Drafted by the Reds with the 14th overall selection in the 2012 amateur draft, Nick Travieso endured an uneven start to his professional career.
The 6-2, 225-pound right-hander spent the rest of his draft year with the Arizona League League Reds (21 innings, 4.71 ERA/5.90 FIP, 6.00 K/9, 2.14 BB/9). Travieso, a Florida native, headed north to pitchÃ‚Â for the Low-A Dayton Dragons in 2013 (81.2 innings, 4.63 ERA/4.10 FIP, 6.72 K/9, 2.98 BB/9) and 2014 (142.2 innings, 3.03 ERA/3.93 FIP, 7.19 K/9, 2.78 BB/9).
Coming off one of his better starts of the season, the 21-year-old took the mound for High-A Daytona on June 15. Travieso recorded two outs, and then was struck by a batted ball. He would miss nearly two months. (Injury explanation below).
ThroughÃ‚Â his first four outings since coming off the disabled list to pitchÃ‚Â on Aug. 6, Travieso yielded just two earned runs over 18 innings. For the season, Travieso has shown signs of fulfilling his vast potential, logging 87.1 innings and sporting an ERA/FIP split of 2.89/3.39 with a K/9 of 7.42 and a BB/9 of 3.09.
Travieso and I engaged inÃ‚Â a wide-ranging talk late last week covering all sorts of subjects, including his injury and the 2015 season; his maturation as a starter and steadily-improving graspÃ‚Â ofÃ‚Â the mental grind that is pitching; the stacked first round of the 2012 draft; the knowledgeÃ‚Â he gleaned from Johnny Cueto during spring training; why Roger Clemens is his idol; and the RedsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ bright pitching future.
RN: How are you feeling? I know you had a stint on the DL after you got by a comebacker.
NT: Yeah, it was right before the (Florida State League) All-Star Break. It was a line drive off the wrist.
RN: Man, that had to hurt. What was the diagnosis?
NT: It actually wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t too bad at first. We went through X-rays and nothing came up. I started throwing bullpens again and had a little pain, so I went back and said that I wanted to take another test to see what was up. So a week later we took a CT scan and it showed that I had a slight/partial tear, a partial broken bone, actually. It came back as a hairline fracture, so I was out six weeks after that.
RN: That was your throwing wrist, right?
NT: Yeah, my right wrist.
RN: Have you ever sufferedÃ‚Â an injuryÃ‚Â to your throwing arm before, or was this a first-time deal for you to go throughÃ‚Â an injury thatÃ‚Â kept you out awhile?
NT: Yeah, it was a rough injury. It was the first time IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve been out because of something like that. I think it was just hard because…knowing that it wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t something I could control. There was nothing I could do about it. It was rough on me knowing that I had no control over it and that I was going to be sitting on the bench and watching the games (instead of) helping my team win games for four to six weeks. That whole time was rough for me.
RN: Since youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve come back, it seems like youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve been able to pick up where you left off. YouÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve got some good strikeout numbers and have kept your walks down. Do you feel like youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re good to go?
NT: Yeah, I think the time off really helped me get my mind right. I took time to really clear my mind and I approached it like the start of a new season, like I would coming out of spring training. That was the mindset I had, and itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s worked for me. I havenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t worried too much about the hitters; IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve just relaxed, cleared my mind, and thrown the ball the way I know how to.
RN: This your third full season as a pro. As youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve gone through the years, where do you think youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve grown the most, and what would you say you still need to work on going forward?
NT: I feel like IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve matured a lot over the years. When I first signed, I was more of a thrower. I was a high-velocity guy coming out of a high school, I didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t really have too much in the way of secondary pitches. The biggest thing IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve learned is throwing a third pitch. You go in there and throw a hard fastball and a hard slider, and theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re going to pick up on it and hit it. This year, IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve really been working on throwing an off-speed pitch, a changeup, and flipping in a curveball every now and then. Those two pitches help me keep hitters off-balance.
I would say I need to work on it more. I need get more comfortable throwing changeups when IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m behind in the count. When I get into hitterÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s counts, theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re looking dead red fastball. ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s something I definitely want to work on, throwing more off-speed pitches later in the count when IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m behind and when theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re looking for fastballs.
RN: It seems like it takes awhile to get accustomed to how much more thinking is involved with being a pro pitcher, and consistently staying ahead of hitters and keeping them guessing as opposed to relying purely on stuff.
NT: Yeah, I mean itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a mental grind. YouÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re going out there and you canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t take any pitches off. YouÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve got guys in pro ball, one through nine, theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re there for a reason. They can swing the bat. They can hit a fastball. They can hit 90 (mph) plus. I think the biggest transition from high school to pro ball is from throwing to pitching.
I used to go up there, rear back, and throw the ball as hard as I could. It wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t like I was going up there and worrying about what pitch I was going to throw to each hitter. In pro ball, before I come set or even get the ball back from the catcher, IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m thinking what IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m going to do for the next pitch and the pitch after that. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s definitely a lot more mental now. Like I said, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a grind. The biggest thing is going after hitters one pitch at a time and not taking any pitches off.
