You might see Jason Hirsh pitch in tomorrow’s spring opener. He was once ranked among the top pitching prospects in baseball and had a 2.10 ERA in the hitter friendly Pacific Coast League in 2006. He was traded to Colorado that winter, but his big league career was almost immediately knocked off course by a series of injuries. The Yankees acquired him late last year and the 28-year-old had a 1.35 ERA in six starts for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
How does everything feel compared to how it felt the past two or three years?
Hirsh: I’m healthy and I kind of feel like my old self. When I came over to this organization last year, in July, I started to feel like my old self again. I started pitching like my old self again. This offseason, I did a little bit different training routine. I only took two weeks off of throwing and then I played catch three days a week just to keep on throwing because my arm felt so good at the end of the season, I didn’t want to lose that feeling. Then I did a less traditional workout, more of a functionality workout. We didn’t lift as many heavy weights. We did a lot of body weight stuff, did a month of yoga. Back in California I did long toss, and my arm feels right now better than it’s ever been. Mentally and physically I feel like I’m back to where I should be.
You say back to your old self, what do you do when you’re pitching like your old self?
Hirsh: When I’m healthy, I throw strikes. I eat up innings. I compete. I’m going to go out there and give you my best. When I’m at my best, I’m a sinker-slider kind of guy. Changeup, since I’ve been hurt my changeup has developed quite well, and then when I got traded over here, they wanted me to start throwing my curveball again and that’s starting to come around. Right now I feel like I have three real quality pitches and one that’s borderline, almost right there. I just haven’t been throwing (the curveball) that much. Some days it’s an A+ pitch and some days it’s a D pitch. I’m still trying to get the feel for that.
After your Double-A season and your Triple-A season, you were right there, ready for the big leagues. Then all of the injuries happened. How frustrating was that?
Hirsh: Up until that point, I had never rolled an ankle, broke a bone or had an arm injury my entire life, from childhood right up until then. And I managed to roll an ankle, break a leg and strain my rotator cuff all in a two-year period. It’s just something unusual for me. I don’t know what contributed to it, whether it was bad luck, bad karma, whatever it was. Now that I’m past that, I feel good. I’m taking care of myself, taking the necessary steps to avoid that again.
Did all of the injuries happen in Houston or Colorado?
Hirsh: Colorado. I got traded in the winter of ’06 to the Rockies and in ’07 is when the injuries started piling up. I rolled my ankle in July, and then I missed a month. I made one start in Florida and then my next start was in Colorado against Milwaukee and I broke my leg. Pitched six innings with a broken leg, and then I missed the rest of the year. J.J. Hardy hit a nice little line drive right off his bat and right off my leg.
You came to this organization with bad numbers in Colorado Springs, but pitched well for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. What changed?
Hirsh: (The numbers) were terrible. I think for me, mentally, it was more of a clean slate. The Yankees had no idea who I was or what I did. They had no preconceived notions of anything, and I was the same way with them. It was almost like I get to impress again. At the time that I was traded, I was just starting to feel healthy again. When I got to Scranton, my slider came back around. My changeup was alright. I was able to locate my fastball in and out. Everything just fell into place, and that’s why I didn’t want to take that much time off in the offseason. I didn’t want to stop with that good feeling.