How to Strike Out Bryce Harper, Part 2 of 3: Picking The Brain of The Rockies’ Drew Pomeranz
Last season, I worked on a story that never came to fruition. That story was this: Only a handful of Minor League pitchers could one day tell their grandkids that they struck out teenage Bryce Harper phenom twice in one ballgame. Three of these hurlers, like Harper, just happened to be elite prospects as well. And each member of that trio, also like Harper (Nationals), were and still are in National League organizations – Jesse Biddle (Phillies), Drew Pomeranz (Rockies) and Matt Harvey (Mets) — meaning that one, two or all three could provide intriguing hitter-pitcher battles for years to come.
I spoke with each of these pitchers in 2012, before Pomeranz and Harvey joined Harper in the Majors. (Biddle, the No. 1 prospect in Philadelphia’s system at the end of ’12 and baseball’s fourth best LHP entering ’13, will likely begin next spring at Double-A Reading and is the only Minor Leaguer left.) For the first time, I will share those how-to-strike-out-Harper discussions with readers.
Part 1 on Wednesday: Picking The Brain of The Phillies’ Jesse Biddle (Class A Matchup)
Part 2 on Thursday: Picking The Brain of The Rockies’ Drew Pomeranz (Double-A Matchup)
Part 3 on Friday: Picking The Brain of The Mets’ Matt Harvey (Double-A/Triple-A Matchup)
Background: Pomeranz fanned Harper in consecutive at-bats – on a combined seven pitches – on July 15, 2011. (Video of the first at-bat and the second at-bat.) Pomeranz, at Top 25 prospect at the time of his promotion to the Majors in April 2012, was making his Double-A debut for Indians’ affiliate Akron and against Nationals’ affiliate Harrisburg, which was hosting the game. Pomeranz was chief among four players acquired by the Rockies in exchange for Ubaldo Jimenez sixteen days after his matchup with Harper. He made four Major League starts – the first of his career – to finish out his 2011 season. Harper, meanwhile, whiffed 87 times in 387 at-bats in his debut ’11 season, a not-unseemly total given his slugging prowess. Both players earned their first Major League callups during the ’12 season and are expected to spend the entirety of ’13 there.
Pomeranz’s on facing Harper: “You have to concentrate when you face him, but you have to look at him as just another hitter. You can’t change what you do. I attack pretty much every hitter, no matter who it is, so my secret was being aggressive toward him. You have to keep the ball down – if you leave the ball up to him, he’s going to smash it because he swings real hard.”
On his preparation: “I don’t think there was too much said about Harper in our pregame pitcher-and-catcher meeting. It was my Double-A debut, so my catcher would tell me things here or there, but we didn’t have too much to say about Harper because he hadn’t been at Double-A very long either and he was kind of struggling. We treated him like everyone else and just attacked him, went right after him, was real aggressive and it came out well for me.”
On his pitch selection: “I went curveball [looking], fastball [looking], fastball [swinging] in the first at-bat. Then in the second at-bat, I went fastball below the knee first pitch and it hit his bat, then curveball [swinging], a fastball inside that he fouled off and then a fastball away that he check-swung and missed on. You can tell if you watch the videos. Some people texted me once they saw them.”
On the so-called ‘Harper hype’: “He’s a tough out, but when I faced him, he didn’t do anything crazy against us, so he was just another hitter. Just another guy that happens to have a lot of hype. I hear it. I met him at a couple different All-Star games and saw him getting all these awards. I see that he is one of the better players, but he hasn’t done a whole lot so far. It is early.”