By Geoff Bilau – Angelswin.com Senior Editor
Reporting from Angel Stadium
Matt Palmer signed with the Angels as a Minor League free agent on Jan. 13 following six seasons in the San Francisco Giants system, during which he compiled a 40-35 record with a 3.46 ERA in 204 games (91 starts). He made three Major League starts for the Giants in 2008, going 0-2 with an 8.53 ERA.
His signing by the Angels appeared to be the kind of move teams make to provide depth on their AAA club, but eight months later the 30-year-old rookie is giving the Angels big league depth they might not be in first place without.
He’s gone 8-1 with a 4.99 ERA in 12 starts while filling in for injured former All-Stars John Lackey and Ervin Santana and has excelled since moving to the bullpen, compiling a 2.95 ERA in 13 relief appearances.
Now, with another former All-Star, Joe Saunders, on the disabled list with shoulder stiffness, Palmer may again be called to jump back into the starting rotation.
We caught up with the Memphis, Tenn., native before Saturday’s game to talk about starting vs. relieving, the Angels’ struggles against the Texas Rangers and what it means to be effectively wild.
AngelsWin.com: Do you know yet what’s happening as far as Saunders’ spot in the rotation?
Matt Palmer: I have no idea.
AW: Have they given you a heads up at all to maybe be prepared to pitch that next turn in the rotation?
MP: They don’t have to tell me anything. They tell me to go out and throw and that’s what I do. They haven’t told me anything.
AW: How do you feel about that kind of swingman role right now? Are you comfortable with that?
MP: I feel good about everything that I’m doing; I feel like I’ve got control of my body right now. I feel that I can still go out and throw 60, 70, 80 pitches when I need to; I think that I could still go out and throw 100 if I have to. As far as any mental preparations to be ready to throw anywhere from one inning to four, I’m fine with it.
AW: Does it take a different mental approach to juggle between starting and relieving or is it just a situation where you get in the mindset of ‘I might be asked to do either any given time’?
MP: No, you definitely have to have the mindset; it’s different from starting. When you’re in the bullpen, you don’t know what situation you’re going to be called into, so you have to have the mindset of going out and doing the best you can every time — person to person, not inning to inning. So, I can go in the eighth inning, I can go in the seventh inning. Or last night they called me up in the second inning and told me to get up and go throw. I was kind of surprised by that, but hey, you know what, you have to be prepared and be ready to go any time they call.
AW: Talking about this series and this team, you guys are 2-8 against them so far. Do you attribute that to anything, is it just coincidence or they’ve just flat out played better?
MP: No, it’s not that they’re playing better, and they’re not a better team, it’s that we’re just not pitching efficiently. It’s not that we’re not scoring enough runs because we are. We’re taking it personally as a team. I know that we’re going to do some different things as pitchers, take a little more pride in what we’re doing. I think we’re going to come out and play a little bit differently as pitchers; not as hitters and position players, but as our pitching staff is concerned.
AW: Is that something that you’ve talked about as a pitching staff, the fact that you’ve not pitched up to expectations, be they your own or the fans?
MP: We don’t like giving up runs and we definitely don’t like letting the team down. We’re the guys who are the workhorses of this team. We’re the guys this team is known for: pitching. We know that we have to uphold what we’ve always done. We can’t always depend on the hitters, so we’ve got to step up our game and do what we’re supposed to do.
AW: Personally, you have to feel good about what you’ve accomplished as far as your career is concerned, sticking with the team for the whole season.
MP: The whole season for me has been a big accomplishment. My goal all along has been to get to the big leagues and prove that I can be here. I go to Venezuela and throw well down there; those are the same kind of players that are up here, so I’ve always known that I can do it, it was just a matter of getting the opportunity to get here. I know I can’t throw 97, but I’ve got just as good of stuff as anybody else throwing 88 to 92.
So, it’s a big accomplishment and I’m glad I’ve got what I have. I’ve had good run support, but I’ve held my opponents to 2 or 3 runs a game and that’s what I’m supposed to do, give my team a chance to win. That’s what’s happened. I’m not saying I’m lucky, but I’m glad that we win almost every time I’m out on the mound. I’ve set good goals for myself and accomplished them.
AW: I was watching you last night and you were throwing a pitch that was clocking at around 90 mph, but with a lot of movement away from right handed hitters. Is that a cut fastball?
MP: Yeah, that’s a cut fastball, a natural cut; I don’t try to do it on purpose, it’s just the natural movement. I’ve learned how to pretty much know where I want to throw it. I also have a sinker and the two work well together, although last night I was down a lot. Usually it’s up in the zone and I can’t get it down, but last night I couldn’t bring it up.
I pitch effectively wild at times. You see guys who throw a lot of strikes tend to get hit. I’m one of those guys who can throw strikes, but also nibble a little bit, too.
AW: Is that by design?
MP: Sometimes and sometimes not. Sometimes when I’m down my ball starts moving so much it moves off the plate. I’m not trying to make it off the plate, but it jumps out there.
AW: But you’re conscious to a degree that it could be working for you?
MP: Oh, definitely. I know that if I throw this pitch and keep throwing this pitch I can get him out with it or use another pitch that I’ve perfected to play off of it.