Blue Jays: An interview with new bullpen ace, Sam Gaviglio

ST PETERSBURG, FL - SEPTEMBER 30: Sam Gaviglio #43 of the Toronto Blue Jays throws a pitch in the first inning against the Tampa Bay Rays on September 30, 2018 at Tropicana Field in St Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)
ST PETERSBURG, FL - SEPTEMBER 30: Sam Gaviglio #43 of the Toronto Blue Jays throws a pitch in the first inning against the Tampa Bay Rays on September 30, 2018 at Tropicana Field in St Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images) /

The Toronto Blue Jays acquired Sam Gaviglio from the Kansas City Royals in March of 2018. In his second season with the Blue Jays, Gaviglio is enjoying a breakout season after a transition to the bullpen. Jays Journal recently sat down with Sam to discuss all things baseball.

**Interviewer’s note: A huge thank you to Kurt Varricchio of KVA Sports for arranging this interview and of course, Sam Gaviglio for taking the time to be interviewed while the Blue Jays were on a long road trip.

Jason Lee: I’d like to start off by asking a few lighter questions that kinda show Blue Jays fans Sam Gaviglio the person, rather than Sam Gaviglio, the baseball player. So you’ve been playing for the Blue Jays for a few years now. How have you and your family been liking Toronto?

Sam Gaviglio: We’ve been enjoying it a lot. I actually debuted there with the Mariners but I never thought the time would come around [for me] to play for the Blue Jays. You know, it’s a very clean, safe city and I’m not worried about my family [there]. I very much like it. We’re finding our spots we like to go to eat and what we like to do.

JL: What’s a typical off-day like for you guys?

SG: I guess it kinda depends. If it’s a travel day and we’re coming back home, I like to get caught up on sleep. If not, I have an 11-month-old daughter so she keeps my off days very busy.

JL: Your former teammate, J.A. Happ, famously expressed his shock at the bagged milk situation in Canada. Was there any sort of culture shock you had, something that’s different compared to the States, when you first came to Canada?

SG: That’s pretty funny. I guess the only thing that I had an issue with was that my phone didn’t work – my service wasn’t provided in Canada. It was just an outrageous expense to have it on data, but as long as I had WiFi, it was fine.

JL: And finally, what’s a fun fact for Jays fans about Sam Gaviglio?

SG: I guess I like to do a lot of projects around the house, just kind of working with my hands.

JL: Now let’s get into some more baseball-themed questions. How did you get into baseball and when did you really commit to trying to be a professional baseball player?

SG: I pretty much just played my whole life. I have an older brother. My dad was from Seattle so we grew up as Seattle sports fans. I think I kinda always had my older brother and he was always pushing me and I had to compete against him and his friends. But, you know, I don’t think I ever looked at it as being a profession probably until when I was in college when I was like ‘oh, I really want this to happen.’

JL: I’d like to touch on your pitching style. I mean, everyone nowadays throws 95 mph with a wicked offspeed pitch of sorts. It’s so refreshing and enjoyable to watch you execute your game plan every night without, you know, throwing 95 plus. Have you always been a command-and-control type pitcher?

SG: Yeah, I think I’ve always been around the same velocity, around 90 mph. On a great day, I’ve seen a 92 and on some days, down to 87. But you know, I think for me, if I try to throw harder, it doesn’t go any harder and I can’t lose accuracy with my fastball which is what I rely on a lot. Also, I can’t get away with the same mistakes compared to a guy throwing 95. I realize I need to have accuracy with my pitches.

JL: A lot of things have changed in 2019 compared to last year. I mean obviously, you’re pitching in the bullpen now. How has your day-to-day routine changed going from starting every five days to not knowing if you’ll be pitching in a game in a given night?

SG: I think as a starter, you’re trying to prepare yourself for that fifth day after your start whereas in the bullpen, you have to be ready every day. Workout wise, I’m still doing the same stuff but it’s split up over more days. I have a set day so that I stay on a routine as far as that goes. And then throwing-wise, I try to keep my throwing the same every day so that when I’m playing catch before the game, I’m going the same distance, throwing the same amount. That way, I just have a comfortable routine and I feel like I’m prepared the best.

JL: After moving to the pen, you’re having a really great year this year. Your velocity’s up a bit, you’re throwing your slider a bit more – what do you think is the biggest factor behind your success this year?

SG: I think mechanically, I’ve been in a good spot since Spring Training. [Having] Pete Walker, working with him and having him come back was huge for me because he understands me and the way I pitch.

JL: There’s been a lot of success stories of relievers who were originally starters. Wade Davis is a name that comes to mind, Andrew Miller was a starter, former Blue Jay Brandon Morrow who’s now with the Cubs also started his career as a starter. I mean, these are all guys that were ok as starters but really blossomed after the move to the pen. Has the success you’ve had this year changed your outlook on your future role in the MLB or do you eventually want to get back into starting again?

SG: I like starting. That’s what I’ve done for most of my career until now but you know, at the same time, whatever I can do to try and help the team and be here right now. Hopefully, maybe some point in the future, I may become a starter again, but if not, if this helps me to have a successful career, a longer career, I’m fine with that as well.

JL: I’d like to ask you about the new manager, Charlie Montoyo. What are some things that have been different this year with Charlie managing compared to how Gibby managed last year?

SG: Well, I think Gibby has more of an old-school approach. I think with Charlie coming in, we’re trying new things. Don’t be surprised if we’re trying new things because, at the end of the day, you have to try something new to win games.

JL: Charlie was brought in to manage a very young team compared to last year and I mean, you’re 28, you’re basically one of the more experienced guys on the roster. Do the young guys like Elvis Luciano and Trent Thornton like to come to the veterans like yourself to hang out and maybe ask for some advice?

SG: I think we do have a lot of different veteran leadership. I don’t really see myself as one of those guys but you know, if they’re willing to come up and ask me questions, there’s no harm in trying to give them the best answer I can. I’m still learning myself and the game is always changing.

JL: When I was thinking about how to structure this interview, I really wanted to make it kind of like a “get-to-know Sam Gaviglio piece”. So to end off, I’d like to finish with some questions that I got directly from fans on social media. Do you have a superstition in baseball or maybe something you like to do before an outing?

SG: I don’t have any real superstitions but I do drink a Red Bull before an outing.

JL: Next question is, how much do you pay attention and utilize data from technology like Rapsodo, whether it’s spin rate, velocity, movement. I know some pitchers are really into it but some just like to do their own thing.

SG: Yeah, I’m not into it at all. What I do is I watch a lot of film – how I’ve done previously against hitters or especially, when I’m pitching well, seeing my mechanics and trying to be able to repeat that.

JL: And finally, what’s the coolest fan moment or interaction that you’ve experienced during your time as a Blue Jay?

SG: That’s tough. I guess this offseason, I got to do the Sports Spectacular (one of the largest events in St. Thomas that supports local Special Olympics) and that was pretty cool. I thought that was very special and I was happy to be a part of it.

JL: Since you played for Seattle for a bit, I thought you were going to say when all the Jays fans go down to Safeco Field.

SG: That is pretty awesome. Especially since I’ve been on both sides of it. It feels like an away game. You give up a run and they’re cheering.

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