An interview with Brandon McCarthy

Brandon McCarthy has gone 9-8 this season with a 3.35 ERA and 116 strikeouts to go along with just 25 walks in his first year with the A's. (Photo credit Associated Press)

A day after helping the A’s snap the Detroit Tigers’ 12-game winning streak by holding baseball’s hottest team to 1 run in 7 innings on Thursday, starting pitcher Brandon McCarthy took some time to sit down with Swingin’ A’s to talk baseball.

McCarthy has had a career year after struggling with a reoccurring shoulder injury for the past few seasons and has arguably been one of the best pitchers in the American League since the All-Star Break, with an 8-3 record, 3.18 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, .242 BAA, 70 strikeouts and just 13 walks in 79.1 innings.

And he’s proven to be as entertaining on Twitter as he is effective on the mound. If you’re not following McCarthy on Twitter you’re missing out on a sharp wit and a great personality.

Talent has never been a question for McCarthy, who came up as a top-rated prospect for the White Sox in 2005. The only thing holding him back was his health and it looks like he’s on track after reinventing himself through countless hours of hard work.

Swingin’ A’s: You told The San Francisco Chronicle in March in spring training while you were making a strong bid for the No. 5 spot in the rotation that, “If I feel like this in 6 months, I’ll be happy.” Here we are near the end of the season, how do you feel about how things have gone? Are you pretty happy with the season?

Brandon McCarthy: “Yeah, most of the things that I came into the spring wanting to do and left spring training wanting to accomplish I think I’ve been able to do pretty well. Throwing a high percentage of strikes, limiting walks, limiting home runs, getting more ground balls, advancing as a pitcher.

“There were some different things I wanted to work on as the year went on and some things have come along the way I wanted to, some haven’t but for the most part I feel like I’ve been able to keep advancing and been happy with it.”

SA: It seems like a lot of the results that you’ve had have been credited to the retooled mechanics. From what I’ve read it sounds like it was around the 2009 offseason that you started to do that. Was that something that originated solely with you or did that come from a doctor or coach saying, “Do you want to try something different?” How did that start?

McCarthy: “I guess me. The way I wanted to take it was me. I just kind of went alone on that one. I knew my time with the Rangers was just getting to the point where I wasn’t effective even when I was healthy or as effective as I’d like to be.

“Health was my driving factor there trying to find something different that would prevent me from having my injury every year. There were a lot of different factors and most of it was just that I wanted to become Roy Halladay as ridiculous as that sounded.

“In that same beat it was like, look let’s just do this or try and get as close as I can to that. So I sort of headed down that road and it’s worked out pretty well. It was just sort of a mental thing that I just wanted to do.

“I just got to that point where I knew that just going down that same cycle was a quick way to end up being a career Triple A pitcher or working my way out of the game, just being an often-injured guy who comes back and has a mid-4 to a high-4 ERA and doesn’t give up many quality innings you’re pretty quick to get moved out of a job.”

SA: I read that you said you’re a visual learner and that you tried to look to other pitchers for some cues to work off of mechanically, was Halladay one of those guys you looked at as, “Here are some mechanics I can really pick something up from and learn from?”

McCarthy: “Yeah, I tried for a long time — I’m good a mimicking so I tried to do that as much as I could. I couldn’t completely get the rhythm that he works with. You look at someone like Charlie Morton and what he’s done — I actually played with Morton this winter — and he was much more similar to Roy than I was.

“But there were certain points that Roy hits in his delivery that I wanted to make sure I was getting to even if everything didn’t look the same and it’s not the same visually but there are certain points that I felt like I could get to and one of those is arm slot and finish that was similar.

“If I could get those and try and throw the pitches he throws and work on those sequences then I come away OK.”

SA: Were there any other pitchers who you tried to take some cues from mechanically or was Halladay really the guy you spotlighted?

McCarthy: “He was the guy and now as I look at it more I realize that my mechanics are mine. They don’t look too much like anybody else’s. It just got to the point where I was comfortable and then at that point it became less mimicking and just refining what I had and what I could do and sharpening them up and now I just look at other pitchers in terms of sequences and stuff and pitches they’re throwing.

“In terms of mechanics it’s just what I’ve got now and let’s go with it.”