RN: WhereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s your hometown in Florida in respect to Daytona?
NT: I grew up in Pembroke Pines, so I grew up about three and a half hours away. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s helped me. On off-days, I get to go home and enjoy being home for a few hours or a day, whatever it may be. I can go home and kick back with my parents and fiancÃƒÂ©e, and just kind of enjoy the memories that I have back home.
When I am pitching, [my family] comes up. We have some places that we play, like in Jupiter, where itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s only about an hour from the house, so they come and cheer me on from the stands and whatnot. So, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s definitely been a big help this year, especially when I was going through the injury. They helped me keep my mind clear.
RN: When do you unwind, do you have any favorite TV shows? Are you into HBO? What do you do?
NT: IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve been playing a lot of PS4, a lot of video games. I play NHL hockey and MLB and whatnot. But other than that, yeah, IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve been watching a little Walking Dead and catching up, thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s probably the biggest thing I did when I was on the DL. The days when I wouldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have to go to the fields until a little later to get rehab done, I would sit at the hotel and watch TV shows like Walking Dead. I caught up on that.
RN: Did you ever watch Boardwalk Empire? That came on back when I was in college. My house hadÃ‚Â a free HBO trial and I watched the first season, but I never finished it.
NT: No, I never got into that.
RN: The thought of Steve Buscemi as a gangster was a little weird, but he made it work. So, hopefully you do make it to the majors one day, but there are already some guys from your draft class that were taken in the first round that are doing pretty well. WhatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s it been like to see guys like Carlos Correa, Byron Buxton, and Addison Russell do well — I guess Michael Wacha would be the headliner because heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s been in the bigs for three years. YouÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve got some good company in that draft class.
NT: Wacha is one heck of a pitcher. Going back to the guys like Correa…youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve got (Astros starter) Lance McCullers (2012 first round, 41st overall) also. I played with all those guys growing up. I played with them for Team USA, I played with throughout the summer. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s definitely awesome to be able see guys I played with on TV and in the MLB.
It makes you take a step back and realize how close you really are. Everybody says, Ã¢â‚¬ËœYeah, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a process. You go from the lowest level to the highest level.Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ But, sometimes you get so caught up in it that you donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t realize how close you are to the big leagues. A lot of guys nowadays are getting called up from Double-A. It just shows that when you put in the work, what comes out of it. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s something I look forward to, and I talk to Lance all the time. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a different lifestyle. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s night and day going from high school to the minor leagues to the big leagues. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s something IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m looking forward to. Next year, whatever may happen will happen, but IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m going to work to get up there sometime.
RN: The Astros have had a crazy season. I think everyone saw all that talent — Sports Illustrated had that cover that said: Houston Astros, 2017 World Series champs — but theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve blown the doors off people this year. I know Lance has been a big part of that.
NT: Yeah, man. Lance has been throwing the ball well. I know he had a rocky start, and they made that Kazmir trade too, so heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s been tossed in the back of the rotation. He was sent down, but heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s back up and throwing the ball well.
RN: I think they sent him down (to rest him) and save him for October.
NT: Yeah, they want to keep his innings down. Last year, he was High-A. They have a good reputation and they know what theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re doing. Every organization has their opinion on moving their guys quick and being safe. There are pros and cons to both.
RN: Well, they lost a 100 games a few years in a row, so they have the opportunity now.
RN: Back in spring training when the Reds still have the Cuetos and Leakes around, what was it like being around those guys and going through drills with them.
NT: I think it was awesome. The biggest thing I got out of this spring was being a professional athlete, being a professional teammate, and being a professional player. You had guys, like you said, Cueto and Leake and all these big (name) guys….IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m getting to the field four hours before stretching, and theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re doing their drills and getting their running and stretching in. I think that really just shows you how committed they are to the game.
Everybody says once you get to the big leagues itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s no longer…itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a job now. And I realize that now, but the thing, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s your job. YouÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re getting paid to do what you love. I think thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s the biggest thing I learned, to go out every day and enjoy what you do. Treat every day like itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s your last.
I learned a lot from Cueto. I threw with him a few times throughout the couple weeks I was there. I talked to him in the clubhouse and in the locker room about what itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s like to be there and pitch every five days in front of 30,000 fans. He said the biggest thing you have to do is enjoy it. You never know when your last day is going to be, so right now that is my mindset, to go out throw the ball every day like itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s my last.
RN: When Michael Lorenzen was up with the Reds, I think he was following Cueto around like a puppy and trying to soak up everything he could get from him. It was cool to see Cueto take all of those [young pitchers]Ã‚Â under his wing. I know heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s done a similar thing with Yordano Ventura in Kansas City.
NT: Right. CuetoÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a great guy. You can pick his brain a little bit — heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not the kind of guy thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s going to come up to you — but if you go up to him, heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll welcome you with open arms. I worked with him a lot about throwing off-speed when I was behind in counts. He told me part of it is really throwing it with confidence and not worrying about the hitter.
