Jake Fishman earned his first professional victory and save in a C’s uniform in 2017.
The first word that comes to mind when describing the delivery of 2017 Vancouver Canadians lefthander Jake Fishman is funky. In fact, a Google search of ‘funky Fishman’ brings up a 1972 song called ‘Doin’ The Funky Do’ along with a song called ‘Fishman’ on the B-side of the 45 rpm record. The songs are by a band called ‘The Beginning of the End’ and it was definitely the beginning of the end for a majority of the Northwest League hitters who had to step in the batter’s box to face Fishman in 2017.
When I spoke to the 6-foot-3 lefty, I told him his delivery looked like he was bringing down the hammer when he released the ball and he agreed with my characterization.
“I like how you describe it (laughs), definitely slamming down the hammer. I think of it as I kind of like curl into or I kind of condense myself and explode out with a twist. It’s funky and it’s kind of the only thing that comes to my mind when I describe it. Very closed off.”
“I pretty much always thrown like that. I’ve worked with a pitching coach. His name was Tom Landry and he worked with this very well-known guy Tom House. They helped develop my motion into this but it’s based off of the same principles that apply to pretty much every other throwing athlete where you have to land before you can rotate your upper body. That’s really the biggest focus point that I try to stay on with my deliveries. It’s landing with my foot before my upper half rotates around.”
Fishman realizes he gives opposing hitters a very unusual look.
“I love talking to batters that I face just to get some feedback and they always tell me that it’s very hard for them to pick up the ball out of my hand, especially to differentiate between a fastball and slider.”
The Newton, Massachusetts native allowed just an unearned run in his first month with Vancouver after arriving from the Gulf Coast League Blue Jays in early July. Though the Hillsboro Hops laid waste to most of the C’s pitching staff during a five-game sweep at Nat Bailey Stadium in mid-July, Fishman was the lone exception as he spun a career-high four shutout innings of two-hit ball July 15, striking out five and walking nobody. He put up two more scoreless frames against the Hops July 19 to give him five scoreless outings to start his Northwest League career.
Fishman collected his first professional win by striking out five batters over two perfect innings against Salem-Keizer August 14. Only Ryan Kirby put the ball in play against Fishman but the best the eventual league MVP could do was hit a tapper back to the mound. The southpaw would achieve another first in what turned out to be his final appearance in a C’s uniform by getting his first save with three shutout frames on the strength of five groundball outs in Spokane August 19. He was promoted to the Lansing Lugnuts where he would put together a sterling 15-0 strikeout-walk ratio over four appearances to end the season.
Having turned 23 years old on February 8, Fishman and his fellow pitchers will have to adapt to the new pace of play regulations this season throughout minor league baseball. Fellow 2016 draft class teammate T.J. Zeuch made his feelings quite clear about the changes on Twitter but Fishman is taking a wait-and-see approach to it all.
“Yeah (laughs), I saw that (T.J. Zeuch’s tweet). You know, I’m not really sure how I feel about it. I try to look at it from both sides and it’s kind of hard to make assumptions until you actually go through it. The one thing that concerns me is as a reliever, we get that runner. He’s going to be mine to keep from scoring.
It’s hard to say. I think I’m going to reserve any judgements until I can see it in action and I’m actually in the middle of it. My initial thoughts are I’m kind of not in favour of it.
The pitch clock for me, I’m not too concerned about that because I work really quickly on the mound.”
On his off-season preparation.
“My big focus for the off-season was trying to tweak some mechanics and take some stress off my arm and right now everything feels really good. I’m hitting my spots right now, everything’s working so honestly I couldn’t ask for anything more at this point.”
On developing his sinker, slider and changeup.
“I feel really comfortable with my fastball, or my sinker, and slider. The changeup is my third-best pitch so I end up not using it a lot. I do feel comfortable with it but my best pitch is my slider. I’m always wanting to throw that rather than my changeup. I definitely throw some changeups in there when I need to.
The coaches do encourage me as a lefty, funky reliever to master the fastball-slider combination and then any changeups that I might have to throw is a positive but they really want me to focus on the fastball-slider.”
Jake Fishman was drafted in the 30th round by the Toronto Blue Jays in 2016 after recording the lowest earned run average in all of college baseball at 0.41.
On being the first player drafted out of Division III Union College.
“It meant a lot. It was just all the work that I put in over the past years. It meant a lot, especially to show that somebody who comes out of high school who doesn’t throw very hard and doesn’t get any Division I offers from anywhere can put in a lot of work and then be able to make it to the next level. It really meant a lot in that sense.”
“It was very exciting, especially (being drafted by) the Blue Jays just because their fans are amazing and they’re everywhere. I couldn’t believe it. I was so excited, just overwhelming really. It’s really incredible. Blue Jays fans are everywhere. Even down in Florida, they’re here watching the spring training games. In Vancouver, they sell out every game. They’re diehard fans.”
On where he was when he was drafted.
“I was actually in the Cape. I was playing (in) the Cape (Cod) League. I was driving home. We had a rain-out so I figured I’d drive home and spend the day with my family. On the way home is when I got the phone call from the Blue Jays scout (Jamie Lehman) who told me that they were about to pick me. About five seconds later, the whole world came crashing down on my cell phone (laughs). It was absolutely amazing and crazy. “
On getting to pitch at the Cape Cod League with the Wareham Gatemen.
“That was definitely a milestone. I was only there for a week and I really only pitched in one game but that one game went really well. That definitely had a big impact on me. It’s funny because after the Cape and I got to the Gulf Coast League and then I got smacked around, my view completely changed. It was like, ‘Wow!’ It’s so much higher a level than even the Cape Cod League and it’s crazy to think that it’s really the best players in the Cape Cod League – that they’re at the next level.”
