When Collin Balester, the Montreal Expos' '04 4th Round pick, spoke to Federal Baseball last winter, the 24-year-old right-hander was already aware of the fact that the Nats were considering moving him to the bullpen since he'd struggled as a starter the previous season. At the time, Balester said, "I view myself as a starter and I think that is where I have the most value to the Nats...but that being said, if they thought that I was going to be better in the pen and I had the opportunity to help out the team at the big league level then I would be fine with that," so I thought with his recent move to, and success in, the bullpen, that was a good place to pick up the conversation again when I interviewed the Nats' reliever yesterday afternoon on the field in Nationals Park:
Federal Baseball (FB): In the interview we did last winter, you were aware of the Nats' thoughts about moving you to the bullpen, but you said you saw yourself as a starter, have you changed your opinion with the success you've had?
Collin Balester: "Right now, I went into the season kind of struggling as a starter, and they moved me to the bullpen, and at first, I was obviously a little upset about it, but since that time, about April 20th or something like that, I've kind of felt myself feeling a little comfortable in the bullpen. It kind of gave me the adrenaline rush that I needed to kick my career into shape. I'm coming out of the bullpen and I've learned a lot about pitching in the bullpen, and whether I'm going to be in the rotation down the road or still in the bullpen remains to be seen, but I think I've learned a lot about pitching being in the bullpen."
FB: You seem to be limiting yourself to fastball/curve coming out of the bullpen?
Collin Balester: "Right now I've been throwing fastball, curve ball, but on flat ground and in-between bullpen work, I work on my changeup, just in case. You never know when you're going to be a starter again, and you've got to keep that thing, you can't lose it. I've kind of been keeping that fresh, but during the game unless I'm going two, three, four innings out of the pen I'm probably going to stick to fastball, curveball."
FB: I saw a MASN interview where you said that Ron Villone was a big influence on you in Syracuse, can you elaborate on what he told you?
Collin Balester: "Ron Villone, and another guy that helped was Greg Booker, the pitching coach down there [in Triple-A Syracuse] both those guys helped me a lot just with the mindset of being in the relief role, just how to stay fresh, do things like that. Obviously Ron Villone's been playing forever it seems like, and he just told me that I have the arm to do it, but I just have to get the mental side right and that's pretty much what I've been working on the whole year and that's really what's kept me strong the whole year, if you start not pitching for a while or you have a couple of bad outings, as a reliever you have to stay strong mentally so you don't keep having those bad outings, so both of those guys helped me out on both those aspects."
FB: I'm trying to figure out a way to phrase this so as not to insult you, because that's not my intention, but when you hit the two batters in the head this year [the D-Backs' Mark Reynolds and the Brewers' Rickie Weeks] did that sort of refocus you on what you were doing on the mound?
Collin Balester: "The first one just got away from me and it was a horrible feeling, and it's one of those things where you never realized how bad you would feel when you do that, and the second time it happened I was a little more upset, I mean I was upset both times, but the second time was just like, 'Jeez, I never thought I would do this again,' and the pitch got away from me again, and it's just one of those lost feelings, you're out in the middle of the field and obviously you didn't do it on purpose, but it's just a bad feeling and it's one of those things where I was a little frazzled for a little bit after that and I talked to Reynolds about it and I talked to Weeks and once they told me that they were feeling better, it kind of made me feel a little better, but until I figure out how they're feeling it makes you feel a little shaken up."
FB: How did they take you approaching them after hitting them?
Collin Balester: "I called after the game on both of them just to make sure they were alright, and they both were like, don't worry about it, I'm fine, they were both cool about it, but obviously it's one of those things I never want to do again."
FB: You've had a great run here at the end of the season, what are you going to work on this offseason?
Collin Balester: "This offseason, I know I'm going to be a reliever pretty much next year, so I'm going to do the whole offseason being a reliever, and just keep on doing the same stuff I've been doing. A good workout plan, a lot of running and just come into Spring Training knowing that I could battle for a bullpen spot, and it's pretty exciting the way that this season has kind of unfolded, a lot of ups and downs, a lot of positive things that I've felt, and I feel like this is the best year I've had so I'm just going to build on that so..."
FB: One last question, I was able to ask a lot of guys with ties to the Expos, but you weren't here at the time when they honored Andre Dawson, but does it mean anything to you to see the Nationals honor the Montreal team that drafted you?
Collin Balester: "Yeah, definitely, I mean it's awesome, being that when we wore those Expos uniforms in 2004, was the only year I wore them, it's cool to know that they still care about them, and obviously that's our roots, that's where everyone came from and without the Montreal Expos none of us would be here, really so, I think they should do that more often...We were talking about that right?"
FB: "Yeah, an Expos Day..."
Collin Balester: "I think it's good, they should have, how teams do throwback uniforms, they should do that three or four times a year, or have that as our alternate jersey, that would be cool. I don't know, it's just something that you have to give back to the guys in the past, or we're nothing really if we don't give back to the past. So it was a good thing and I was kind of sad that I wasn't here to witness it."