So when the Toronto Blue Jays claimed Dirk off of waivers from the Padres on October 6 it was a sad day for all at MadFriars.com.
He had his best season with the Portland Beavers this year, excelling in his role as a long reliever and spot starter with 98 strikeouts in 84 innings and a 3.75 ERA in the Pacific Coast League, which equates to the California League in the number of parks that provide pitchers nightmares.
Hayhurst will probably be the first to tell you that the reasons for his success lay in the ability to find his niche; he’s not really a starter or a closer with one plus pitch. His best role is as someone that can come in and eat the middle innings of a game with his ability to keep batters off-balance with different speeds, and mainly the rare ability to throw four different pitches for strikes, which is not often found in relievers.
His ultimate success or failure in the big leagues will rely upon two things: being able to execute all four pitches more consistently and a team’s ability to recognize his best chance of success rests in a rather narrow role; long relief where they can take advantage of his physical gift of a rubber arm and only having to go through a lineup once or twice.
After a big season in Triple-A, Hayhurst struggled in his debut with the Padres with a 9.72 ERA in three starts. When the Padres tried to move him off of the 40-man roster, however, the Toronto Blue Jays, who obviously liked what they saw in Portland, snatched him and put him on their 40-man roster.
We’ve followed Dirk’s career since he was drafted out of Kent State in 2003, and we wish him nothing but the best. We are sure the Blue Jays fans will enjoy following his career as much as we have.
This interview occurred while he was still with the Padres during his September call-up.
Since we’ve done quite a few interviews in the past, I’ll start off on a different subject; how did you become a left-handed hitter?
Dirk Hayhurst: My dad kind of taught me to hit from what he knew. Back when he was looking at hitters, he was thinking, if I batted from the left side, I could become a power hitters. Close to first base, helps with the speed. Unfortunately, I don’t have any power or that much speed or really a hitter period since statistically I don’t have any hits.
In the minor leagues you guys rarely get to hit and then suddenly you have to face top flight pitching.
Dirk Hayhurst: Oh, it’s not the fault of pro ball, I just don’t have it. I have the writing gene and maybe the pitching gene depending on what day you see me throw, but the hitting gene just isn’t there.
When you are going over your stats as the leagues get better, your numbers have gotten better. Not to put words in your mouth, but it seems that as you’ve moved up, you’ve found your niche as a long man and spot starter.
Dirk Hayhurst: I think that I’ve found my niche when I found out that if I didn’t make it, it wouldn’t break me. That really started to come through when I went to Double-A. If you look at the stats that I put up after my first tour of duty in Mobile they weren’t good. I went home that off-season thinking that I don’t want to be like this and do this for the rest of my life. Playing baseball is great and everything that goes with it, but after five years in the minor leagues, it’s not life, it’s a sacrifice for a shot at a dream. It’s not a dream lifestyle. So you put a time limit on it that if I am not going to make it to the big leagues, then I’m going to walk away. It’s not like I’m a quitter or I don’t have what it takes or all the other clichés, there are just other things that I want to do.
My results don’t define me. I can write or go back to school; I’m not a one-trick pony. I’m going to put it all out on the table and if I fail, I fail. I’m going to put it all out on the table. I’m going to throw to that spot on the zone and see what happens. Then you find out that if I would have pitched this carefree or loose, maybe I would have been more successful a lot earlier.
When we look at pitcher like yourself in the Northwestern League or the Midwest League who are successful, guys who are smart with good command, a decent fastball but, in your terms, don’t have a bazooka strapped to their arm, we notice that they tend to have troubles in High-A and above when you really need a plus pitch to be successful. You seem to be the exception to the rule, as you just described a minute ago. You’ve succeeded because you are able to throw four pitches, but no huge fastball or real plus pitch. how were you able to do it?
