Padres Interview: Clay Hensley

Clay Hensley

WASHINGTON DC - Clay Hensley came over to the Padres in a trade for middle relief pitcher Matt Herges in 2003. It was one of those innocuous deals that San Diego, buried in last place at the time, hoped might someday pay off.

Well

Clay Hensley: did pay off.

Herges is now on his third team since the trade, and Hensley, after making the Pacific Coast League All-Star team and being big part of the Padres' bullpen last year, is now one of the Padres' starting pitchers.

Injuries to Woody Williams and the disappointing start by Dewon Brazelton granted Hensley his wish to return to being in the rotation. So far, he's started 17 games, with a 6-5 record and a 4.27 ERA [he is 0-2 with a 10.00 ERA as a relief pitcher in six innings].

Hensley has put together some outstanding performances, such as a two-hit complete game shutout of the Cubs, but has also been the victim of the "big inning" in most of his losses. His biggest problem is a relatively high walk rate (39 in 103 innings), something a pitcher that relies on ground ball outs can't do. He has shown that he is capable of getting major league hitters out, allowing fewer hits than innings pitched (92/103).

We caught up with Clay just before a recent start in Washington DC.

You're back to starting after coming up last year as a relief pitcher. What has been the biggest change for you going to a starter?

Clay Hensley: The biggest change for me right now has just been learning. You can only learn to a certain extent when you are in Triple-A. It's about game management, something I didn't have to think about as much in the minor leagues.

Also pitch selection, which has been a big learning curve for me of learning what I need to do in order to get major league hitters out.

I've always understood that your best pitches is a fastball that naturally sinks and a sinker which drops even more. You also throw a change and a curve, how have those pitches felt to you this year?

Clay Hensley: The change and curve have felt good to me this year, especially the change. Its been working pretty well. I've just tried to stick with my fastball and sinker as much as I can to because they are my best pitches and allow me to be the most efficient.

You were quoted in the Union Tribune a few outings ago as that you were going to strop trying to focus as much on what a certain batter couldn't hit and force him to beat you on your strength.

Clay Hensley: That has been the biggest thing that I am learning here. My strength is my fastball. A lot of certain reports will state that certain players like a fastball up and in or away and if I get too caught up in it, then I'm going against what I do well. I am really trying to find the balance of knowing what a hitter can't do and what I do best.

You're last two years in the minors the big change for you was not only did you get better command of your fastball, but you were throwing your sinker for strikes. So hitters will have to swing at the sinker even if they didn't want too. So is that pretty much your one-two punch?

Clay Hensley: That is the game plan. My biggest plan is to establish the fastball, which makes my off-speed pitches that much better.

When you have gotten beat this year its tended to be on one big inning, then the others you are retiring batters one-two-three.

Clay Hensley: That is the big thing about game management. I had a couple of rough outings a lot of that is being aware of who is on base, conceding a run and trying to get a double play. I've just tried to do to much at times. I really didn't really have to worry about that in the minors. Who you want to pitch too, who you don't want to beat you.

Obviously it's a big jump from Triple-A to the majors and one of the factors is that there is so much advance scouting. Everyone knows what you throw and what you like to do. I guess when you are were in Portland you weren't looking at that many video montages of the Oklahoma City RedHawks?

Clay Hensley: No, we definitely didn't get that. I like the reports, especially the video. It gives me a good idea of what type of pitch someone likes to hit. The other side also has video on me, so you have to constantly be changing, making adjustments and learning how to succeed.

As a starter you go through much more of a different routine than as a relief pitcher. Since you're scheduled to start tomorrow, what type of routine did you go through today?

Clay Hensley: I'll throw the ball a little, maybe throw about 15 pitches then shut it down for tomorrow.

So are you going to be on the top step of the dugout, watching all of the opposition's batters?

Clay Hensley: Actually, I'll be in here on the video. I have routine where I have a report on all the guys tendencies and I try to look for what I think they are going to do and highlight them. I'll compare notes and watch the video.

Contact senior writer John Conniff at conniff@sandiegosports.net

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