EL PASO, Texas — It is not often a pitcher who entered the year with less than 130 career innings and who recently reached Triple-A is considered a grizzled vet, but that is Travis Radke.
Radke, a 25th-round selection from the 2014 draft, missed all of 2016 and most of 2017 after undergoing Tommy-John surgery. Despite mainly starting at the University of Portland and in his first two years of pro ball, San Diego decided to move him to the bullpen after his surgery to improve his chances of climbing the ladder fast. In response, he did just that.
The 25-year-old got into multiple games at each full-season level this year and earned a save for each by the time the playoffs were done for San Antonio. He spent most of the year with Fort Wayne where he led the team in saves (14) on his way to a 1.74 ERA, 0.79 WHIP, and 12.2 strikeouts per nine innings. Radke pitched well enough, that even though he was not with the team for the last month and more of the season, he was still named Midwest League left-handed reliever of the year.
We caught up with him in El Paso, the day he received the award.
MadFriars: First off, congratulations on the award.
Travis Radke: Being named the Midwest League left-handed reliever of the year award was a surprise to me and a really nice way, to sum up, my time with Fort Wayne. I am really thankful for all the opportunities they gave me, and that it led to me being able to be here now. I am just trying to make the most of every opportunity I get this season.
In the span of a week you moved between three different levels, take us through that long travel week.
Travis Radke: So I closed out the game in Fort Wayne, no indication of anything. At about 1:30 am I got a call saying I was promoted to Double-A. I packed up my stuff and took a plane that morning. It was almost 12 hours between all the airports, and by the time I was able to throw my stuff down and made it on the field just in time for warmups. I threw three innings that night, pitching on back to back days.
I got a few days off before getting hot (warmed up) but never going into the game, then received a call saying I was going down to Lake Elsinore. I flew to San Diego and drove up to Lake Elsinore. Pitched two innings that night. Then got in one more game in Lake Elsinore before receiving a call telling me to head for the airport and fly to El Paso. Flew there, and that night threw two-thirds of an inning, collecting the save, and then two innings the next day. I have seen a lot of airports over the last few weeks.
So you fly that morning, arrive at the park that afternoon, meeting most of the staff for the first time, and then get into a game that night? Not just once but three times?
Travis Radke: [Laughs] Yep, I am thankful for the opportunity at any level, any time they ask me to come into the game. This stuff makes for a fun story.
It is also nice to see familiar faces. Whether they were guys that I spent time with in Peoria in 2016 while I was rehabbing or guys that I played in short-season with in 2014 and 2015, most of them are in higher levels, and it is nice to see them again.
I know like most parents, your parents, are huge fans of yours and try to see you as often as possible. How have they handled this whirlwind move?
Travis Radke: They didn’t get to see my one outing in San Antonio, but did get to see me throw once in Lake Elsinore. They had tickets to fly out to see me in San Antonio but had to change them when I moved to Elsinore. Hopefully, they will have a chance to see me in El Paso, but I think they are learning that if they want to see me pitch they should wait to fly out until that morning, and even then there might be no guarantees.
Do you notice a big difference in maturity levels as you move throughout the system? In Fort Wayne, you were the oldest person on the team, which is sad that 25 is considered old.
Now in El Paso, there are quite a few people your age or older. Is there a difference?
Travis Radke: To me, age and maturity don’t matter as much as how you play the game. We have guys like [Luis] Urias and [Francisco] Mejia who are young and absolutely killing it here. When you see them in the clubhouse they are always laughing and joking around, but you can tell how hard they work to always get better and improve. You do see a bit more serious tone in Triple-A as they know they are one step away from the majors, but guys in every clubhouse like to have fun.
For me, I am grateful for every opportunity, and want to make it that teams like having me both in their clubhouse, and out on the mound for them. The better I can be at both, the easier the decision is to have me keep pitching.
Is there anything different that you are having to do at the higher levels compared to Fort Wayne?
Travis Radke: I am honestly just trying to do the same things I did at Fort Wayne. When I was in Fort Wayne I would get down on myself sometimes, even though I would get the out because I knew I missed with location, and I wouldn’t be so lucky at a higher level. I think having that mentality, of the out isn’t good enough if I missed location, has helped me here as it is no surprise to me that if I miss location they hit it hard.
At the higher levels, it definitely is more about reading hitters. Really looking at them before the game and during the game to see if they are doing anything that can be exposed. So far I have been getting a lot of weak contact outs, but at the same time I have gotten a lot of 0-2, 1-2 counts and haven’t been able to put them away, which is definitely something I need to work on moving forward. My goal is to find a way to strike out this caliber of a hitter compared to having them put it in play. When they do that, anything can happen.
Is the caliber of a hitter the biggest difference you have seen?
Travis Radke: Definitely. In Triple-A obviously, with every mistake you make they hit it hard. You’re not going to get away with it. At the same time, you can throw that really good pitch a couple of inches off the plate, and they are no longer chasing. To make it even better, sometimes you make your pitch, and they are still able to hit it hard.
Last night, one of the Las Vegas pitchers gave Uri (Luis Urias) a perfect pitch, 94, with movement, right on the inside corner, and Uri was still able to hit it for a double. It makes me glad he is on our team, and also realize that at this level you have to really pitch and find ways to get hitters out because it won’t be the same for every hitter.
The biggest thing for me is to stay mentally sharp and get ahead in the count. I know I don’t throw 98 or have a wipeout slider, but I know I can be effective at any level if I stay mentally sharp and make my pitches.
Any offseason plans?
Travis Radke: I am hoping to play winter ball, and putting feelers out there to see if I can. I also know that I have thrown over 70 innings which is due to the surgery is more than I have in the last two years combined (20 total in 2016 and 2017), so giving my arm a rest sound pretty good.
Also getting to spend some quality time with the wife and my family and get to take a break. I eat, sleep, and breath baseball, but I think if you don’t spend that time away from it, even for a few weeks, it is hard to remain mentally focused.
Any kids yet?
Travis Radke: No kids yet anyway, but my wife is incredibly supportive and a wonderful person. I think it becomes incredibly easy to get to August and start to look at the offseason, but that is why it is all the more important that I stay mentally strong.