Early in August I had the opportunity to speak with Beloit starting pitcher Dennis Sarfate (http://www.brewerfan.net/ViewPlayerProfile.do?playerId=121). After elbow surgery last year, Dennis started off the 2003 season a bit under the radar. However, this year has turned into a breakout year of sorts, with Dennis becoming one of the leaders of a very talented staff that has helped Beloit to a 34-17 second half through August 13. His 10 wins are currently second on the staff, while he leads all pitchers with 128 strikeouts in just 123.2 innings. Dennis talks about the work that minor leaguers put in behind the scenes, his season to date and his expectations for the future.
Brewerfan.net: Have you ever heard of Brewerfan.net?
Dennis Sarfate: Yeah, I heard of brewerfan. First time I heard about it was when I moved in with Manny Parra and he was on it and he was like, "Have you ever seen this?" And I was like "What is it?" "It's Brewerfan. It's about the Brewers and the whole organization." After I looked at it, I started going on there regularly to check out to see how everyone else was doing.
BF: So have you been following your progress on the Power 50?
DS: I looked at it earlier and I wasn't even on it and I was like "WOW, I better get on this thing." And then I got on it; Manny told me one day, "Hey you finally made it." And I'll check it every once in awhile, but right now, during the season, I'll just stay out of that. Keep my head on, not worry about anything else.
BF: So you don't know where you are right now?
BF: You're number thirty.
BF: I think before this year, not many Brewer fans knew much about you, so could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
DS: I got out of high school and got drafted by the Rangers. Turned that down because I was going to ASU - Arizona State.
Went to Arizona State. For my first year I threw a little bit. Didn't really get as much in it as I thought I would. So the next year, going into that season, I thought if I'm not going to pitch much, or if I don't feel good about my stay at ASU, I was going to leave. And I decided to leave in the fall of 2000.
I transferred over to a JC near home (Chandler-Gilbert). Played there for half that semester.
Got drafted by the Brewers in the ninth round, then signed and went to Ogden my first year. Had a little elbow problem, then played at the end of the season for about two weeks. Then came to spring training the next year and blew out my elbow and that was when I had surgery. Missed all of last year. Then this is my first full season right now.
BF: You're from Arizona originally?
BF: And in the past few years, the Brewers have drafted Mike Jones, JJ Hardy, and Tom Wilhemsen, among other people. How much do you think that the talent level in high school helped you develop as a player?
DS: High school level in Arizona - it's up there. I mean I played against the guys like Corey Meyers, who was fourth-pick overall of the Diamondbacks (in 1999). I mean my senior year; there was one guy in every high school that threw low 90's or high 80's. The level of competition is so high in Arizona because you can play year round. You don't have the going indoor and playing through the snow. You can play year round; great weather and you always have repetition and repetition in practice. I think that prepared me a lot. Moving from New York to Arizona. I experienced that in New York. We always played indoors with mock balls. Then I got to Arizona, you play year round and I was like WOW. That's when I really started loving it. I was out there everyday playing catch or hitting.
BF: So being that you have played in New York, coming to Beloit this spring wasn't quite as much a shock as other players might have experienced?
DS: Yeah, it wasn't that bad, but it still got me a little bit because I was in Arizona for ten years. So when I got here, I was like, WOW, this is cold. Then it finally started growing on me. It didn't bother me after awhile. Coming from 110 to 115 degrees all of last year to 40 below or whatever it was, I was feeling pretty cold.
BF: But you probably never got snowed out when you had a game in Arizona?
DS: No. We got rained out a couple of times, but never snowed out.
BF: What sort of a pitcher were you in high school?
DS: Power pitcher. I just threw fastballs. I didn't really have an off speed pitch. My advice to a kid that is in high school, if you've got a good fastball, just use it. I probably threw two curveballs a game. I just threw fastballs left and right.
BF: So what round were you drafted in out of high school?
DS: Fifteenth. That was with the Rangers. I was thinking if I had signed that year, where would I be right now? I'm glad I'm with the Brewers. I like the organization. Hopefully, I'll be in the big leagues in a couple of years.
BF: Could you talk a little bit about your experience at Chandler-Gilbert?