Dirk Hayhurst: I’ve been trying to throw that slider for a long time, which gave me the fourth pitch. In the off-season, I would go into a cold garage and throw at a rug I bolted up against the wall so I wouldn’t break the wall and throw over and over. I know that sounds like PBS should be playing some music in the background, [laughs] but I’m fortunate that I don’t have a lot of arm pain so I can throw everyday and that is what it took because it took me awhile to figure it out. That has been the story of my career, not being able to figure it our real fast. Also, as I’ve said before, I may not have a single plus pitch, but when all four are together, they work pretty well.
You are being a little too hard on yourself because I can name a whole bunch of guys that were in the same boat as you were and they are home now.
Dirk Hayhurst: I would say if you look at the guys up here right now, I would say that I have the most experience of anyone that is up here for their debut. I’ve had a lot of failure and there are adjustments that I have to make, and I want to make them, but it’s going to take time –it’s just the way that I am.
The obvious question is what types of adjustments are you going to have to make in the big leagues since the hitters are so much better?
Dirk Hayhurst: If you listen to what Josh Geer was saying, that the scouting and video tape that does help even things out. But what really makes the difference as you go higher is executing every pitch. (In one outing with the Padres) I wanted to command my fastball and was just spraying it all over the place, so I had to pitch backwards. I’m a command guy, and when I don’t have it, I’m going to get hurt badly, especially up here. The biggest adjustment that I need to make up here is command of my fastball.
In Portland, you told me that you throw four pitches. If I have four on the night that I throw, then I’m going to have a good night. If I have three, I should be ok and if I have two, well, it’s going to be tough.
Dirk Hayhurst: The fastball command is my bread and butter because when it’s not there, and that is the pitch you are throwing seventy percent of the time, it’s going to be a tough time. One night, I had enough breaking balls to make it into the beginning of the fourth but just had to throw too many pitches to get there. If you don’t have you’re curveball, you can throw it in the dirt, you don’t have to throw it for strikes, just have the batter aware of it. If you don’t have your fastball, it’s a long night. That is the way pitching works; I mean you have to have your fastball.
On the warm and fuzzy side of the interview, what went through your mind when you were called up in August? I mean you were sent down to the Cal League at 25, you have famously written a column called the “Non-Prospect Diary” and have never really been the darling of the prospect crowd, so what went through your mind?
Dirk Hayhurst: It’s a great story, and that is why I am writing a book about it [laughs]. It’s amazing in just the baseball sense that you can go from a guy on his way out two years ago because he is starting to get usurped by younger guys and figuring it out and putting it together over two seasons. In fact, I was told coming out of spring training that I might have some starts in San Antonio, which led me to think that I might be back there when the guys who came off of the DL that should be in Triple-A, I might be back there.
So I thought great, but then I had this success where I was punching out guy’s right and left…
The Madfriars.com pitcher of the month for April and May, as I’m sure your Mom let you know.
Dirk Hayhurst: Yup, she let me know. I remember telling me people in Triple-A, ‘don’t get used to it,’ but it kept going on. Maybe I underestimate myself.
I mean if you look at your numbers, you are a strikeout pitcher.
Dirk Hayhurst: It’s safer to underestimate yourself in the media than to overestimate yourself. I didn’t expect that kind of success at that level. Now, I’m sure some coach will tell me that you need to expect that level of success. With me, it’s not a question of confidence or expectations, but of respecting the game and knowing that you can put your best effort out there and still get your butt kicked.
In multiple interviews with you, I’ve always been struck by the two sides of you that you obviously believe you can go out and do it and needing to tell everyone about it. You seem much more comfortable playing the low key role.
Dirk Hayhurst: In my heart, I know that I can pitch up here, so you have to be much stronger to be able to shrug it off. I know that when I put it altogether I will have success. I have it in me, which is why I’m up here. I don’t have it right now or will have it every day, but will have it often enough. But I don’t need to make a statement, like, ‘Hurricane Hayhurst has landed and is coming for your job’ because even if it is true that is the dumbest thing you can say. The game is such that it can turn really quick.
If I assemble my pieces correctly, I can get the job done. It’s not a question of me being a great athlete or a terrible athlete, it’s about execution.
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