RN: When you first got drafted, I read in scouting reports…you werenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t getting compared to Roger Clemens, but they said that you had Ã¢â‚¬Ëœbulldog mentalityÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ on the mound, and I saw on your Twitter you posted something about Clemens. Is Ã¢â‚¬ËœThe RocketÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ one of your idols?
NT: Yeah, I mean Clemens is one my biggest idols. I grew up watching him pitch for Yankees. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m a big collector of all of his stuff — his jerseys, his autographed balls, his gloves and everything. I definitely look up to the guy. The whole steroids thing he went through, that doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t really matter to me. I feel like he used it for different reasons than what people think, but thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s just an opinion.
I just like the way he went after hitters. I feel like he didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t care who was hitting. He went after every hitter the same way, and thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s 100 percent, throwing the ball as hard as he could every single time. ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s how I try to be on the mound. I throw one pitch at a time, and really try to have no pitches off or days off. His work ethic was in-sane from what IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve heard. Our pitching coach here, Tony Fossas, he played with [Clemens]. Tony tells us stories about [Clemens]. [Clemens] was running six, seven miles at two oÃ¢â‚¬â„¢clock in the morning. ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s the kind of stuff that — I wouldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t say I run six, seven miles — but if IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m doing something the next day where IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m not going to have time to get my long run in — whether it be fishing or golfing — I make sure that night after I pitch I go get my running in, and make sure I have my priorities first and do whatever I have to do after.
RN: I read Joe TorreÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Yankees book a couple of months ago, and there was a bunch of stuff on Clemens, and some of the stuff was about how insanely competitive he was. Sometimes they had to bringÃ‚Â [Clemens] in the tunnel between innings and calm him down because he was so amped up.
NT: Yeah. [Laughs]. And how can you not like that? ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s signature Roger Clemens stuff. I get hyped up, too. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve had times where I zone out for a little bit because IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m so pumped up with the setting of the game or a big play that was made or a big strikeout that I made.
I feel like little by little IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m starting to become him. I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t ever want to be someone else; I want to be myself. (But) I think looking up to Roger Clemens has definitely helped me out with my mentality and my game plan for attacking hitters.
RN: If you ever got to meet Clemens, what do you think you would say to him?
NT: I think the biggest question I would ask him is when he threw the broken bat at [Mike] Piazza — I watch that video all the time — [I would ask] what was going through his head. [Laughs]. I was a huge Yankees fan so I was kind of pumped up — I was really young when it happened — but I remember watching the videos throughout the years and saying, Ã¢â‚¬ËœThis guy is a competitor. He doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t want to lose. He wants to get any edge he can.Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s kind of what IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d like to do. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d ask him about his mindset when he was out there pitching.
He had a lot of people talk about things that he did, and you never really know until you hear it out of his mouth. So, I think IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d pick his brain about his mindset, his mentality, his work ethic, and you know, the way he went about things through his career.
RN: Even before the Reds traded away Cueto and Leake and got pitching in return, the strength of the clubÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s system was you guys, the starting pitchers — especially the righties. Now, youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re pitching with a couple of them and have pitched with others, guys like Amir Garrett, Keury Mella. I know Nick Howard had his struggles, but heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s still a first-round pick. Does that get you excited about what could possibly happen near the end of the decade with all these guys like you coming through the system? ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s been a rough two years (for the Reds), and next year isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t looking that great, but when you do get up to the bigs, you guys could have some really good arms up there.
NT: Right now on our staff in Daytona, I think we have one of the best staffs in baseball. You got Amir Garrett. You got Keury Mella. You got Jackson Stephens whoÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a little underrated, the kid can really pitch. HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not talked about as much as he should be. Our staff is just stacked.
To think about what can be with Rob [Stephenson], Lorenzen, and even Sal Romano. [Brandon] Finnegan. All these guys that are coming up now — itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s going to be something special. I just donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t know where weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re all going to fit together, but if we are together in the same rotation, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s going to be…the Reds are going to have a big turnaround. I know you said theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve been struggling the past couple of years, but I think they know what theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re doing. I feel like in the future they have it all planned out. They know who is coming up and they know what role everybody is going to play, so IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m looking forward to that.
I think we have a very young and talented system right now. I think theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re just waiting for the right moment, and once they bring everybody up, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s going to turn for the better.
RN: IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll get you outta here on this one. What are your goals for the offseason? Do you have…IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m sure making it to the big leagues has been your goal ever since you were little, but do you push yourself even harder knowing there could be an opening for you next year with a good spring training?
NT: Yeah, definitely. I feel like I go in every year with the same mentality. I just go into spring as strong as I can, to show them that I want to make a team — whether that be the big league team, whether it be Double-A, whether it be Triple-A, it doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t matter to me. As long as I go into the spring in the best shape I can possibly be in, I think I give myself a great chance. I just want to get my rest after the season and then get ready for next year.
This interview has been edited. Photo courtesy of Aldrin Capulong.