In baseball, as in any sport, we all love the ‘local boy makes good story’. Former Whitecaps pitcher Duane Below could possibly fit that mold this season, as he competes for the Detroit Tigers 5th spot in the rotation, or possibly a long reliever role. The 26 year-old left hander hails from Britton, Michigan and played at Lake Michigan College.
Below was a 19th round pick of the Detroit Tigers, and played with the West Michigan Whitecaps in 2007. His 13-5 record helped his team win the Midwest League Championship that year. He sported a 2.97 ERA and 160 strike-outs in his 26 starts in West Michigan. We were lucky enough to see Duane pitch that season, as Fifth Third Ballpark would usually sell out when he was on the mound.
Last season he make two starts for the Tigers and allowed a combined five earned runs in 9 2/3 innings of work. Later he moved to the bullpen, and pitched in relief twelve times. Three of his outings he pitched two or more innings. All the best to Duane this season, as he competes for a roster spot in Detroit. He’s bounced back nicely after having to undergo Tommy John surgery in 2009.
Below recently chatted with James Schmehl of MLive.com:
Q. I heard you reported to camp way ahead of schedule. When did you arrive?
A. I came down here to get a little head start. I pulled into Lakeland on December 4. I was just enjoying the weather, the sunshine and the pool with my girlfriend.
Q. Is this your regular schedule? Do you typically come to Florida in early December?
A. The past couple of years, I’ve been down here early. Last year, I was here in January. The year before, I was hurt and I was here rehabbing , which is one of the main reasons I felt like I needed to come down here. I came back strong last year and I was ready to go. I want to be ready like that again this year.
Q. What’s the biggest difference between working out in Lakeland with the team staff, opposed to working out on your own at home?
A. You train hard at home, but when you get here it’s different. It’s more competitive. You push yourself a little harder. It’s good to be here a couple weeks early before everything starts. Before that, I would stay at home and work out with Kalamazoo Valley Community College.
Q. What in particular are you trying to focus on when you work out during the offseason?
A. I’m just trying to build strength. You can’t work out as hard during the season. There’s a point where you want to build up as much as you can and try to maintain it. I felt like being down there would the best opportunity. The strength staff put a couple of workouts together for me. Monday and Thursday, I would focus on my lower body and I’d work on upper body strength Tuesday and Friday. Wednesday was core conditioning and long-distance running.
Q. Were you looking to add weight? I know a lot of pitchers tend to lose it as the season progresses.
A. Nah, I didn’t add any weight. I’m the same weight–right around 220-225 pounds, but I feel good. I feel strong.
Q. You’re one of a few pitchers on the team what have undergone Tommy John surgery. Was there ever a point where you considered packing it up?
A. Nah, I never thought about it. I love this game too much to just throw it away on an injury. I’m going to fight as hard as I can to be in the position I want to be in. And, right now, this si the position I want. I want to be on the team, even if it’s in the bullpen or the rotation. You can’t quit on this. There’s too much I have involved.
Q. How are you handling this spring? You’re a candidate for the No. 5 spot, but you’re also a candidate for the bullpen. Does that change how you approach this camp?
A. I’m trying to go about my business the same way I always do. I’m just trying to make the team. Basically, I’m just trying to make sure I’m ready for the season. If I’m in Toledo or Detroit, I want to make sure I’m ready. I can’t control where I am, so I’m not going to try and wreck what I’m working on.
Q. Speaking of which, what in particular are you looking to improve this spring? I know a lot of pitchers say consistency is the key–does that apply to you, too?
A. Yeah, I’m really looking to better locate my fastball. My curveball, too. I need it to be a better pitch. Basically, I need to rely on my changeup and curveball more often and keep guys off-balance. But, like you mentioned, I need to be consistent with every pitch I have and be confident enough to throw it in any count. It’s a learning process, just like anything.
Q. Are you able to enjoy your time in Florida? Your name has been mentioned non-stop as a candidate for that fifth spot. Does it start to get to you?
A. Eh, not so much right now. It’s not really nerve-wracking. I’m sure it’s going to get crazy around here soon, but it’s going to be fun. I mean, how can you not enjoy it? You’re in Florida. You’re in the sun. It’s been a dream come true.
Looks like he’s got a great attitude, and I’m hoping he’s in a Tigers uniform come April. It’s so much fun watching these guys move up through the system!
Photo property of M.I.B.