Back when Tony Bucciferro was a young high school player, he learned some valuable lessons from Minooka pitching coach Jim Lamping.
Now, after a successful college career at Michigan State University and a couple of seasons in the White Sox organization, Bucciferro still harkens back to what he learned as an Indian when things get rough.
“Coach Lamping knows his stuff,” Bucciferro said. “He always told me that if things aren’t going well, you have to go back to your pitching personality. Don’t try to be something you’re not. Even now, when things aren’t going so well for me, I still try to do that and things tend to turn back around.”
Bucciferro may have cause to lean on Lamping’s teachings, since his last couple of starts for Winston-Salem in the Single-A Advanced Carolina League have been a little rocky. In his last two games, he has been touched for 22 hits and 10 earned runs in just 91/3 innings. Before that, however, he was having a stellar season, as the 10 earned runs in the last 91/3 innings have only raised his ERA to 4.08.
He sits with a 6-8 record, but has put up some other good numbers. His strikeout-to-walk ratio, for example, is an outstanding 79-11. That is due both to a quality repertoire of fastball, slider and change-up that he can throw for strikes at any time and the constant voices he has heard in his ear since he began pitching.
“You always wish your win-loss record could be better,” Bucciferro said. “But sometimes that’s beyond your control. You can throw a great game, give up only a run or two, but if the other pitcher shuts out your team, you get the loss. On the other hand, if you have a rough day, your offense can score a bunch and pick you up and get a win.
“I only want to worry about what I can control, and that’s throwing strikes. That has been preached in the White Sox organization since I got here and coaches Lamping and [Jeff] Petrovic back in Minooka and my coaches at Michigan State did, too. It’s just been hammered in my head to throw strikes.
“The numbers back it up, too. When I am behind in the count, hitters are hitting like .400 against me. When I get ahead, it’s down to like .150. So, it definitely pays off to get ahead in the count.”
That all sounds well and good, but Bucciferro knows that it isn’t as easy as it sounds. While he is getting paid to get batters out, the batters are paid to not allow that. For him, that’s when the fun starts.
“Get ahead, stay ahead,” he said. “That’s the philosophy. It’s nice that I do have three pitches that I feel like I can throw for a strike at any time. I was getting by in high school with a fastball and slider, but coach Lamping really helped my career when he taught me a change-up. I know I want to get ahead in the count, but the hitters know that, too. Hitting isn’t easy to do, but keeping guys from hitting isn’t easy, either.
“If they pick up a pattern that you are throwing a first-pitch fastball for a strike every time, they will adjust and start being more aggressive and going after that first pitch. Then, it’s on me to make an adjustment and maybe start off with a pitch off the plate and get them to chase it. But then they adjust and take it and I am behind in the count. It’s a cat-and-mouse game that makes the game so interesting. It’s a different game every time out.”
Bucciferro spent the 2012 season, the year he was drafted, in Rookie League ball, but split his time in 2013 between Rookie and Single A Kannapolis. He was 4-6 with a 2.50 ERA between the two leagues, earning a spot in Single-A Advanced this season.
The nature of the game in the minor leagues is that his future is uncertain, and no timetable has been established for moving up or down.
“They don’t even hint at it,” he said about if he will move up any time soon. “It’s day-by-day. You could wake up one day, get called into the manager’s office and find out you’ve been called up, moved down or even released. You just never know. It’s kind of a crazy lifestyle as far as that goes.
“The one thing I have learned is that stuff like that is a lot of times out of your control. It depends on what the organization needs at a given time. Sometimes, you might be in the right place at the right time and get that call, other times you won’t. So, you just don’t worry about things that you can’t control. You just do out and do your job every day as best you can. For me, that’s throwing strikes and getting guys out.”
Just like he’s been doing since he was a Minooka Indian.