A couple weeks ago, I reached out to Mets pitcher Dillon Gee for an interview, and Dillon was kind enough to let me do an online Q&A with him. Gee had the 7th-lowest ERA in baseball from the end of May 2013 to the time at which he was placed on the DL in May 2014. The righty missed a couple months, but is now back in action and starting to round back into form. Check out what Dillon had to say!
Tommy Rothman, MetsMerized Online: How did you get started playing baseball? What made you fall in love with the game?
Dillon Gee, New York Mets: I have an older brother that played, and I just always wanted to do whatever he did. Not sure [if it was] one thing that made me fall in love, [I] just have always loved playing!!
Tommy: What’s it like to be a member of the New York Mets?
Dillon: It’s awesome. The Mets are a great organization and treat you like family. The future is bright here.
Tommy: You got off to a nice start as a Met, but in July of 2012 a season-ending, career-threatening and potentially life-threatening blood clot was discovered in your right shoulder. What were the 9 months between your diagnosis and your return to the MLB like? Baseball is obviously such a huge part of your life; how did it feel not knowing for sure whether you would ever throw another pitch? Please tell us a bit about that period in your life.
Dillon: It’s a scary feeling not knowing how you will bounce back from an injury. Especially one as weird as that was. But instead of fretting about it, I decided all I could control was my attitude about it and how hard I would work to come back strong. Everything else just happens.
Tommy: Fortunately, you were able to return to the mound for the 2013 season. However, you struggled early in the year and as the month of May drew to a close with Zack Wheeler‘s MLB debut, there was a lot of speculation about whether your spot in the rotation was secure. On May 30th, in Yankee Stadium (the last place a pitcher wants to be), you threw a gem, and since that point, there is no way around it: you have statistically been one of the very best pitchers in baseball. What do you think was responsible for the turnaround? Is there something you started doing differently? Or was it just a matter of needing some time to regain your form after the surgery?
Dillon: I think it took me a while to find myself after being out so long. That night in Yankee Stadium I was aggressive and challenged hitters with all my pitches. That’s my game, and even though I still forget that sometimes, I have maintained that for the most part during that good stretch.
Tommy: What’s your gameday routine like, when you are the starting pitcher that day? Walk us through a “#GeeDay”.
Dillon: Wake up and have some breakfast. Go walk around and get the body going for an hour or so. Then maybe take a little nap before lunch. Head to the park about 3-3:30. Try and relax and really not think about much. PB&J at 5 then start getting ready about 5:45. Head out to the bullpen at 6:35.
Tommy: Let’s talk about the Captain. David Wright may not be having an “amazing” season so far, but most hitters in baseball would still gladly take the numbers he has right now. When David is raking, his contributions are obvious. But of course, David has responsibilities other than driving in runs. What kind of impact does he have on the rest of the team, apart from his tangible production?
Dillon: David does a great job of leading by example. He shows people what it’s like to prepare like a professional.
Tommy: MLB Pitchers don’t tend to do very well at the plate. But in the National League, they make you guys hit anyway. With the exception of bunting practice, do you spend any time practicing what to do with the bat in your hands? Or do you just go out there and try to get the bat on the ball, and keep all of your focus on what you do on the mound?
Dillon: We try to take BP when we are at home the days you’re not pitching. But it’s still tough to get ready for live big league pitching. Hitting against live pitching once every five days is very hard.
Tommy: Another thing pitchers tend to have trouble with is throwing to the bases when a ball is put in play. Obviously, your career depends on your ability to throw a ball at high speeds and with a lot of movement into a very small “strike zone”, and most pitchers don’t have a problem with this. But when asked to make the more relaxed throw to a bigger target at 1st base (or any other base), pitchers often struggle. Why is that? Is it just psychological?
Dillon: I think sometimes guys are just used to throwing at 90-100% down the mound. All [of a] sudden you get a comebacker and just need to toss it, [we] ease up and arm angles change. You see the same thing with intentional base on balls. A lot is mental too. If you mess one up, then the next time, that’s what you think about.
