still got to be careful, we know that if we just said the reins are off just go be like everybody else, the risk of him getting hurt goes up just because of his age and the fact he throws the ball so violently hard, I mean he touched 97 a couple of times his last start.”
“We have slow-played all throughout his career and which, right or wrong, and I mean you could have your opinion about that, but we have slowed-played it.”
“So we are still kind of in that mode and we’re all looking forward to just that one day, where, okay, go just go be Julio Urias, pitch 200 innings in the big leagues, we’re waiting for that, we can’t wait for that but anytime he says he’s a little sore, the records skips and we need to get him checked out.”
Herges first coached Urias back 2014 at Rancho Cucamonga, three years later, what changes have you seen?
“Now I’m seeing a mature man, I mean he bought a car, he’s got a girlfriend.” “He’s just more of a man now.”
“And the best part about it is, if you ask him, he’s a major league pitcher, and that’s where he should, and I want him to have that.”
“I want him to have that mindset, I see a more mature man, I see a guy who continues to make tweaks and get better, because there are certain things that as a young kid like tipping pitches or not hiding the ball or direction, a ton of things that could go wrong that he fixes them quicker than anyone I’ve ever had, like just one little thing and it’s done.”
Wilmer Font has had a great season so far, why do you think he has done so well this season?
“I can’t speak about his previous years with any organization but we have freed him up, I think, to use his number one asset, as much as he wants to, and that’s the high fastball.”
“He has better carry than just about anyone else in baseball, his elevation is elite, and we encourage him to do that.”
What is “carry?”
“He has a fastball, it doesn’t go down, so when it comes out of his hands, it stays truer longer than most peoples.”
“Now some people say that is because it’s high spin, some people say maybe his spin isn’t as high as a lot of people but it just seems to carry.”
“Now whether that’s extension or how the ball just comes out of his hand, for whatever reason it plays up at the elite level.”
Why has giving Font the green light to throw his high fastball impact his performance so much?
“I think his whole life, it’s probably been you got to throw the ball down, you got to the throw the ball down, and that’s harder to do for some guys than for others.”
“So we’ve opened that up for him and we have encouraged him to throw his curveball on 0-0 counts.”
What are Font’s strengths?
“He can command both sides of the plate with his fastball, he can both sides of the plate with his slider. He’s got a split-finger that goes straight down and he’s got the elite elevation.”
“So getting strike one, no matter how he gets it, sets up everything. Now, if it’s curveball, studies show very rarely does someone swing at a first pitch curveball, for whatever reason, no one sits on it, it’s just a free strike, we call it a free strike, you land a first pitch curveball, it’s a free strike.”
“Now he has all these weapons to get two strikes, and that why he has all of those strikeouts, he’s leading the league by like at least 20.”
Do you think Font will get an opportunity to pitch for Los Angeles this year?
“Here’s the thing, does he deserve to be in the major leagues right now, the answer is 100% yes. The one thing that is probably blocking it right now is that he is not on the 40-man roster, they’re going to take somebody off the roster, put someone on the 60-day, there’s a lot that things that happen to add somebody.”
“Now he’s knocking that door down, he’s pushing that envelope as well as anyone I’ve ever seen who’s not been on a roster, he’s forcing their hand big time.”
“I’m pushing for it, I don’t make those decisions, but anytime they ask me, this guy is ready, he’s ready to roll.”
What role do you see him in at the next level and how would his stuff play as a one-inning pitcher?
“He can start for you. He can pick up long middle innings.”
Asked could he be a one-inning pitcher, Herges responded, “That’s something that I think about, I mean he could sit on 99, he’s got that in him, I mean he’s touching 97 multiple times a game.”
“That’s why I think it would work in any role, the ability to land a curveball, the ability to control both sides of the plate with his slider and the split-finger is rarely thrown for a strike and with the elite elevation, there’s not a role he can’t do in my mind.”
Oklahoma City’s pitching staff leads the league in strikeouts and has the second lowest amount of walks, is there anything you can attribute that to?
“I can honestly tell you, I would love to be able to take credit for that, but there’s no way I can because there are multiple reasons and the first reason for me is that they have given us quality arms, quality pitchers and two, probably equally important, is the catchers we have here are next level, they are wonderful game callers.”
“They follow a game plan, they can swerve off a game plan if they see something and that’s the one thing, I’ll tell you. “We go over scouting reports and I’ll tell them, if you see something, trust it because I trust them more than what I have seen on paper.”
“Bobby Wilson, Murphy, Kyle Farmer who’s coming on, Barnes last year, these are guys that make my job so much easier, because I don’t have to worry about what he’s going to throw now. Very rarely am I sitting there going why did he throw that pitch, that’s never what it is, it always the execution of that pitch or the location of it.
“We’ve got great catching, that’s got to be something we’re doing organizationally with our catchers, we’re making them more aware of the importance of calling a game.”