Scott Rice’s formula for success thus far this season has been simple, he says — he’s throwing strikes. Whatever Rice is doing, it’s working well for the Tulsa Drillers left-handed reliever who entered Friday night’s game against the Arkansas Travelers with a 1-0 record and a miniscule 1.15 ERA in a league-leading 30 relief appearances. Opponents are batting just .149 against Rice, who was recently named to the Texas League North’s All-Star squad.
It’s been an amazing turnaround for Rice, who appeared in 25 games for the Texas League’s San Antonio Missions last year, putting together a 1-4 record and 7.36 ERA. A 1999 first-round draft choice by Baltimore, he has also has played in the farm systems of the Texas Rangers and San Diego Padres. Rice began his career as a starter, but has been a reliever since 2005.
Kevin Henry: So what is making the difference for you this season compared to last year?
Scott Rice: I’m throwing strikes. In San Antonio last year, I was only there for a half-season and I was so worried about throwing hard and trying to prove I could come back from (Tommy John) surgery. This year, the pitching coordinator for the Rockies is the same pitching coordinator I had with the Orioles (Bo McLaughlin) and I feel more comfortable. I’m getting back to throwing my sinker, and that’s been my best pitch.
Henry: You were recently named as a Texas League All-Star. It’s not your first All-Star selection, but it has to be a proud moment after coming back from Tommy John surgery.
Rice: It’s great to make it and be recognized. I’m returning to be the pitcher I want to be. I never had any doubts about coming back, but there are always questions in your mind.
Henry: In your opinion, is this the best season you’ve had in your career?
Rice: The season isn’t over yet (smiling). It’s great to be here and be a part of this team. We’re having a lot of fun and there are a bunch of great guys on this team. The younger guys are starting to step up, and I’m excited for the second half of the season to begin.
Henry: It’s been a tough first half for the Drillers. Are you and your teammates counting the seconds until the second half begins ?
Rice: Definitely. We’re ready for a fresh start. This is a younger team and it’s a team that is getting better and better. We’re playing in a new stadium and there’s a lot of energy around.
Henry: Do you like being the veteran on the team (Rice was drafted in 1999)?
Rice: I don’t mind it at all. A lot of the younger guys will ask me questions and I like helping them.
Henry: When you first switched from a starter to reliever in 2005, how long did it take you to feel comfortable coming out of the bullpen?
Rice: It took me a while … probably about a half-season to get used to it. The hardest thing for me was learning to prepare to pitch every day when you came to the park. I learned quickly that you only had 15 pitches to get loose, and you better be ready to come in the game in a hurry.
Henry: How do you prepare yourself to come into the game?
Rice: We keep a lineup out in the bullpen and keep track of who’s coming up and who’s done what. We have to try to judge which of us might be called into the game and be ready. Bryan Harvey (Tulsa’s pitching coach) is great with scouting reports and going over the lineups with each of us.
Henry: You’ve pitched at all levels of the minor leagues. How does the talent in the Texas League compare?
Rice: This is a great level of baseball here. You get a lot of the top prospects and guys who have played in the major leagues who are working their way back. It’s really a make it or break it league, and I think this league has the most talent of any league I’ve played in.
Henry: Are you putting any pressure on yourself to take the next step and get back to Triple-A?
Rice: I can’t control that. I have to take it a day at a time. I just have to go out there and get outs. Everything else that happens, I can’t control.