In a recent sit-down with MLB.com at Yankee Stadium, Rays outfielder Tommy Pham discussed a wide range of topics, from the Rays’ rivalry with the Yankees to his time with the Cardinals.
MLB.com: The last time I saw you, you were a member of the Cardinals. How do you like being with the Rays?
Tommy Pham: I enjoy winning, but they are a very young team, have great chemistry and we have a fun atmosphere. There is a lot of things to like here.
MLB.com: What is there to like?
Pham: Everyone meshes with everyone on this team really well. The chemistry is something that everybody is starting to get talked about a lot -- the loose, fun atmosphere.
MLB.com: Be honest with me, when you were traded to Tampa Bay last July, what was your reaction? Did you think you would be a loose atmosphere?
Pham: Well, before I was traded, there were rumors that there were a couple of teams looking for a right-handed-hitting outfielder and I kind of fit that description. I was, more so, shocked that I was traded here in comparison to the other teams. I was also shocked I was traded away. I felt like, with the Cardinals, things were not going well, but I still felt we were a playoff-contending team. But this team, Tampa, has been eyeing me for a few years. As they said, they are happy to have me.
MLB.com: If not Tampa, where did you expect to go?
Pham: I know I was on Houston’s radar. I heard a lot of rumors about Cleveland. Those teams had a lot of scouts at our games. So, I thought I would go to one of those teams.
MLB.com: Everybody talks about the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry, but there is a rivalry between the Rays and Yankees. How do you feel about that?
Pham: Well, it’s just two good baseball teams in a very tough division -- just going at it. Whenever you have two good teams, especially within the division, there is always going to be a great battle.
MLB.com: Do the two teams hate each other?
Pham: Hate is such a strong word. I respect them. Actually, I respect every team. That’s just me -- who I am as a person. I feel you have to be that way. Having said that, I go out here and prepare the same way. I expect the best from them.
MLB.com: How far can the Rays go in the division?
Pham: We have a very good bullpen. If everyone keeps doing their thing, stays healthy, we can make a really nice run at this. Health is the main question because you can see how injuries can really decimate a team, but if we stay healthy, we can make a good run at this.
MLB.com: The one thing I noticed about you is that you are a perfectionist. When I approached you the other day about doing this interview, you were reluctant and talked about being in a slump. You were hitting in the .280s. Why are you such a perfectionist?
Pham: This is a game based upon failure. I meant everything I said because the quality of my at-bats has been down. I’m starting to swing out of the strike zone. I’m really not hitting the ball harder or driving it. I’m having this week-long slump. It’s really important to me because I’m such an important piece in the lineup. Having said that, with me going good, I help others out as well.
MLB.com: It sounds like the Rays are making you feel at home.
Pham: Definitely. They are very appreciative. They respect everything I do. They are just glad to have me.
MLB.com: Did you feel that way in St. Louis?
Pham: I felt like my teammates loved me, but not necessarily the front office.
MLB.com: Why is that?
Pham: It’s something you have to talk to Mo [Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak] about. Mo didn’t give me a chance like these guys did.
MLB.com: Did you think it was a money deal, meaning did you wanted an extension?
Pham: I never wanted an extension. The team came to me regarding an extension. I planned on taking it year by year.
MLB.com: You did something that is unheard of. Even though you had a great season in Tampa last year, you asked permission to play in the Dominican Winter League. Why did you do that?
Pham: I feel the more I play, the more I get better -- just to go out there and keep playing, keep learning regarding my craft.
MLB.com: In what way did the Dominican Winter League help you?
Pham: It’s a tough environment. The umpires have a generous, pitcher-friendly strike zone. The balls don’t go far at all. There’s something with their balls. It’s like soft, I guess. The parks are big. Everything is a disadvantage for the hitter. You really have to learn how to hit in uncomfortable situations because the strike zone is brutal. [The umpire] call balls way off the plate -- under the zone, above the zone. So you are constantly down in the count. You drive balls and they get swallowed up in the air. It teaches you how to zone in to be a better hitter. [Editor’s note: Pham hit .279/.340/.326 in 47 plate appearances for Escogido in the Dominican Winter League.]
MLB.com: When I first met you, you were big into analytics. Your current team, the Rays, have popularized the opener. How do you feel about that part of the game?
Pham: The opener has helped us. Right now we are in a tough predicament with a starter down. [Editor’s note: Tyler Glasnow is out four to six weeks with a forearm strain.] We are trying to make up some innings. This is going to be a tough couple of months for us, but we have benefited by using the opener.
MLB.com: Why is that?
Pham: We have the arms to do it.
MLB.com: I want to talk about the hitting. The offense is not bad, either. As you said, if everybody stays healthy, this offense can compete against anybody.
Pham: Especially with me firing on all cylinders. When I’m right, we can put up some runs. You starting to see guys like Austin Meadows emerge. We’ll see how well he plays in a full year. We have guys that can hit the ball hard and work the count. Right now, we are dealing with some injuries. We’ll benefit from a healthy Matt Duffy. We’ll see where it goes.
MLB.com: You said the offense depends on you. Why do you feel that way?
Pham: Because I’m in an important position in the lineup. I’m hitting in the two-hole. Usually, when I’m in the two-hole, that spot in the lineup gets a lot of important action, whether you are getting on base or driving in the runs. So you can’t be slumping in the two-hole. Just last year, I saw how important the two-hole is, whether my experience is going good or bad. When I’m going good and I’m hitting in the two-hole, I make a lot of things happen because I’m getting on base usually with no outs or one out or there is somebody on base in front of me. We could go first to third or first to home, just a chance to have an impactful inning.
MLB.com: You seem like you have a lot to prove.
Pham: That’s just life, man. People in the professional sports world are always going to say you can’t do something. With my age and everything, people are already down on me. I’m on the latter part of the curve where you get worse.
MLB.com: Just because you are in the your 30s?
Pham: Yeah, that’s what people say. I can still run with the best of them and I still hit the ball hard with the best of them. When you have those two attributes, you are going to have some success.
Bill Ladson has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2002. He covered the Nationals/Expos from 2002-2016. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.