The 2013 season is not going to be necessarily a bright one for the Miami Marlins and their fans, but that is not likely to stop some of the team's players from performing at their very best in this upcoming season. One of those players is reliever and team closer Steve Cishek, who is getting a chance not only to close for most of the 2013 campaign but also to represent his nation in the upcoming World Baseball Classic. Cishek is one of 28 players representing the United States in the World Baseball Classic.
The Classic starts on March 2 with the first round games in Fukuoka and Taichung. But the big games for Marlins fans and fans of Steve CIshek will start on March 7, as Cishek and company will begin their first round games in Pool D in Phoenix, Arizona.
Cishek took the time to sit down and speak to me for about ten minutes regarding the World Baseball Classic, this upcoming 2013 season, and a little about his own play. The following is a transcript of what he said, with apologies to Steve and his representatives for anything that was lost in the garble that is my phone. I did my best to transcribe as much of what Steve said as possible.
Michael Jong: How does it feel to represent the United States in the World Baseball Classic?
Steve Cishek: It's something I've always wanted to do is play for my country. I really just can't wait to get started and see our names on the backs of these jerseys
MJ: Has manager Joe Torre spoken with you about how you will be used out of the bullpen?
SC: No, we don't know anything about our roles. We had a short meeting with Maddux on the phone just to let us know how everything is set up. That's pretty much it.
MJ: There are a lot of good relievers in the US roster. You're obviously used to being in the closer's role now in Miami. How do you think you will transition to whatever role they ask you to play?
SC: That's never been an issue for me, to step into any relief pitching role. I was only closing towards the end of last year, so I know how to be a long relief pitcher or a setup guy. I've experienced it all so far, so I'll be ready for anything they want me to do.
MJ: Being a player relatively new to the majors compared to some of the others, is there a veteran on the roster whose brain you'd like to pick?
SC: I can pretty much ask anyone on the team, I think, especially [pitching coach Greg Maddux] from a pitching standpoint. I just can't wait to be around those guys and to learn, hear some stories about how they got success in the league.
MJ: Is there a particular guy on the team or the coaching staff who you look up to or would like to model your career after?
SC: Well, Maddux, for one. He's a Hall of Fame pitcher, I watched him when I was young. We share a common interest in our jersey number, so I look up to him big time. Growing up as a Red Sox fan, Torre was our enemy, but obviously he is an unbelievable manager, I think, and I respect him despite being a Red Sox fan, believe it or not.
In terms of players, the team is not really that old, if that's what you're suggesting. Heath Bell, I got to play with him last year, I'm looking forward to seeing him. Our outfield is going to be pretty exciting to watch. I played against Braun and Victorino a couple times, so just watching them play is pretty exciting, and I'm just excited to be around these types of players.
MJ: How good, in your opinion, is the 2013 USA team? Where are you guys strong and where do you think you could use a little help?
SC: I think we're strong in all areas. These are the best American players in Major League Baseball. In fact, if you're in Major League Baseball, you're a pretty darn good player, so I don't see where we're lacking in any part of the roster.
MJ: So you think you guys have a very good chance of winning this year?
SC: Of course, it would be disappointing not to think that. If any team out there doesn't think that, then they don't belong in the WBC.
MJ: How different will March be for you with Team USA this season versus your previous spring trainings with the Marlins? Does your approach differ?
SC: Nope, I mean, I came into spring training just as prepared as I normally am for the couple of years past. I just try to come in and make sure I am 100 percent ready to go by Day 1. I like to go in and work into that type of shape, and start fine-tuning some pitches. I'm good enough to start fine-tuning pitches I think. Once I go down to Arizona, that shouldn't be an issue.
MJ: Have you gotten a chance to speak with new Marlins manager Mike Redmond, and what are your thoughts on him?
SC: Yeah, we've gotten to talk a little bit. He's awesome, I mean, from what I understand, from everyone that has played with him or against him, no matter what, they all have something nice to say about him. I'm very excited to get the season started with him.
MJ: Obviously the Marlins were big in the news this offseason, with the trades and the moves. How have the Marlins' moves this offseason changed your approach to 2013?
SC: It hasn't really changed it at all. I still come into spring training as prepared to play a full season. We have a young squad this year, and yeah, it's a little bit different from last season, but it provides amazing opportunities for everyone.
MJ: Fish Stripes is something of a stat-oriented site, so let's switch over to talking about your stats. Your strikeouts and walks were good versus lefties last season, but you also allowed a lot of hits against left-handers. You came up in the minors as something of a fastball-slider guy. How have you improved your work versus lefties from when you were in the minors?
SC: I've worked on my changeup this offseason, I've been throwing a ton of them. I'm trying to get that third pitch down so that I can have a tool against lefties. Lefties killed me last year when I fell behind, and to add to that a guy who was only throwing fastballs. When I had success versus lefties, I have to always remember to throw more of my sliders, although we've been trying to work at it, throw more off-speed pitches. Last year, I got some of the guys, like against Melky Cabrera, I got a slider past him on a fifth pitch. Just changing my approach a little bit this year, just basically focusing on getting ahead and utilizing my offspeed pitches more.
MJ: Do you keep track of your stats?
SC: Nope. I do not, don't ever look at my stats during the season. I look at them a bit after the season, but I never want to see them during the season.
MJ: Is that a sort of "don't want to jinx yourself" sort of deal?
SC: No, I'm not superstitious either. I just think if you pay attention too much to stats, you'll get in your head, like you have to try harder, instead of just pitching. I've got a short-term memory, if something goes wrong, "oh, guess I'll get it better next time." I don't need to look at my numbers to realize I had a bad outing, so I really just want to forget about it and move on.
MJ: So when you look at your stats at the end of the year, do you have a stat that you find most important for relievers such as yourself?
SC: Yeah, I guess, for me it's ERA and wins-losses, I hate to lose. Obviously, strikeouts and walks are important, you don't want to walk a lot of guys. Especially this year, I'm pitching late in the game, walks are crucial, so obviously I pay attention to that a little more. But as long as my ERA is down and I have more wins than losses, that's always a plus in my book.
MJ: What should fans be watching for with the Marlins and with you in 2013?
SC: That's a good question. Obviously, in my opinion, [Giancarlo Stanton], everyone knows about him, so it is not just "watching out" for him so much as "watching" him. He can put a ball through the glass window out back [in Marlins Park]. He's just very exciting to watch, so watch him. And for me, I'm going to go out there, good or bad, I'm giving it my all, glory to God. That's mainly what I focus on, and God is my passion.
I want to thank Steve Cishek and his representatives for the opportunity to sit down and talk to him. Make sure to catch as much of Steve Cishek and the rest of Team USA in the World Baseball Classic starting on March 2. And remember, World Baseball Classic games are also coming to Miami at Marlins Park for the second round on March 12 through 16. Those games are going to decide which teams get to compete in the championship round, so every game and every pitch counts. For our boys in the red, white, and blue, including Cishek and Giancarlo Stanton, good luck and make us proud against baseball's best from around the world!