Q&A with Neal Musser

8-3 with 3.46 ERA in 2004

Once regarded as a top prospect, Neal Musser was the Mets first round draft pick in 1999 and the Mets were expecting great things from him. Musser had a 7-1 record his last season for Benton Central High in Oxford, Ind. with104 strikeouts in 58 innings. Unfortunately for Musser and the Mets, a series of injuries had slowed his progress. Musser seems to have finally recovered from all his misfortunes and 2004 is turning out to be his best season. He sat down for a Q&A with NYfansonly.com.

In the month of May, he was 3-0 with a 1.80 ERA. On Wednesday Musser was selected to his second All-Star game in a row. Blake McGinley, Dave Bacani, Angel Pagan, and Justin Huber were also selected to the mid-summer classic.

On Tuesday, Neal Musser got his team leading eighth win. It is the first time he has ever got eight wins for one team in one year. The B-Mets scored 7 runs in the first two innings and ended their five game slide. Musser did not have his best game as he struggled with his command walking six and hitting one batter. Despite this he allowed just three earned runs and the B-Mets were able to cruise to a 7-3 victory. I had the chance to sit down with Neal before Wednesday's game.

NYF: I've heard that you are the worst casino player in the clubhouse.

Musser: Probably. There is a good chance that is true.

NYF: You were drafted out of High School. How close were you to going to college?

Musser: Not very close. I always planned to go pro.

NYF: Did you get a lot of offers from colleges?

Musser: Yeah, quite a few. I figured that it was better to go straight to the pros and learn from some of the best coaches rather than go to college and risk injury.

NYF: Is there any one particular pitching coach that you've had who has really made a difference in your life?

Musser: I try and take a little something from everybody. All the coaches have something to give you. I mean they've all been there and done it a lot more in their career than we have.

NYF: Have you had any trouble adjusting to different pitching coaches?

Musser: Nah, you just got to pick and choose what you take. They'll give you all the information you could want and you just take what works for you.

NYF: You've had a lot of injuries. Is there any reason why? Were you working out too hard or not enough, or was it just bad luck?

Musser: I think there was some bad luck but also when I got out of High School I weighed 185 pounds. Then I gained twenty pounds in my first year as a pro.

NYF: What exactly did you injure?

Musser: I had a stress fracture in my left foot. I had tendonitis in my pitching elbow. Last season I hurt my back which kept me out for three weeks.

NYF: You've had a lot more groundball outs this year than fly ball outs. Have you always been a ground ball pitcher?

Musser: No, In High School I was a power pitcher. Now, I feel like I can strike a lot more guys out than when I first came up. Of course, hitters get better as you move up and you have to work on locating your fastball better and I've been working on throwing my sinker down and away which has made me a groundball pitcher.

NYF: What's the one part of your game that has most improved since you have been drafted?

Musser: The command of all my pitches.

NYF: How telling are stats? What stats do you pay attention to?

Musser: A few stats. Like my K:BB ratio is very important to me and ERA matters a little bit but I don't think wins and losses tell the whole story. This is a great team and we score a lot of runs and if I were on a last place team a lot of the games where I battled through five innings but left with a healthy lead, those wins would have been losses.

NYF: Are you satisfied with your K:BB ratio?

Musser: No! Not at all. It's nowhere close to where I want it to be. I've got a lot more walks than I want. It's something I'm trying to work on. That's why we are all down here in the minors. I'm trying to sharpen up my offspeed pitches and cut down on my walks.

NYF: Is there a certain pitch that you have a lot of trouble commanding?

Musser: Right now I'm having a little trouble with my fastball command but I know it will come back.

NYF: How does a pitcher work on improving his control?

Musser: Repetition. I go in the bullpen. St the catcher's glove up so that its at the corner of the plate and then just hit the glove over and over.

NYF: Are you able to take that out with you in a real game situation?

Musser: I'd like to say yes but some nights it just doesn't happen that way. You have to go back and start from scratch.

NYF: Your ERA at NYSEG stadium is 5.83 and on the road it's 1.83. Opponents are hitting .307 off of you at home and .239 on the road. Is there something wrong with the mound here?

Musser: Last year it was totally opposite. I was terrible on the road and good at home. It's just one of those things.

NYF: You went on a streak where you pitched 6 games allowing just 7 earned runs. Were your mechanics different, or was it something you were doing or was their just something in the water?

Musser: I was just feeling good and I was locked into what I wanted to do. Sometimes you get into a rhythm.

NYF: Did you become superstitious at all. Did you stop having sex for a month like in Bull Durham?

Musser: No, no, no, never had that problem. It's all in your head. Sometimes something just clicks and you can pitch really well for a really long time.

NYF: I think your best pitch is your curveball that seems to drop right out of the strike zone. How important is it to have a guy like Huber behind the plate who is so good at blocking balls in the dirt?

Musser: It's great! It gives you a lot of confidence to throw that pitch even when there is a guy on third base. Even when the other team has a guy in scoring position you know you can still throw your best curveball and its going to get stopped.

NYF: When you're staked to a big lead like you were last night does your game plan change at all? Do you throw more fastballs?

Musser: Well you try and get ahead of the hitters and obviously I didn't do that too well last night. Anytime you have a lead, you want to get the hitter to put it in play, let your defense help you, and speed up the game a little bit.

NYF: When you lose guys like Wright and Redman, the heart of the offense, does it put any pressure on the starting pitching to perform better and cope for some of the lost offense?

Musser: As you can see after they left we kept winning and we kept scoring runs so it was really not that big a deal. We just got to go out their and play our game. A starting pitcher's job is just to keep his team in it and give the team a chance to win.

NYF: What do you do if after the first inning you realize you don't have your best stuff?

Musser: You just battle and throw what ever you have.

NYF: So you don't ever say ‘to hell with the curveball tonight'?

Musser: Well sometimes, if it's not working you're obviously not going to use it as much. There are situations where you have to throw it just to keep the hitters off balance. So you still have to use it but maybe not as much as you otherwise would.

NYF: Tuesday night, after the fourth inning, when you were walking back to the dugout I noticed you held up one finger. Were you asking for one more inning?

Musser: Yeah.

NYF: Did it take a lot of convincing?

Musser: Nah, OB was already planning on leaving me in.

NYF: Are you satisfied with a game like Tuesday night's?

Musser: It definitely wasn't my best night. I wasn't happy with the way I pitched. I was glad I got a win but it was definitely one of those games where you're like ‘I'll take it. I don't deserve it but I'll take it.' In five days I'll go again and hopefully do a better job.

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