Cla Meredith is growing up in San Diego. No longer the brash and not-quite-ready-for-prime-time 21-year-old who debuted auspiciously with the Red Sox in 2005, Meredith has gone on to establish himself as a reliable member of the Padres’ bullpen. The side-armer is still colorfully outspoken-Meredith has referred to pressure situations as “nut-cutting time”-but a 3.50 ERA in 80 games for the Padres last season is proof that he has matured on the mound. Meredith came west with Josh Bard in the May 2006 deal that sent Doug Mirabelli back to Boston. Meredith talked about his maturation as a pitcher when the Padres visited Pittsburgh’s PNC Park in late July.
David Laurila: How has your season gone thus far?
Cla Meredith: It’s had its up and downs. I’m always optimistic, and this is the time of year when I usually tend to really get going and get a feel for everything. Something that I can rely on now is some experience, knowing how things have gone for me in the past. I wouldn’t say that I’m tickled to death about how things have gone this year, but I’ve managed to steer the course and make the adjustments that I’ve needed to in order to stay here and be a reasonably successful major leaguer.
DL: What are you less than 100 percent pleased with? Is it primarily your consistency?
CM: Yeah, more my consistency; like being able to put a bad outing behind me. I’ve been streaky, running 10 or 12 straight without giving up much of anything and then having two or three in a row where you pitch like crap. That’s the type of thing you have to stay away from; you have to learn how to put the bad ones behind you and just move on.
DL: Has the lack of consistency been primarily with your sinker or with your other pitches?
CM: I wouldn’t say that it’s either one; it’s been more my delivery. I’ve had times where I’ve been out there and have felt like I’ve never thrown a baseball before, so it’s just a matter of slowing things down a little bit and fine-tuning the things you know that you do well as a pitcher. Obviously, if your delivery is a little off, that’s going to change everything. So I’d say that for the most part it’s been delivery, although it’s not so much arm slot as it is release point and getting to my balance point and taking everything straight downhill to home plate.
DL: What are you doing to fine-tune your delivery? I assume you’re working a lot with your pitching coach, Darren Balsey?
CM: Somewhat. Balsley is a great pitching coach, and I love him to death, but a lot of times, unless something really sticks out, it’s in your own court. He has a lot of confidence in what I’m doing out there, which is huge-you can’t ask for much more than that. He’s always telling you, “You’re okay, you’re okay.” But obviously a lot of the things I do, especially from having more of an unorthodox delivery and arm angle, I’ve had to figure out on my own. There’s nothing wrong with that, and Balsey is always there to help me out when it’s needed. He’ll point out some things that he sees that may not be normal.
DL: Are you essentially the same pitcher now that you were when you pitched in Boston?
CM: No, because those few days I pitched for Boston I didn’t know my ass from my elbow, so to speak. I was kind of like a lost sheep out there, very overwhelmed and very unlike myself. Up to that point, I would always pitch fearless and aggressive, and when I was there, for whatever reason, my nerves and emotions just took over. I pitched like a girl.
DL: Were you aware of that at the time, or did it hit you later that your emotions had gotten the best of you?
CM: I realized it after all was said and done. I knew that I hadn’t done well, but I didn’t know why. Your emotions affect a lot of your physical ability, and once I got to San Diego, I learned how to cope with the game as just a game, even though it’s on the highest level. You learn to be yourself and to do the things that got you there. That’s when I started having some success and everything came together for me, and I haven’t looked back since.
DL: With the trade deadline coming up in a few days, do you ever think back to getting dealt from Boston to San Diego?
CM: Not necessarily. The way I see it now, my career has been with the San Diego Padres. I was drafted by the Red Sox, but I only spent two years with them. Of course, I was very fortunate for everything that organization did for me. They were really good to me, from everything they told me to everything they did-the moves that they made and giving me an opportunity to play in the big leagues. I couldn’t ask for anything more from them, from Theo Epstein to Tito [Terry Francona] to Al Nipper and numerous others. From the coaches to everyone on the minor league staff, like Raquel Ferrera-make sure that you call her out for me. She was wonderful to me as a secretary, almost a mother-like figure. And, obviously, there were the players. But looking back at the trade, it didn’t take me too long too realize that, from a career standpoint, it was going to be a really good thing for me. And sure enough, I’ve been given an opportunity here in San Diego to be a part of a big-league team for the last three years, and I’ve been able to enjoy what has been a fairly fruitful career thus far.
DL: I first interviewed you and Dustin Pedroia on the same day, early in the 2005 season. How similar do you feel the two of you are, personality-wise?
CM: In certain ways I think I’ve lost my kind of hot-headed attitude. [I’m] not saying that Pedroia is hot-headed by any means; Pedroia is just very, very competitive, and you can see that when he plays. That’s one reason he is what he is, and what makes him a great player. As far as mental makeup at the time, and even still to now, I’d say that we are very similar. I think that’s one of the reasons I like Pedroia so much. I knew right off the bat that he was a gamer who was going to play hard, and he wasn’t going to take no (crap) from anybody.
CM: There are quite a few teammates I could name who would be up there as my favorites, but Hoffman is certainly one of them. It’s not about what he has taught me as a pitcher, it’s more about him being himself and the class act that he is and me observing and soaking all of that in. I was 22 when I got here, I’m 25 now, and he’s someone you can look up to. He’s a class act. Greg Maddux is the same way. He’s similar in that he’s a low-key guy who isn’t going to come up to you and say, “Okay, this is how you do this, this, and this.” They’re both just there to help you out in way that might be needed. I don’t think they have any problem with guys like me trying to pick their brain and ask them about the things that have made them so successful. They’re two grown men who have been playing this game for a long time and really go about it the right way. They’re great teammates.
DL: Your manager, Bud Black, is a former pitcher. Do you get an opportunity to talk pitching with him very often?
CM: It’s one of those things where Buddy, because he was a pitcher, is another resource you can go to for information. He’s another person where, if you are having some problems, you can talk to him and not even go to the pitching coach. You can go straight to your manager and talk to him about what it is that you are, or aren’t, doing. Of course, that can work against you too. His having been a pitcher, if you hit a rut he has a pretty darn good idea that you’re in it. Maybe sometimes you might be able to fool another manager who hasn’t been out there, but he had a great major league career and not too much slips by him. So Buddy is great, and another resource that I can go to.
DL: Any final thoughts?
CM: I’ve got a lot of memories already, like pitching to Barry Bonds, being a part of Trevor’s record-saving games, pitching in Maddux’s 350th. I mean, getting traded and being in the minor leagues at the beginning of 2006, and then pitching in playoff games at the end of the year. And there are so many things that don’t even come to mind right now that I probably won’t even realize until I’m much, much older. I try to appreciate all of this that I can, every day, but I’m also well aware that there are things that won’t hit me for a long time. But being here with the Padres, and having a chance to be a major leaguer every day, is certainly changing my life. I’m very grateful for it, and so far the game has been very good to me.