DS: Yeah. When I went over there, I knew the coach, Doyle Wilson, real well and he's a brother of a scout for the Brewers. And I talked to him and it sounded like it was going to be a good program. They didn't have a baseball team and they just got it (my year there). It was going to be new for everyone. I wanted to go into something like that. Help them win. Then just go to play a place like Central Arizona that won the Junior College National Championship. Going there, playing against all those other schools. Chandler-Gilbert was great.
Doyle knows what he's talking about. He let us do what we had to do. We practiced from two-to-three hours a day and then play our games. We won 35 games our first year at the new school and we went to the playoffs and all that. People didn't expect us to do that. Then we did. Playing at Chandler-Gilbert kinda keeps you humble. A lot of guys want to go to ASU just to say they went to ASU. I played there and it's not all it's cracked up to be.
BF: Did the Brewer family presence at the school make it like a mini-Brewers scouting camp?
DS: Yeah. They got a lot of guys that year, I must admit. They got Travis Hinton in the thirteenth round and Steve Hunt later on. So it was like we were all going to the Brewers. It was like a Brewer school. It was great.
I love Ric Wilson. He was a scout there and I'm glad I got to have some guys from that team come play with me now. At least I knew someone. It was kind of funny at first because I knew I was going to get drafted by the Brewers as soon as I got there. I got pretty good connections here and I figured that's where I was going.
BF: What sort of pitches do you throw right now?
DS: Mainly my fastball. I'll use that a lot. This year I started working with a curveball. Our pitching coach, Rich Sauveur, showed me how to throw a curveball. I really had no idea how to throw one. I had never really thrown one. It was always a fastball. I was a closer so I never really knew about the starting. So I finally started getting the curveball. That started helping me out now. And then my change-up has gone from being an average pitch to an above average pitch for me. I'll use a 3-0, 3-1, 2-0, whenever I get to use it on a fastball count. That's it - fastball, curveball, change-up.
BF: How tough was the adjustment going from a closer to a starter?
DS: At first it was kind of tough because I was going out there in the first inning throwing as hard as I could, trying to get through it and I realized I had to throw 4 or 5 more innings. I was like, WOW that's kind of tough. But once my pitch count got up there and I was able to go five, six innings, now it's easy. I think I could go back to being a closer just that fast. But I like starting right now.
BF: What sort of philosophy do you bring to the mound?
DS: I try to keep all the thinking out of it. Once I get on the mound in the game, it's a whole new story. There's no thinking about what are you going to do. I just take every hitter one at a time, one pitch at a time. If I make a mistake and a guy gets his hit, I just wash it out and go to the next hitter. You can't let too much thinking be going on up on the mound. A lot of guys start thinking about it too much. I just go up there with a clear head, hope I keep hitting my spots, throwing my pitches as strikes. That's really it.
BF: So the scouting reports last about one pitch and then you kind of...?
DS: Even when I do a chart in the stands and I'm pitching the next day, I probably don't even watch what they do. I'll notice one little thing like he steps in the bucket or he chases a high fastball, or can't hit a curveball or that stuff. But I never really sat there and scouted a lot of hitters. I just go in there and try to overpower everyone.
BF: Could you just walk us through a five-day period for you, with the first day being the day after you start up through a start?
DS: Day after I start, I run half an hour either outside on the field or I go to the gym. Then I get a nice leg workout in, do all my lifting that day. Come to the field and do the bucket. I don't throw that next day after I start. I just give my arm that day of rest.
The next days after that I throw bullpen, run eight poles after that, and then do my rotator cuff. Then I'll lift my upper body.
The third day is the core day. I'll do like a ten, fifteen minute run. Then I'll do abs. Then my core work. Then that will be a day I just throw long toss.
The last day, the day before I pitch, I'll run 15 sprints real light to get my legs a little loose. Then I throw real short, maybe 5 minutes, and then that's it. I just wait til the next day to start.
