Ryan Tatusko is starting off 2011 right where he's most comfortable.
As a starting pitcher for the Harrisburg Senators he's doing what he always felt came most naturally.
"For my entire career I considered myself a starting pitcher. In the back of my mind even coming out of the bullpen, I treated it like was my first inning," Tatusko said before the Senators faced the Trenton Thunder in the Thunder's home opener. "I think that was one of the things that helped me transition and feel more at ease. Me personally I love having a set plan of what I need to do in order to get ready for an outing. So knowing I'm going to be starting every fifth day really helps me get my game plan. So I find it a lot easier to prepare."
The twenty-six year old righty is hoping to capitalize on 2010's excellent results in Harrisburg in which he went 3-1 and finished with a 1.72 ERA. In his first start for the Senators he was able to immediately put his finger on the problem afterward. In four innings he allowed four runs on two hits. He also walked four.
"Being out there the first time the game sped up on me especially when I got in trouble, so the big thing is slowing the game down. They're gonna get their hits, but not let that snowball on me. I let things progress too fast and didn't step off the mound to gather myself. I think if I do that I'll have much better success.
Senators manager Tony Sanchez has limited experience seeing Tatusko, but agrees with the pitcher's self-assessment.
"He's thrown the ball since we've seen him in spring training. We'd like to see him stay more in control of himself and slow down his tempo. Sometimes he speeds things up a litle bit."
Tatusko throws an excellent four-seam fastball and is unafriad to attack the strike zone in hitter's counts. But it's his breaking stuff that's been particularly strong out of the gate.
"It was my secondary pitches that really carried me through the game. I was having trouble locating and that had to do with rushing. And when you're thinking about where you're going to place the ball, you're not going to hit your spots. And if you do it could be at less velocity than what you're used to throwing. I was really impressed with the way I was able to throw my secundary stuff and that helped me minimize the damage."
This off-season was an important one as he approached being a full-time starter.
"This year being thrown in the rotation right from the get-go I really wanted to focus on my conditiong and make sure I was ready to go 140-150 innings and make thirty starts."
Randy Tomlin spent the second half of 2010 with Tatusko after the Texas Rangers traded him. He's seen how Tatusko responded to the Nationals approach once the regular season ended.
"The off-season program the Nationals have for him is good and gets him stronger. It helps him with endurances and getting the reps he needs for the number of pitches he throws," said Tomlin.
The changeup is a pitch Tomlin feels Tatusko is improving at a good pace. The tendency for pitchers to squeeze the ball is something they've worked on.
"He's come along real well with it. When we first got here he wasn't very confident in throwing it. We worked to try and get a comfortable grip for him, one that he is confident with. And then going out in the games and trusting the grip."
Sanchez agrees and also sees a need for the pitcher to keep the fastball low to be effective with his heater.
"His breaking pitches have been good. His secondary pitches were good and he located them, keeping them down in the zone. He was having problems getting his fastball down early in the game. He was antsy, but he calmed down in the last two innings [of his first start of the season]."
Tatusko has the stuff, it's just a matter of being smart about it.
"All three pitches he has are quality pitches. [He just needs to get better at] commanding his pitches and maximizing his pitch count, throwing strikes early in the count and locataing his fastball a little more efficiently," Sanchez said.