The Phillies newest pitcher, RJ Swindle, was called up twice by the big league team in the past week. His first big league stint lasted all of two days -- once Clay Condrey was available again, RJ was sent back to AAA so JA Happ could start Friday night. But, with Tom Gordon going on the DL Sunday, the Phils called up RJ again. And, as luck would have it, on Monday, RJ's 25th birthday, he made his big league debut.
Of course, at first it didn't go as planned, as RJ really struggled in his first inning, giving up 2 runs, 4 hits, and 1 walk. But, he settled in for the next two innings, facing 6 batters and retiring them in order.
RJ was kind enough to do an interview with me about a month ago when he first popped onto The Good Phight radar as a result of his eye-popping minor league stats and bizarre history of being released by the Red Sox and Yankees despite outstanding minor league performance. Now that he's a big leaguer, I didn't know if he'd have the time to do another interview, but I thought it worth a shot to ask. And RJ once again generously came through, talking with me about his big league debut. As with the previous interview, I think you'll enjoy reading about RJ's night against the Mets:
TGP: Congratulations on making it to the big leagues. Quite a birthday present. How’d you feel yesterday on the mound making your big league debut on your birthday?
RJ: Last night (Monday) was awesome, definitely a birthday I will never forget. I knew I would probably be pitching, but never expected to go 3 innings or get an at bat let last night let alone ever actually be in the big leagues, so it was that much more special. I was a little disappointed my wife, parents, and sister couldn’t get there last night, but did have my aunt and uncle and cousins there so that was nice.
TGP: The first batter (David Wright’s full-count home run) was obviously not how you envisioned your big league debut. Was it jitters? Or just what happens sometimes when anyone faces a perennial MVP-candidate? A mistake in how you pitched him? Or something else?
RJ: Man facing David Wright first . . . I didn’t expect to come in and face 3 righties first, that’s for sure. But then I just thought, well I’m getting to pitch in the big leagues now, might as well try to get out the best. Unfortunately it didn’t exactly go as I had envisioned it a million times. I had some jitters for sure, but looking back on it, I didn’t throw the right pitch there I think and not to mention I hung it right over the plate for him.
TGP: But then you got Wright on three pitches to end the next inning. What was the difference in the two at-bats?
RJ: I am glad I got to face him again. I just went right after him – fastball away, fastball in, and then a backdoor slider he gave up on so I was pumped to get him the next time. I would say I just learned from the last at bat. I had him 2 strikes quick the first time, and he wasn’t really close to the pitches. I just hung hum the curve at 3-2.
TGP: Your fastball consistently stayed right at the bottom of the strikezone and last night’s umpire was calling the low strike. Is that normal for you? If you get a tough umpire not calling the low strike is that trouble?
RJ: I usually live at the bottom of the zone. If I don’t, I usually get in trouble out there. And yes it does affect me sometimes if the umpire is not giving me the corners or low strikes like last night, because I don’t have the overpowering stuff to be able to get away with it if I don’t get the calls.
TGP: ESPN.com says you had one ground ball hit off of you last night, but I don’t think I’d even say that. (I’m assuming they’re characterizing Pedro Martinez’s hit as a ground ball, but it was more a liner, if I remember correctly.) So that’s either just 1 or 0 ground balls in 13 batters. Is that also normal for you?
RJ: Pedro’s hit ticked me off the most out of any of the hits last night since I had him and I should have come inside instead of serving him one over the outside corner. But yes, I don’t get many groundballs. I know as a pitcher, a lot of us are measured by that, but I have never gotten many groundballs because I am more of a slider/curve pitcher than sinker/changeup. It has worked out for me so far because I don’t give up many longballs. I usually get them out in front popping up.
TGP: What was the difference from the first inning to the next two?
RJ: I was pretty nervous in the first inning, and I wasn’t able to put them away with 2 strikes. I think I had 2 strikes on every hitter and ahead of most of them, but I was struggling with getting that out. After the first inning, I just settled down and started throwing more changeups. I got settled in and pitched my game.
TGP: Obviously, you’re being talked about as a lefty specialist, as you got all 4 lefties out last night. But, you also retired several righties in your two 3-up, 3-down innings. What does it take for you to get righties out consistently as well as lefties?
RJ: I am very confident against lefties. That is kind of my forte. But I know I can get righties out too, since I was a starting pitcher most of my life. To get righties out more consistently I just need to stay ahead and keep them in my count. It’s all about pitch selection for me.
TGP: What’d you think of the fans at Citizens Bank Park? On TV, it seemed the fans were enjoying watching your 55-mph fastball. Did you get that sense?
RJ: The fans were great. I struggled in that first inning, but everyone seemed behind me and it seemed they got behind me in the next 2 innings. I definitely heard the cheering everytime I threw the curveball, so I think they did enjoy the pitch.
TGP: What kind of reaction did you get from the other players (Mets or Phillies) with your mix of stuff?
RJ: I know a lot of the guys have already told me they love the curveball. They all liked what they saw, I think. They thought it was pretty funny when I was warming up when I threw my curveball and then my fastball and it just about whizzed right by our catcher’s head because of the speed difference.
TGP: In our last interview you mentioned you threw five pitches. Did you throw them all last night?
RJ: I did throw all of my pitches last night, but I didn’t throw any changeups in the first inning which I think did affect me a little bit. I started throwing that more in the next 2 innings and was able to get Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran with it.
TGP: What’d you learn going forward from last night’s game?
RJ: Every level is a new learning experience. I obviously had to learn really quick because it couldn’t have started any worse. It’s hard. The hitters definitely know what they are doing out there, but once I got settled in and got out of that first inning I just took a deep breath and pitched my game. If you hit your spots and work the count, it is the same as any other level or game – you can get them out.
TGP: On a different note, congratulations on making the Canadian Olympic team. I’m assuming this is a no-brainer, but I take it you’ll happily miss the Olympics to be with the Phillies next month?
RJ: Thank you about the Olympics. Yeah I was/am pretty excited about it. I know the Phillies gave the OK to go a couple of weeks ago, but that was before they called me up, so I think things have probably changed now. I would love to go represent Canada in the Olympics, but obviously would do anything to be able to be up helping the Phillies the rest of the season, so we will see what happens!
TGP: Thanks RJ! I appreciate your taking time to do this again, and I know Phillies fans who read this will really enjoy it. Good luck!
RJ: Thanks again for everything. I hope I didn’t babble too much. It was and has been such an awesome experience and dream come true this week!!!