Pitcher D.J. Mitchell is totally new not just to the Rainiers but also to the Pacific Coast League. Mitchell was one of the players that came over to the Mariners’ organization in the Ichiro trade. Drafted by the Yankees in 2008, Mitchell is now in his fourth season of professional ball. He sat down recently with Tacoma Weekly baseball correspondent Karen Westeen to talk about his career.
(As of Aug. 13, Mitchell has made four starts, pitching 22 1/3 innings for the Rainiers. His record is 0-2 with a 3.63 ERA.)
TW: You are from Winston-Salem, N.C. Do you still live there?
DM: I live in Rural Hall, which is a small town near Winston-Salem.
TW: You played baseball and basketball in high school and then went to Clemson University. Did you graduate from college?
DM: No, I have one year left.
TW: What was your major?
DM: I was a business major.
TW: Do you think you will eventually get your degree?
DM: Yes, that could be in my future plans. I’d like to get started finishing it this year.
TW: Clemson is one of college baseball’s powerhouses, winning 12 College World Series. While you were there did the team go to the College World Series?
DM: We went my freshman year and won our first game, but didn’t make it to the championship.
TW: You did not start out pitching, but played outfield for several seasons. When did you become a pitcher full-time?
DM: I played center field and right field until my junior year, then I just pitched. I pitched in the Cape Cod League the summer after my sophomore year and pitched well the next year so that made the decision for me.
TW: You were picked by the Yankees in the 10th round in 2008. Where were you on draft day?
DM: I was at home with my family.
TW: Did you expect the Yankees to take you?
DM: No, I wasn’t really sure. I let my agent handle that. He called me (when I had been picked.)
TW: But you did not play at all that season. Why was that?
DM: I signed late.
TW: So in 2009 you played for Tampa (rookie) and Charleston (Single-A). You had a combined record of 12-7 and got to play close to home. And you spent most of 2010 with the Trenton (NJ) Thunder (Double-A), going 11-4 and earning a spot on the Eastern League’s All Star team. Did you get into the game?
DM: Yes, I pitched one inning.
TW: At the end of 2010 you got called up to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (Triple-A), made three regular season starts there and then got to play in the postseason. How did you and the team do?
DM: We played Columbus and I started the first game in the playoffs. We didn’t win the series, but it was a good experience and I got a lot out of it.
TW: How did Columbus do?
DM: They won the Triple-A championship (over Tacoma 12-6.)
TW: Last year you spent the entire season with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, going 13-9 in 24 starts, and had a 3.18 ERA. You also struck out 112, threw three complete games, and at the end of the season you were named the Yankee organization’s Minor League Pitcher of the Year. How would you describe the year?
DM: It was a good year for me. I think I started hitting my spots there, and at the end of the year I thought I was ready to pitch at the next level. I think being at Triple-A all year put me in the situation I’m in now.
TW: This year you started out in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre again before getting called up to the Yankees. How long were you there?
DM: I was with New York for about a month total, in late April and late June. It was so-so, could have been better. There’s still a lot for me to work on, but it was a great experience.
TW: Did you get to start?
DM: No, I just came in out of the pen.
TW: You made your Major League debut on May 1 at Yankee Stadium. Who did you pitch against?
DM: The Orioles. I pitched one inning and faced four batters. The first one was J.J. Hardy. I struck him out. (Mitchell gave up two hits and no runs in a Yankees’ loss. He did not figure in the decision. He appeared in four games with the Yankees this spring.)
TW: You were added to the Yankees’ 40-man roster last fall. Did you think at that time that you would be a Yankee for life?
DM: I thought of it as an opportunity, that they had noticed me, that I pitched well. I did not see the trade coming, but this (the trade) is an opportunity for me.
TW: Where were you when you found out you had been traded?
DM: We have no home field this year because our park is being renovated. We were playing in Gwinnett, Ga., and I flew from Atlanta.
TW: What about your belongings?
DM: I think they’ll send them to me.
TW: Did you know anybody when you got to Tacoma?
DM: I played with Steven Hensley in the Cape Cod League, and I knew Steve Garrison from last year. I had played against Justin Smoak and some others in college.
TW: You are working with Dwight Bernard, a new pitching coach, now. What is that like?
DM: He watched me to throw a bullpen session and saw a couple of things right away for me to work on. It’s tough for him since he hasn’t seen me a whole lot, just two starts and a few bullpens.
TW: What is it like to face batters you have never seen before?
DM: I don’t know what they like to do, so I pitch to my strengths. Of course they’ve never seen me before either.
TW: What kind of pitcher are you?
DM: Sinker-baller, curve, changeup. I use my off-speed pitches and command my fastball, and I like to get ahead of hitters and get quick outs.
TW: What is your out pitch?
DM: My changeup.
TW: What has been the highlight of your career so far?
DM: Making my Major League debut pitching in Yankee Stadium.
TW: You are a long way from home now, but the Rainiers traveled to Tennessee to play Memphis and Nashville. Will your family come to see you play?
DM: I am sure they will. My parents are good about traveling to see me. They might even make it here.
TW: You are just 25 now, but have you thought any about what you might like to do when your playing days are over?
DM: Not at all. I worry just about baseball. When it gets near that time I think I’ll have a heads up, maybe use my business degree.
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