Reliever Josh Schmidt didn’t even need to unpack upon returning to Trenton.
After being promoted to the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees in June, Schmidt was returned to the Double-A Trenton Thunder on July 14th and returned to Scranton on July 19th.
Patience and focus are essential to survival in the minors, and he has tried to maintain both.
But when asked if it was difficult coming back to Trenton, before going up again, he was quiet before he answered, perhaps weighing how much he really wanted to say.
“It’s not too bad,” he said finally. “I’ve played here before and obviously I know I can get outs here. So that’s all I’m going to try and do.”
The 29 year old pitched in 17 games for Trenton, posting a 2-2 recored and 1.42 ERA in 25 innings. He’s gotten in 14 games at Scranton, clocking 21 innings and putting up a 2.57 ERA.
Being sent back to Trenton was an experience he took in stride.
“That time it wasn’t like I was just going down there to pitch that day. Last time I was literally in the airport when I got told, had to fly, and throw like three innings. This time I got told a couple of days ahead of time. So I had time to pack up and take my time and relax.”
Thunder pitching coach Tommy Phelps has spent a lot of time with Schmidt over the years and he talked with him about the challenges he needed to overcome. There’s been a lot to learn between Scranton and Trenton and he’s picked up on what he needs to do to be effective against more experienced Triple-A hitters.
“I think the game’s speed is a little faster in Triple-A, so I’m sure when he comes back here he realizes how slow the game is and how easy it is,” Phelps said. “He’s a lot more aggressive here, as opposed to when he’s up there, he says that he doesn’t feel as aggressive. He made a comment about that the other day, so I’m hoping he takes that aggressiveness and confidence and does it up there the same way.”
Scranton was not so easy so quickly. He had to find ways to keep hitters guessing. But he also didn’t feel quite himself on the mound.
“Most of the time I’ve felt pretty good and consistent, my last few outings there, I wasn’t. Mechanically I didn’t feel really good, I didn’t know where the ball was going. My last one I felt pretty good and I was just barely missing. I left a couple over the plate and I paid for it.”
Schmidt is not a pitcher that’s going to blow you away. His approach is to try to be smartly aggressive. Using his off-speed stuff and improving his changeup has contributed to his success. Locating his fastball has been off and on this season.
“At times I locate it and at times I haven’t,” he said.
Schmidt has pitched for the Thunder starting in 2008 when he was promoted from Class-A Tampa.
Now a veteran, Schmidt has learned his capabilities and capitalized on them.
“The last few years he’s been really good at never giving in. And for him, he’s a pitcher that can’t give in. He has to make his pitches and if he misses he can’t miss out over the plate.”
Time is catching up. The players get younger and the game goes on, but Schmidt has proven he deserves a shot to pitch at the big league level. He’s dominated hitters at Triple-A and Double-A. His opportunity just hasn’t come.
“No matter what it always comes and goes some. It’s always a little bit of a roller coaster and you’re just trying to keep those peaks and valleys as close together as possible,” Schmidt said.
His ability to mix his speed and know when to go after hitters and how pitch in a variety of situations has improved since 2008. Phelps feels there’s been an even more important change.
“I think his pitchability and his game experience is what’s improved the most,” he said. [Since first meeting him he needed to learn] pitching slower, slowing the ball down. Once he started using his changeup and slowing the ball down and made his fastball look harder with a lot more separation and speed, he’s been able to keep hitters off balance.”
Phelps also believes playing winter ball has added to Schmidt’s effectiveness. But more than anything, it’s his desire to learn. No matter how bad the medicine tastes, he wants it.
“He likes it brutally honest. You just tell him flat out and he might give you some smart comment back, but he takes the input you give him. He doesn’t want you to sugar coat . His makeup is good because he competes. He has to compete and prove to everyone that he’s good enough. He takes that on the field into his pitching.”
Photo courtesy of Dave Schofield