On whether he had any idea the Blue Jays were going to draft him.
“I did have some interest from other teams. I did not know that the Blue Jays were so focused on me. They had sent me a couple of e-mails but other than that, there wasn’t much conversation between myself and them.”
On what he learned about himself at Union.
“I got a lot of things out of Union College. I think one of the most important things that I took away was having to do everything by myself. What I mean by that is as a Division III program, they don’t force you to do what you need to do to make it to the next level.
It was really up to me to go out and research and figure out what the best people in the country are doing and it has a different effect on you when you do it yourself rather than when you’re being told to do it. That’s carried over into professional baseball where I have a consistent routine and I know exactly what I have to do to continue to get better.”
Jake Fishman overcame a tough start at the Gulf Coast League in 2016 by turning in scoreless appearances in four of his last five outings.
On getting his feet wet at the pro level with the Gulf Coast League Blue Jays.
“It was interesting. It was a lot different than what I was used to. The Gulf Coast League is incredibly hot. You’re facing kids that are really good. They’re young. I came in thinking, ‘Oh, this should be a breeze!’ Facing 17 year-old kids and then they smack you around and you come to the realization that everybody that’s there is there for a reason and if you give them anything, they will take advantage of you.”
On his off-season preparation heading into 2017.
“To be honest, I didn’t really change too much in my off-season preparation. I work out at a place called Cressy Sports Performance and they have a really good program there. They work with a ton of major leaguers and minor leaguers all across the country and I always stick to what they have and it’s been very successful for me so I stuck to that.
I just came into spring training last year a lot more mentally prepared. I knew exactly what to expect and that really helped me coming into spring training.”
Jake Fishman limited lefthanded hitters to a .174 batting average with the C’s in 2017.
On being promoted to Vancouver from the Gulf Coast League.
“I thought it was pretty awesome. I had never been to Canada so I was excited. I had heard amazing things about Vancouver especially. I think it’s probably one of the best places to play baseball in the minor leagues for sure.”
On his fondest memories with the C’s.
“My favourite aspect was how the fans were. They sell out every single game even if it was a 1:00 pm on a Monday. They were just so into it. I loved it.
Aside from that, on the pitching side of things I just remember realizing that if I just hit my spots, most guys will get themselves out. If they get a hit off you, then that’s no big deal. You just go back and continue to hit your spots and that’s what you need to do to be successful.”
On being the only pitcher to enjoy any success during the Hillsboro Horror Show of 2017.
“I remember pretty much everybody else was getting pretty lit up. I just went out there and I remember earlier that day, there was something that I was feeling and I knew that I was going to go out there and pitch really well. I couldn’t tell you what it was. I just had that feeling and that’s what happened. I went out there and all my pitches were working really well and I just felt really good.”
On celebrating the C’s first-half North Division title.
“That was a lot of fun, really exciting. I was just super happy to be a part of the team at that point. Being able to clinch the first half takes so much stress off of the second half. You can just go out there and play ball and not have to worry about anything.”
Jake Fishman left Vancouver with a 1.17 earned run average and compiled a 23-4 strikeout/walk total in 23 innings.
On being promoted to Lansing.
“We were all in the locker room after a game and our manager Millsy (Rich Miller) came in. We already knew one guy was going up to Lansing. It was Dalton Rodriguez and (Miller) said, ‘(Rodriguez) will probably need some bodyguards on the way up there so Jake Fishman and Chris Hall, you guys are going to go with him.’:
On striking out seven batters in two innings for the Lugnuts versus Fort Wayne August 26.
“Yeah, that was crazy. I just remember it seemed like every batter I was facing would get me to a 2-2 or 3-2 count and I kept hitting the same spot that was up and in to a righty and the umpire just kept giving it to me. They were strikes but it was a two-seam that kept tailing away from a righty and it would catch the corner. That probably happened about four or five times and that’s kind of where all the strikeouts came from.”
Jake Fishman had a ground ball rate of over 54 percent with the C’s in 2017 according to FanGraphs.
On keeping tabs on his Vancouver teammates late in the season.
“I was following them every game of the way. When you have such close friends on the team, you’re always interested on how they’re doing, whether they win a championship or not.
Bittersweet is a good way to describe it. It would be amazing to go and win a championship with that team but at the same time, a promotion is always good so I can’t really complain about it.”
On starting versus relieving.
“I love starting. I was a starter in college but I would like to do whatever the Blue Jays have in store for me. I like relieving. Eventually my goal is to become a starter but if they want to keep me in the pen as a multi-inning guy or even just a set-up guy, that’s totally fine with me as long as I’m out there being able to pitch.”
On being named to the roster for Israel at the 2017 World Baseball Classic.
“That was super cool. I was put on the roster. I didn’t get to go to the semi-final or wherever they went to Japan but it was cool. I got the opportunity just to even be on the roster. The manager (Jerry Weinstein – his manager at Wareham) gave me a call a couple of days before they started games in Japan and he told me that I might need to fly out to Japan and join the team. At that point, I was ecstatic that he would even consider having me go there even though I was just on the extra reserves. Overall, a really cool experience.”
On his goals for 2018.
“I try not to think about where I’m going to end up. I just want to go out there and pitch as well as I can. Most likely I’ll start in Lansing and if that happens, then it would be great to finish in Dunedin. If not, I really want to have a consistent year. My goal is not let up a single run but that’s hard to do and you can’t always do that but that’s what I shoot for every year so we’ll see if we can do it this year.”
Fishman is off to a good start in that regard as he made his 2018 debut on Saturday with one inning of one-hit ball and a strikeout in Dunedin’s 6-1 victory over Clearwater.