The day of the start, I try not to eat too much. I don't like the way I feel if I'm all full. I did it once, and didn't have a good game. So I never did it again and that was back in high school. The night before, I'll probably eat a good meal like a good pasta meal or something like that. Sometimes, I'll get Italian Pasta or something like that. The day I start, I'll have breakfast- (unless) it's an early game, like on Sunday, I don't eat at all. I might have a piece of toast or something like that. But if it's a night game, I'll have breakfast and then after 12:00 I don't eat. Then I just play video games, hang out, and try not to think of the game. Then once I get here, I'll just get prepared and concentrate what I'm going to do. I've got to think in my head, throw strikes - get mentally ready. Then I'll just go out their about half hour, forty-five minutes before the game time, stretch, do a little jogging, starting throwing, get ready to go.
BF: What are your thoughts on pitch counts?
DS: Pitch counts, ugh. Sometimes this year, I hated them because I wanted to go a complete game or go another inning or so, but I think they are good. They save your arm a lot. You're not always out there throwing 100-120 pitches a game. You can't do that. You've only go so many bullets left in your arm. Look at the Florida Marlins, how they throw their guys and all those guys are getting hurt cause of the (high) pitch counts. I'm a fan of it; I just think that it should be according to that pitcher. I can throw a lot. In college, at Chandler-Gilbert, I was throwing 130-140 pitches a game and nine innings. So I got stronger as I went. So I would like to throw more but I think right now, since they are paying me, they can do whatever they want.
BF: For those of us who don't have the talent to play baseball at this level, a lot of us would love to trade places with you. Do you think the average fan understands how much work you put into the games? You know they only see you for two or three hours.
DS: Yeah. I have mixed feelings about that one. I think a lot of fans think it's the easy life. You go out here, play a game, and then go home. It's really not all that easy. We're here some days for eleven hours, constantly running and working out. You've got to train the whole off-season. A lot of kids in the minor league, they didn't get a big signing bonus, so you've got guys working the whole off-season, then go straight from work to work out, then get ready. Then spring training comes and you're waking up at 6 in the morning, playing all day til about five in the afternoon. Then you're traveling on the bus in minor leagues and the places you go. You're always eating fast food, you're never home. I wouldn't trade out of this. I love playing, don't get me wrong, but I think a lot of fans take us for granted. They don't think it's as hard as it looks, but it really is. It's tough.
BF: Given all the hard work you put in, how satisfying was it to be recognized for it and be selected to the Mid-West All-Star team?
DS: I was real happy I got selected. I thought I worked hard in the first half of the season. I started off kind of slow, but I got better. I got hot as I went along. Then after the All-Star break, I had a little trouble for like 2 or 3 starts. Then I got hot again.
It was a real honor to get selected and I'm glad I could represent the Brewers in the All-Star game. I wish I would have got to throw, but they wouldn't let me because I started the last game before the break. It was a real honor. I've had a great time. They treated us well there. They treated us like real all-stars like in the big leagues. I'm sure those games are a lot better. But I had a great time. I wish my family could have come but they were too busy, but it was a good time.
BF: After a little bit of a slow start for you guys, you've been pretty hot lately. You're 28-and-14 after last night in the second half. How much have you learned from being on a team that is contending for a title?
DS: The first I've been on a team contending for a title, we won the PAC-10 Championship, my first year at ASU, so that kind of baseball prepared me out for this.
I didn't expect the minor leagues to be all about winning. I thought it was all about getting the person ready for the next level. We started off slow and now our lineup is ridiculous. Everyday I go to a game I think we should win. I don't think we should lose another game because of the pitching we've got and the hitting we've got. And you can just tell that everyone is so much different now that we're winning the attitude is different. Everyone is up and ready to play and they want to win. And when we lose, we feel that we lost a game we should never have lost. But even the games we're losing now are one run games or close games that we might have done something wrong that might have hurt us. Playing with this team now as we're winning, it shows me a lot that minor league baseball is not all making yourself prepared, it's also about winning. You want to win at the level you're at.
BF: This is your third year in the organization now. Do you consider yourself one of the leaders of the pitching staff?
DS: Yeah. I mean, being the oldest of the starters, I try to help out everyone else. I've been around for 3 years, but even though I missed all of last year and a lot of these guys played all last seasons. But I try to be a leader as beset I can, being older, and being a little bit wiser about the game. I treat Manny like my little brother. He's always getting on himself; I try to talk him out of it. But yeah, I consider myself one of the leaders.
