Toronto Blue Jays hurler Joe Biagini on the 2017 starting rotation, learning from Russell Martin, and his "dinner party sense of humour."

Sportsnet: How would you describe your personality?
Biagini: Uh oh. Well, my friends and I came up with the “dinner party sense of humour.” When you’re having a dinner party and you say subtle little funny things people aren’t expecting, that’s what I’m going for. I feel weird titling it because it feels self-serving: “Oh, this is who I am!” My personality is not funny to everybody. I would say it’s probably annoying at times. I hope it’s not too annoying to people. I try to state the obvious in a unique way and question things that are assumed, and find different ways to make everyday conversation. I can’t help but just look for little minutia of interaction and challenge that. It’s a little bit irreverent, I guess. My goal is not a lack of respect for anybody, especially someone who deserves it. I just hope that people understand that I’m just kidding when I say weird crap. [Laughs.]

You enjoy awkwardness, right?
Maybe it’s because I’m hopelessly awkward. And because of that I’ve embraced it instead of trying to run from it. I like to embrace some awkwardness at times — or all the time.

You were awkward on The Tonight Show.
Yes, thank you for noticing that. I remember feeling a little bit concerned about going on that show. Do I really want to make it look like I think I’m a big deal? Like, “Oh, I’m going on The Tonight Show? Of course I am, because I’m a celebrity and I’m famous.” But who’s gonna turn down an opportunity to go on The Tonight Show? I was actually more nervous about that than pitching. When you’re pitching, you’re comfortable, you know what you’re doing. But there, anything could happen, my pants could fall off, who knows?

I guess there was pressure around missing the high-five the second time. [Editor’s note: For context watch the video above.]
[The producers] sent me a script over email. [Jimmy Fallon and I] were supposed to miss a high five and do this crazy dance. I was practicing this dance the night before in my apartment with a couple friends, and I was really nervous about it. Then I got there the next day and they were like, “Oh yeah, we cut the dance.” I was relieved, and I was a little annoyed because I’d practiced it for two hours — I was all ready to do it.

Maybe it’s a good thing for your career.
Who knows? Maybe I could have done Dancing with the Stars or something. Although I think you have to be a star to be on Dancing with the Stars.

Are you confident heading into this season?
I feel confident. I did not grow up as a confident person or a positive person. Even now — recently, the last couple years — it’s been hard for me to say freely, openly, that I am confident. But I’ve gotten better at that. At being able to say, “I am a good pitcher. I’m a really good pitcher. I’m one of the best pitchers in the world.” Now I can say it freely and believe it.

That’s huge.
I’m confident about my mindset and my mechanics and my pitches and my ability to be a better teammate in the future and grow and learn and improve. I believe I have a lot to still improve on, which I think is a good sign for my future. I’m excited about this next season and bothering my teammates for another year. [Laughs.]

“I just hope that people understand that I’m just kidding when I say weird crap.”

Is the goal to start?
I’ve always enjoyed starting because I’m a routine-oriented person and I enjoy being able to plan out my workouts and my bullpens and my schedule. I always liked knowing when I was gonna pitch. I think the ultimate goal down the road would be to get the chance to start. I believe that I may be in the mix this year but I don’t really have huge expectations for that because of how good our starting rotation is already. I’m happy to just have a spot on the team. If I get the opportunity, I’d be excited about it. I would be excited to contribute on this team in any fashion whether that’s water boy or janitor or centre fielder.

Maybe third?
Yeah, we’ve got a hole at third base this year.

Your dad was drafted by the San Francisco Giants, who selected you as well. When you were picked, were you thinking, “This is the dream”?
It didn’t seem real. I was certainly really excited about it, but I was kind of imagining that since the odds were so low that I could be drafted by the one team that I knew and liked, I prepared myself for it to be one of the other teams. The Giants ended up drafting me. It felt weird. It didn’t really feel like I was in professional baseball right after I got drafted because it was the Giants. I had to come to grips with that. After facing my first couple of batters my first season I quickly realized that I was in professional baseball.

At any point did you doubt that you’d make it to the big leagues?
I knew it was gonna happen every single second of my life, for sure. Besides almost all of the seconds that I didn’t think that, which were most of them. There was very little time growing up that I was anything near confident about making it to the big leagues. Even now, some days I wake up in the morning and have to remind myself that it happened. I remember last year — it was probably August or September — I had a dream. [In the dream] I wasn’t sure if I was gonna make the team or not, I think it was in Spring Training and I hadn’t made it. I woke up right in the middle of it and I wasn’t sure what was true. I was kinda scared for a second. I stood up and looked around and I saw that I was in my apartment in Toronto and I was like, “Well, I guess I did make it — whew.” This was months into the season. I hope I don’t ever lose that mindset, because I don’t want to get complacent and used to it.

What did you learn from Russell Martin last year?
French words. I think l learned “shut up” because that’s what he would tell me all the time. No, just kidding. I learned to have a sense of confidence and trust in my catcher. In the minor leagues, I threw to a lot of good catchers but they always wanted to get guys in there and have a rotation, so it was hard to develop a rapport. Coming into last season, I needed to commit to trusting somebody in that position. I made a few mistakes along the way with shaking him off. And I realized I can do that and he’s always respectful of that, but sometimes I was like, “I need to trust that he knows what he’s doing.” More often than not he does, and he has proven that. He would be an example of calm confidence back there. You could tell he was in control of the game — that he’s very aware of what the hitters are like and takes that into consideration. It was fun talking about pitching with him and I expect to expand on that this year.

What’s your best pitch?
Whatever works, I guess? I feel like my fastball is my best pitch because it has a little bit of sink on it. When I throw it low in the zone, I feel like it’s pretty effective. I would say last year the cutter, surprisingly, was one of my best pitches. I was lucky to have that because I was struggling with my changeup a little bit all season, which I’m working on now. My changeup used to be my main pitch. With improving my mechanics I had to readjust how I was wanting to throw that. But it was a little frustrating to be searching for it most of the year. For right now, my most effective is probably the cutter. The curveball is one that I save for important situations. I don’t want to take that one for granted either. I just basically named all of them for you.

“I learned French words from Russell Martin. I think l learned ‘shut up’ because that’s what he would tell me all the time.”

Who do you throw to when you practice in the off-season?
I have a poster of Big Bird from Sesame Street that I set up, and I just try to hit the targets. I hit him in the head or the shoulder or the arm for different pitches. That seems to help me a lot. He has a very inspiring quote on the top of the poster: “You can do it.” It really helps me get in the zone.

Is that your answer?
That’s my answer. But my secondary, half answer that you could consider—just decide which one’s true—is also that my agent was a catcher who played professionally. Although he does not look like Big Bird he’s a good catcher and he catches me sometimes. A lot of times I’ll just throw with my dad because he can still play catch with me and he likes doing it.

I was going to ask you if you’re ever serious. But you’ve been serious for a good portion of this interview.
Oh yeah. I would say too serious. This interview was far too serious.

Photo Credits

Mike Stobe/Getty Images; Gene J. Puskar/AP; Ronald Martinez/Getty Images