Brigham is part of a dominant Hickory staff
Jake Brigham opened the season as part of a talented Hickory pitching staff, and he has impressed in his first two starts since Tommy John surgery. Lone Star Dugout has a Q&A feature with the 21-year-old pitcher.
Some pitchers, if not most, start slowly when returning from Tommy John surgery. So far, that hasn’t been the case for Jake Brigham.
The 21-year-old right-hander has made two starts with Single-A Hickory this season, pitching 9 1/3 innings. He has allowed just one run on six hits, walking two and striking out nine.
Brigham features a low-90s fastball that sometimes bumps the mid-90s, a promising curveball, and a changeup. Lone Star Dugout recently sat down with the 6-foot-3 hurler for an interview.
Jason Cole: I want to go back to your Spring Training. I was in Arizona during your first start out there, but it was on the road and I wasn’t able to see it. As I understand, you struggled with control a bit in that outing. Is that correct?
Jake Brigham: Yes, I was just a little excited and leaning forward a little bit. I was missing armside and up the whole time. But I made the adjustments before the next start.
Cole: So after that start you were pretty much good to go?
Brigham: I think it was just a bunch of nerves. It was my first time on the mound in a game in over a year and a half. But that next start I sort of got settled down and it felt good after that. My arm felt great, though, in that outing.
Cole: Do you remember how many times you pitched in games during Spring Training?
Brigham: I pitched four times.
Cole: Overall, how did you feel about your spring?
Brigham: Good. It had its ups and downs, but overall I got back on the mound and got to be competitive again. I put a lot of confidence in my arm as far as being healthy. I knew that I could go out there and still compete and I could still throw.
Cole: Going into that first Spring Training outing, how much uncertainty was there in your mind about whether things would be the same as they were before the surgery?
Brigham: It wasn’t really uncertainty -- I think it was anxiousness more than anything. I felt confident in the training staff and all the work I had done through rehab and all that. I just went in there confident in my arm, but I was nervous. I was real nervous to just get back out there again.
Cole: When was the last time you’d been that nervous pitching in a game?
Brigham: Oh man, probably my first pro outing.
Cole: Tell me about coming back from surgery. Did you change your mechanics at all from what they were in 2007?
Brigham: Yes. I changed my mechanics quite a bit. I’m a lot more calm now. I used to have a problem throwing my head. I’m a lot more still and I pick up the plate a lot better. I definitely calmed things down a lot. I’m not so erratic with my body parts.
Cole: How do you feel those changes have helped you?
Brigham: They’re going to keep me healthy. I believe my mechanics were part of the reason that my elbow did blow out. Now I’m using more of my lower half and keeping my arm out front more.
Cole: How comfortable do you feel with those new mechanics? Has it been sort of a learning process with them?
Brigham: It has, but the good thing is that I started throwing bullpens in August. I was throwing four months of bullpens, so I got to work on it a lot before I ever had to be competitive with it. That helped me quite a bit.
Cole: At what point in Spring Training this year did you know that you would be headed to Hickory and pitching in the rotation?
?Brigham: Early on they had let me know that I had a chance to win a spot in Hickory. Then just as I showed them that I was healthy and that I was pitching well enough, I won that spot.
Cole: You’re from Orlando. How far is that from Hickory?
Brigham: It’s about eight and a half hours.
Cole: It’s at least by far the closest affiliate the Rangers have to your hometown. How does it feel to be pitching on the east coast again?
Brigham: It’s awesome. My family came out to my first outing in Hickory. My family and my fiance. It’s just awesome to have them be able to come see me pitch pretty much whenever they want. It makes it a lot easier and it’s a lot more fun.
Cole: Tell me about your first two starts in Hickory. How do you feel you’ve been pitching thus far?
Brigham: It could be a little better. Overall, I think with the defense I have, they’ve done a very good job of keeping me in the ballgame. They have made some outstanding plays behind me. I thank God that I can get back out there and compete. I just keep getting ground balls and fly balls and my defense has just made the plays.
Cole: Can you take me through your thoughts when you finally did toe the rubber for the first time in a real game since surgery?
Brigham: It’s the best feeling that I’ve ever felt in pro ball, by far. Probably in my entire life of playing baseball.
Cole: You pitched the second game of the doubleheader after the combined no-hitter. How was it to follow a no-hitter just 30 minutes later?
Brigham: It didn’t really bother me at all. I actually didn’t know they had a no-hitter until somebody said something about it in the dugout after my first inning. I was in the clubhouse getting ready and getting stretched out for my game. It really didn’t affect me at all. I just knew that I wanted to go out there, compete, and give my team a chance to win. It didn’t bother me one bit.
Cole: Your pitching coach in Hickory this year, Brad Holman, is new to the Rangers’ organization. What have you been working on with him so far?
Brigham: Staying back. Not attacking the plate so quick. I want to keep my body more under control.
Cole: How do you feel you have improved as a pitcher since you were in Spokane two years ago?
Brigham: It’s more mentally than anything. I’ve learned to appreciate the game a whole lot more than I have in the past. I just want to go out there and have fun. Whatever happens, happens. I want to control what I can control and things that are out of my control, I don’t want to let them bother me.
Cole: The pitching staff there in Hickory has been outstanding so far this year. Tell me what it’s like to be a part of a staff with so much talent from top to bottom.
Brigham: It has been fun. It’s been a blast. The pitching staff is awesome. The pitching coach, Brad, is unbelievable. He’s fun to work with, great to work with. I’ve learned a lot from him already. It’s just a lot of fun to play with guys that are doing well and working hard just like you. It just helps out a lot. It’s a fun group of guys.