SA: You’re still pretty early in your Major League career and you mentioned that you’re a visual learner, how much has the change in technology and the advances up to iPads helped you in your preparation? Has the iPad and being able to visualize those things helped with your preparation, your confidence going into a game?

McCarthy: “Yeah, and it’s something that just in the last few months I’ve taken more advantage of it.

“Early in the season I felt like a rookie, I was just trying to kind of get my way again, figure out what I was able to do with myself. I hadn’t thrown with these pitches in the big leagues before so I was just trying to see what it was and now I have more of a game plan with it.

“In Texas and Chicago I was just throwing.  I felt my command wasn’t good enough to really attack guys and have a game plan. Now I use an iPad app to break down hitters and then use the scouting reports we have and look at it visually to use it to understand numbers in certain situations.

“I feel like I’ve been able to take it to the next level a little bit just because of that. Because now I feel confident in my ability to throw strikes with any pitch and actually take advantage of some of those things.”

SA: I read a quote from Derek Lowe of the Atlanta Braves saying that in some situations you feel a greater confidence in throwing a pitch because you’ve seen it work so many times (on an iPad). Does that visualization help give you a little more conviction in a certain pitch?

McCarthy: “Yeah, I’m looking forward to watching Doug Fister throw tonight. For some reason it’s been set up all year where we’re pretty similar in the way we throw and all year long he seems to have faced a team right before I’m about to face them so I’ve just watched almost every start he’s had and seen what he’s done.

“And you can see that a sinker away to this guy usually gets this result and there are different pitchers I can look at to see what they’ve done and you can see that there’s a result on that pitch if you make it and it’s just up to execution.”

SA: In an interview with Rob Neyer you mentioned how a lot of your success this season has been about getting a feel for your stress fracture and noticing the cues earlier. I assume there’s a certain amount of fatigue and soreness that goes into pitching no matter what, is there a distinct difference between that and what you feel might be a recurrence of the scapular stress fracture?

McCarthy: “It’s very localized, I know he spot now and it feels like someone’s putting a pen in it and it’s just like a gentle … like you’re being poked by it and eventually it goes and it feels like someone’s stabbing you with a pen.

“Now I realize that’s the onset of it. I can feel it and when it’s there it’s there, stop.”

SA: In terms of the mechanics that you have and the routine you’ve found success with, is what you’re working with now pretty much what you had when you signed with A’s or has there been a real relationship between you and the coaching staff to fine tune that? Was there anything done to hone your mechanics a little more or to maybe change your preparation and workout to keep you on track and keep you healthy?

McCarthy: “In terms of mechanics there were little tweaks, a lot of it just pace.

“Making sure I didn’t rush too much, nothing that broke down anything that I’m actually doing. It’s just little fixes. We changed the side of the rubber I pitch from early in spring just to take advantage of natural movement.

“(Regarding) routine, coming back from my injury Ronnie (pitching coach Ron Romanick) was big on me saving bullets. Play catch light, just get it done. Enough to get your arm a little workout and then get off.

“I’m very meticulous in the way I go about things and I want everything to feel right all the time and early on even when your arm’s hurting if I wasn’t happy with the way I threw a cutter right then I’d throw another one and if that wasn’t right I’d throw another one and if that wasn’t right I’d throw another one and it just ended up being 20 to 30 extra throws a day for really no reason, just for kind of mental satisfaction.

“Once I learned to get rid of that and just throw short, quick, easy bullpens and play light, quick, easy catch and just get it done and get out no matter how it felt or where I was at then it wasn’t going to affect me on game day and that was one of the biggest changes I’ve made this year.

“Especially late in the year, I rejuvenate faster, I just don’t feel mentally tired. I’ve been able to get deep into games but now I recover a little faster, I don’t feel broken down.”

In just 6 months McCarthy has gone from being a candidate vying for the No. 5 spot in the rotation in spring training to being one of Oakland’s best pitchers as the 2011 season winds down.

As an arbitration eligible player it’s hard to imagine the A’s passing on the opportunity to easily retain McCarthy’s services for at least one more season.  In a largely frustrating year for A’s fans, McCarthy has emerged as a bright spot and a reason to look forward to 2012 to see how he can build on his success.

A big thanks to the A’s and McCarthy for taking the time to sit down and talk with Swingin’ A’s.