BF: Jeff Housman was recently called up to Huntsville. Given your success, does seeing someone having similar success to you get you excited about making the jump to the next level?
DS: Yes, Housman. It was awesome to watch him, even though we never won when he pitched, we should of. He was ridiculous. With his ERA and what he did out there, day in and day out. It was fun to watch him. I was real excited when he got called; I thought maybe I had a chance to go. You know if I don't go this year and I skip over High Desert next year and I go double-A, that's fine with me. I wasn't really looking forward to playing in High Desert anyway. I don't want to play in that league.
BF: You're not looking forward to the Coors Field of the minor leagues?
DS: No, I'm not looking forward to that. I would like to skip over that and go straight to double-A next year.
BF: Are you looking forward to getting a chance to hit?
DS: Yes, I want to hit again.
BF: When you weren't pitching, were you a position player?
DS: When I didn't start, I played shortstop; or once we got our good shortstop, I went to right field because I had the strongest arm on the team. And that was always fun. I love hitting. I'll either hit it all or get none. I'll either hit it out there or strike out. I just want to get a chance to swing the bat again.
BF: Could you talk a little bit about the fans here in Beloit?
DS: I think it's great here in Beloit. You go to some of these places like Dayton and Lansing where in their stadiums they pack in 7 or 8000. But I think the fans here are unique. They do come out, especially now that we are winning. They are great people. Being a starter, you get in the stands and talk to some of them when you're charting, you meet some really nice people. Like Pat and Ken, who are two fans that come to every game. They live about hour and half away, but they come to every game. They bring us food and bring us stuff.
You know the fans here are great. They stick with us. There were some fans here when it was 10 degrees outside. I was like, "I wouldn't be at the game right now." You know, they're loyal and they stick with us. I like them. Everyone should have to go through a place like this. It's not the best stadium, but the atmosphere is better.
BF: What are some of your short-term and long-term goals?
DS: Short-Term goals. Well, I went into the season with three goals. I want to have an ERA under 3, win 10 games, and make the All-Star team. So I got the All-Star team done with, getting my ERA, I hope, under three by this next start, and I am one win away from that ten win. So that's my short-term. (NOTE: Dennis picked up win number ten on August 12. He's currently 10-2 with a 2.85 ERA).
Long-Term. I expect myself and demand myself to be in the big leagues in two years. I work too hard in the off-season and too hard during the season to let it slip away. I'm just going to go out there in the next couple of years and this off-season coming up and work harder and hopefully start double-A and just go from there.
BF: Have you been to Miller Park yet?
DS: Yeah. I went there for a pre-draft workout back in 2001 before I got drafted. I got to throw in the bullpen and off the mound in a simulated game against some other prospects. It was kind of fun. Nice field, beautiful stadium.
BF: How excited are you guys to be playing in a couple of weeks there?
DS: I'm real excited- if I were the one throwing in the game. But I think right now, Manny is scheduled to start, and he deserves it too. But if I can get in there for just an inning, like my bullpen days where I can just get in there, I would love to play there. It will be like the battle of the Wisconsin teams. Who owns the rights to the best team. Hopefully a lot of fans will come by. I think it will be a good thing for both sides; their team and our team. Have a lot of fans come to that game.
BF: How closely do you follow the Brewers during the season?
DS: If the team is on TV on Fox Sports, I will watch it. Other than that, I'll watch Sports Center every night, so I see how they are doing. I wish they would do better. They have a pretty good team. They just never put it together. Hopefully the next couple of years with all the prospects we have in the minor league, the Brewers are going to be a good team. I honestly believe that.
BF: How often do you talk to the guys in the front office, like Doug Melvin, or Jack Zduriencik, or others in the front office?
DS: Doug Melvin came to a game I think two weeks ago. I talked to him a little bit about pitching and stuff like that. He's a real nice guy. Reid Nichols came out to Burlington when we were over there. We talked to him a little bit. We talked during the game about different situations and pitching. Ulice Payne came to that one game, I just talked to him a little bit about different things. You don't see them a lot, but when they do come it is an honor to talk to them a little bit to see where they're coming from and where they're at.
BF: Thanks for your time today. And best of luck in the future and hopefully we'll see you in Milwaukee in a couple of years.
DS: Alright. Thank you.