Tommy: A lot of fans don’t understand the role of coaches in baseball. For instance, some people might wonder how Dan Warthen can give advice to a pitcher who is already at the top of his profession. Granted, Warthen was a major league pitcher for couple years, but he was no Johan Santana, or Matt Harvey, or Dillon Gee. Can you explain to us how the coaching staff works with the players and how they aid in your development?
Dillon: They have been around the game a long time and know pitching. It’s also nice to have another set of eyes on you all the time that may be able to pick up subtle changes that you might not feel or realize. They also help with scouting reports, teaching how to read swings, etc. There is a lot of knowledge they have from just being around the game for a long time.
Tommy: From a pitcher’s perspective, how has it been working with Travis d’Arnaud over the past year? People talk endlessly about his hot and cold streaks at the plate, but how is his relationship with you and the other pitchers as a battery-mate?
Dillon: Travis is great to work with. He takes his job behind the plate seriously and has done a great job learning the staff. He does a great job receiving the ball too.
Tommy: In the past, outfield defense and mobility has been a problem. But this year, with guys like Curtis Granderson, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Matt den Dekker, Chris Young, and especially Juan Lagares, the Mets have had some very athletic gloves out there patrolling the gaps. Heck, even Bobby Abreu ran into the wall to catch one a couple weeks back. How important is it for you on the mound to know those guys have your back if one of your pitches gets a bit too much of the plate? Also, does Juan have superpowers? Asking for a friend.
Dillon: I don’t think Lagares has superpowers [Editor’s note: I think Dillon was fibbing here. -Tommy] but sometimes it seems so. It is great knowing guys are out there who can all run down some fly balls.
Tommy: When a starter gives up a late home run, everybody says he was left in too long. When the reliever gives up a big hit, everybody says the starter should have been left in. But hindsight is 20-20. How does fatigue impact a starting pitcher over the course of a game? Can you feel it setting in gradually from the first pitch onward? Or do you just hit a “wall” at some point, where your body tells you you’re almost out of gas?
Dillon: You know, I think it gradually sets in, and before you know it, your release point starts to falter and you lose command. But the only way to get better at pitching [while] tired late in a game is to be out there doing it more often. You’re right though. Someone is always going to point fingers when it doesn’t work out. There is no clear-cut answer.
Tommy: You’re only 28, but after Bartolo Colon, you’re the oldest guy on the staff. When you first came up, guys like Johan Santana were presumably there to offer some guidance. Do you feel some responsibility, now, to be a mentor to guys like Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, Jacob deGrom, Rafael Montero, and the other young pitchers in the organization?
Dillon: I feel a responsibility to offer help [to those guys] if they want it. I don’t like to act like I have it all figured out, cause I don’t. We are all continuing to learn in this game.
Tommy: Coming into this season, a lot of people saw the bullpen as a question mark. However, the relievers have been one of the most pleasant surprises of the 2014 campaign. Does it help you when you’re out there on the mound to know that you don’t necessarily need to go 7 or 8?
Dillon: It’s great knowing you have a bullpen out there that can get you out of a jam. But as a starter, I always want to go as deep into the game as possible.
Tommy: You’re now a veteran who has had a good amount of recent success. So what’s the next step? What specific parts of your arsenal have you been working on, as you try to keep improving and maintain that success?
Dillon: It’s an ongoing process to just keep getting better all around. Sometimes we get into bad habits and struggle for a bit. It’s about trying to right the ship as quickly as possible, and keep the down spells few and far between. Being consistent is the goal, and that’s not always easy to do.
Tommy: What advice do you have for young athletes?
Dillon: Don’t let people tell you that you can’t do something. Dream it and believe it. I was told by many I would never pitch in the big leagues. Well those people haven’t said much lately. Find what motivates you.
Tommy: You’ve recently been working on a campaign to ‘K Cancer’. Can you just explain a bit about that to our readers?
Dillon: I was approached by the Jason Motte Foundation to help with the “K Cancer” campaign. I was able to choose the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society as a charity to receive some of the proceeds. That meant a lot to me, because that hits close to home for my family. I also think the shirts are awesome.
*End of Interview*
Thanks to Dillon for taking some time out of his busy day to answer some questions for me. Dillon will be taking the hill tonight against the A’s in Oakland.