Selected in the 4th round in 2011, big 6-foot, 4-inch left-hander Bryce Bandilla is in his first full season with the San Jose Giants and thus far has dominated California League hitters. Through five games, the Sacramento, Calif. native has tallied 21 strikeouts in nine innings pitched. One thing is clear: the man loves to play baseball, and specifically, loves to relieve.
San Jose Giants radio broadcaster Joe Ritzo spoke with me about your love for relieving. He says you’re an intense guy. Why do you like that role so much?
Usually when you come into the game, it’s a close game and as a reliever you just want to come in and shut the game down and keep the team where they are. It’s a pressure situation that I think I enjoy. The pressure is on you to get the job done and I love going out there and doing that. I love pitching in close games and pressure situations. It’s just my personality and my mentality.
Does that mean in the future, you’d like to close?
Sure, I just like to pitch. Starting, relieving, closing, whatever. I just like going out there and being on the mound.
You were in the starting rotation last season with the Augusta GreenJackets and now you’re in more of a relief role with San Jose. Ritzo mentioned you might not have liked being out there for that many innings as a starter. Any truth to that?
Coming from college to the Giants, I thought my role was going to be as a reliever but I didn’t actually mind starting. After awhile, I got used to it and settled into my role. But there’s just something about coming into the game and relieving that when the team is ahead by one run; I just love that situation. I think it fits my personality a lot better than starting. I don’t mind starting though. I liked it.
Bryce, you’re off to a hot start. I know it’s early but your numbers right now are obviously fantastic. Do you look at the numbers at all? Are you aware of your 21 strikeouts in 9 innings?
I don’t go out there and try to strike everyone out. I try to go get a win for my team or keep the lead for my team. I never go out there thinking, “Oh, I’ve got to strike people out.” I go out there with the team in mind trying to get the job done and if I strike people out, great. If I get three ground balls in a row, I get the job done the same. So, yeah I don’t really pay attention.
I was going to ask you, is your mentality to just go out there on the mound and do your thing and the strikeouts just come from that?
Exactly. The definition to me of pitching is getting outs. An out is an out. You get three outs in the inning, doesn’t matter if you strike them out, groundout, pop fly, whatever it is. But obviously as a pitcher you love striking people out. It feels good. You just know you’re dominating when you strike people out. But I go out there with one thing in mind which is to get outs for my team.
What has been your best strikeout pitch?
My changeup has been pretty good lately but I’m walking people and I’d like to get that down. My fastball is working pretty good, too. It’s got a little late movement. Other than that, I throw a slider a few times for a strike. I throw it up there to just get it over. But fastball, changeup mainly and it’s been working pretty good.
Where are you topping out with your fastball?
95 MPH. Sitting around 92-93.
Favorite pitch to throw?
Fastball. I think it should be everybody’s favorite pitch. You’ve got to be able to get ahead with your fastball for any other pitch to work. I can just keep throwing fastballs up there even if my changeup isn’t working. I throw decently hard, not very hard. I just like my fastball.
Favorite specialty pitch? How did you learn those pitches?
I threw high school with just my fastball but when you get to college, you can’t do that. If you do that, you get hit a little bit. Our pitching coach Andy Lopez taught me a changeup my freshman year [at Arizona] and I kept working on it. I used to try to throw a curveball in college but that didn’t work out. Usually I’m a changeup/fastball guy but I learned a slider now and it’s done pretty well for me. But all through college they taught me a changeup because it looks like a fastball, works in any count if you throw it with the same arm speed. So they were really big on changeup, changeup, changeup. So I just worked at it, worked at it, worked at it. When I got here, our pitching coordinator really pressed his changeup, too, so I was happy that from Arizona, I already knew that pitch well.
You said you’re trying to get your walks down. What brings you back into the zone when you get wild?
I just have to step off to the back of the mound and breathe and say, “Slow down, don’t overthrow.” When I throw balls, I’m usually opening up so I have to stay closed and stay forward to the plate and keep my head straight. Usually it helps a lot.
Growing up in Sacramento, did you follow the Giants or the A’s?
No I actually didn’t follow any of them. My mom is a big time Giants fan but I grew up liking the Braves. They were on TBS all the time. My dad, we grew up with him watching them. Chipper Jones, Andruw Jones, John Smoltz. I grew up loving them. But obviously now I’m a big Giants fan and a big Giants supporter.
Any high school or college coaches whose advice or leadership have stuck with you?
Definitely. My high school coach, first of all, I was in high school and was 18, thought I was the coolest person ever. He put me down pretty well my senior year so I was happy about that. He made me into a man to get prepared to go into college and pro ball. And then my coach at Arizona, he actually really helped me become a man and prepared for anything that could come in pro ball and to not feel sorry for yourself and keep working through it. That honestly helped me a lot. He was a great coach, still is a great coach. Obviously they won last year. They are two influential baseball coaches that have helped me along so far.
Talk about some of your childhood memories as a baseball player growing up. Was there a point where you knew that baseball was something you really loved and wanted to play for a long time?
As a little kid, probably at 10-years old, I was telling my dad that I wanted to play baseball. I guess it’s funny how it works out. God gave me the talent to be here and a little hard work never hurt anybody. God has put me here so hopefully it keeps going.
Baseball players can be a bit superstitious. How do you go about things? Do you have a pregame routine you stick to?
I don’t. I just come out here and honestly, I just love this game and love competing. Any chance I get on the mound, whether we’re down 20 or up 20, I’m going on the mound with the same attitude every time. I love coming out to the ballpark and getting to pitch. I come with the attitude saying, “I’m basically going to destroy you guys if you aren’t going to be able to hit me.” That’s the attitude I have to go out with. Sometimes it doesn’t work. You can’t be spectacular every time.
Being your second year, have you developed any close relationships with teammates you’ve moved up in the system with?
Yeah actually I have a few: [Josh] Osich, [Chris] Marlowe, [Myles] Schroder, [Kyle] Crick. Those are my pretty good buddies. Me, Osich and Marlowe are pretty good buddies now.
You guys probably hunt, don’t you?
They hunt but I’ve never actually been hunting. Playing baseball in California, it was just hard to. It would’ve been a hassle. They live in Idaho and Texas so it’s easy for them to go hunting. But I love outdoors, fishing, camping. I think that’s part of why we like each other so much.
Do you set long-term goals or take things in stride?
I got in trouble looking too far into the future so I just try to keep it day-to-day. So each time I pitch, I just try to go out there and get better. There’s always something you can work on after an outing. Last outing, I walked a guy in the eighth inning and I shouldn’t do that. I have to work on that. I just think about the things I need to work on after each outing. It’s a long season. Obviously everyone wants to go to the big leagues and win a ring. That would be my long term goal but right now it’s just to go pitch each outing.