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Next Stop, Atlanta?

Feb. 13, 2011

By Jon Cooper
Sting Daily

Atlanta Braves’ pitchers and catchers have made it to the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Kissimmee, Fla., to begin Spring Training for the 2011 season.

On the agenda for the first day is early-morning calisthenics, stretching, running and some light throwing.

Look closely at the group of pitchers and you’ll find lefty Lee Hyde. He’ll be the one wearing No. 63 — not really a good sign as there aren’t a lot of famous 63s in baseball history.

The former Yellow Jacket is going to have to work to earn any attention while trying to earn a spot on one of the National League’s top bullpens, although he’ll surely garner some spotlight on this day, as the free-spirited members of the bullpen surely will not pass up an opportunity to celebrate his birthday, which is today.

While he’ll likely be the brunt of some off-beat prank, likely involving shaving cream in his shoes or eyeblack in his cap or his donning some kind of wacky outfit, the 26-year-old Hyde will be harboring a special birthday wish, one he’ll defer to the end of March, when teams head north.

At that point, he hopes to change the number on his back to one more closely associated with baseball greatness — like 17, which he wore last season in Gwinnett, where he finished 2010, and which is currently open in Atlanta now that longtime first base coach Glenn Hubbard is no longer on the staff — and his team affiliation, from Triple-A Gwinnett, to Atlanta.

About 15 months ago, we caught up with Hyde, when he was pitching with the Peoria Saguaros of the Arizona Fall League. At that time he was refining his technique following August 2007 Tommy John Surgery. He had just finished a 2009 season which saw him jump from the Gulf Coast League (rookie ball) through the Carolina League (High-A ball) with the Myrtle Beach Pelicans and ending in the Southern League (Double-A) with the Mississippi Braves.

In 2010, Hyde split the season between Mississippi and Gwinnett, where he was a combined 4-6 with a 3.41 ERA (23 earned runs, 32 total, in 60 2/3 innings), allowing 66 hits, striking out 52, while walking 24.

Sting Daily recently caught up with Hyde from the clubhouse at Turner Field, where he had just finished throwing a bullpen in front of Atlanta Braves Manager Fredi Gozalez and Pitching Coach Roger McDowell as part of the team’s Early Season Throwing Program. He talked about his past at Georgia Tech, his present state of health and his future goals of breaking through to “The Show” and returning to pitch in Atlanta.

Happy birthday, Lee!

STING DAILY: What are your thoughts heading into Spring Training 2011?

Lee Hyde: My goal is to pitch better than I did last year. I had an alright year last year but the main thing was to get through a full season healthy. It was the first season since I’ve been with the Braves that I actually pitched from Opening Day through the end of the season. The main thing is to stay healthy, get better and hopefully pitch well enough to give myself a shot to pitch in the big leagues at some point this year.

SD: Where do you need to improve the most?

HYDE: My breaking ball command. My fastball was pretty good but there were times where I just lost control of my breaking ball, couldn’t throw it for a strike. I have to get more consistent with that. Especially being a lefty out of the pen, I’ve got to be able to throw my breaking ball for a strike coming in to face lefties..

SD: Would you say you’re close to regaining your pre-injury form?

HYDE: Definitely. I tried to rush back. They tell you not to do that, but you get so frustrated with just rehab, rehab, rehab. You want to get back. You see all your buddies playing. I tried to rush it a little bit and I had some shoulder stuff that crept up and bugged me a little bit, too. That set me back a little bit. That’s why last year was my first year really getting back in the swing of things. I definitely think last year was the first time I felt like I was back 100 percent healthy.

SD: Was hurting your shoulder a case of changing your motion to protect the elbow?

HYDE: I think, it was nothing that I was consciously doing. I think subconsciously, just in the back of my mind I maybe changed the way I was throwing a little bit just to kind of protect my elbow. I told myself not to do it. I was trying not to do it but I’m sure subconsciously there was a part of me that was changing the way I threw some way that kind of affected my shoulder a little bit.

SD: Describe the experience of pitching under Braves Pitching Coach Roger McDowell’s eye?

HYDE: I came here last year and he showed me something just with my foot placement on the rubber that helped me out a lot. Not only him, but some of the older guys that have been around here a while, just kind of picking their brains and basically just watching and taking it all in. You learn something new every day. I just watch how they handle themselves in the clubhouse. Guys come in and take care of business. [George] Sherrill, [Eric] O’Flaherty, I’ve been buddies with Jonny [Venters] for a while. They come in, do their business and they’re not messing around. I like watching guys throw their bullpens. You learn how their mechanics work and what they’re doing to get themselves better.

SD: Where do you see yourself starting the year?

HYDE: I think it will be decided by my spring, but Gwinnett is probably where I’ll be starting out. Hopefully I can pitch well enough to get up here at some point in time.

SD: How closely do you follow Georgia Tech baseball?

HYDE: Pretty close. I still talk to Coach Hall. I saw him a couple of times this off-season. I know they’re preseason ranked. I talked to him, he said they’re going to be really young this year. We’ll see. Hopefully they can get back to Omaha. I still go over there. It’s nice just to be able to go over there and throw on the little football field behind and see Coach Hall and Steve Tamburra, ‘Kink,’ and ‘Princey,’ some the coaches that I know. It’s nice to have a facility that close to my house to be able to go and play catch in the off-season.

SD: What is your favorite memory of Tech days?

HYDE: I pitched the clinching game (beating Charleston) in the Super Regional to go to Omaha [in 2006]. I would say I started the first game in Omaha (against Clemson), but we ended up losing that game. The clinching game to go to Omaha was probably the best memory. [Pitching the CWS Opener at Rosenblatt Stadium] was probably the greatest and worst experience at the same time of my college career, pitching in the opening game of the College World Series. I pitched pretty well. It’s closed now, so it was definitely an honor.


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