Q&A: A.J. Minter discusses the role of closer, his back

Braves pitcher A.J. Minter met with the media at Chop Fest on Jan. 19 at SunTrust Park. In the interview, he discussed his performance during the 2018 season. The interview was edited for brevity. 

Q: What’s it feel like when you take a breath and realize how tough it is to get through a full big league season?

A: Yeah, it was really, I mean really everyone knows that was my first full season ever. I’ve always dealt with injuries in the past, and for me to finally get through a full season, it was a grind, but I’m just thankful that I was healthy and that I could get through it. I guess I learned you’re going to go through ups and down with the season. Obviously it’s a matter of fact to try and get out of those low spots quicker than others, and learn how to fight through adversity. And just not really get caught up in those bad outings because there’s going to be so much more obviously after that. Just really learning from that and moving forward. 

Q: When you look back at your sore back, have you felt it at all this offseason?

A: Nope, it’s just one of those things where I felt it … and I just felt a little muscle strain, that’s all it was. I think it was kind of just fatigue and it was late in the season, the body was breaking down a little bit. But yeah just rested this offseason and started working out and feel good now.

Q: How beneficial is it for you to think about what you learned from attacking hitters last year, or about how your stuff plays in different situations?

A: The way I think of it is, you have the best hitter in baseball is going to hit .300, that means he’s getting out seven of 10 times he’s at the plate. As long as I throw strikes and make my pitches, the chances of me getting him out are pretty good. That’s what I try to keep, try not to be too perfect, and obviously I can expand when I get two strikes and try to peg a corner. But it’s really attacking hitters right at the beginning, right out of the chute, and just getting ahead, and I don’t have to throw 100 miles an hour every single time. I don’t have to strike a batter out every single time. Getting contact, letting the defense work obviously is kind of something I hopefully shoot for this year. 

Q: How long did it take you to get the butterflies out about being a Major League Baseball closer, or does it every go away?

A: Yeah, I don’t think it ever goes away. I mean for me, no, maybe when I play hopefully 10 years, but as of right now it’s obviously a dream come true. You go out and there and those later innings, there is something special about it. It’s three outs, but it’s a hard three outs. But it’s something I wouldn’t trade for the world, and hopefully I cherish it forever. 

Q: If no other moves are made, are you comfortable with this bullpen that you guys can be formidable?

A: Yeah, I mean obviously you see stuff out there and that’s what we liked was this year in the bullpen, and yeah I wouldn’t trade this bullpen for the world. I think our chemistry, we get along so good with the guys, and I think that means a lot. People don’t really see that in the stats, but we really do get along with each other and we truly genuinely root for each other and help each other out. So it’s a good group, obviously there is room to grow, and I think we are going to come a long way this year. 

Q: When you look back at the season you had a year before, and you came up and you’re not going to expect to never walk anybody, you had so few walks, and last year that was your problem. Have you looked back at the season and been able to pinpoint something that you were doing? 

A: For a fact it was, at the beginning of this season, 2018, I was trying to pick those corners. I was trying to strike everyone out, I was trying to make that perfect pitch. And I caught myself 2-0 in a count, 3-1 in a count, behind in a count, and its hard to come back, it really is. So I remember my turning point, we were playing San Diego and it was in the middle of the year, and I was warming up about to go into the game, and I turned to Luke Jackson and I said, “I want to throw an immaculate inning right here. I feel good, I’m just going to throw strikes, I’m going to throw right down the middle.” And sure enough, I got six pitches, two strikeouts, and I got 0-2 going for the immaculate. And forget who was batting, but he fouled it off. I was one pitch away from an immaculate. And sure enough I strike him out as well, and from then on I was like, wow, all I got to do is throw it down the middle and let myself work and throw my pitches. So after that it was kind of a turning point where you know what, I’m just going to see what the hitters can do and make them prove themselves. 

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