Pitching coach's role has changed

MIKE RUTSEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:26 PM ET

DUNEDIN, Fla. — A year ago, Bruce Walton was as much a mechanic as he was a pitching coach.

This year, Walton has burned his mechanic’s overalls and is assuming a more professorial look.

It has everything to do with the state of his pitchers at hand, the veterans and the youngsters that he handles not in need of mechanical changes. This year it is more about fine tuning than tearing apart and rebuilding.

“As far as delivery type of changes, there’s no work there,” Walton said. “It’s just keeping the deliveries consistent now. Last year we knocked out a lot of stuff and now it’s just keeping everybody consistent knowing their delivery and just staying with it.”

That’s not to say that Walton has less to do.

Brett Cecil is the most recent example of a pitcher in need of answers. Cecil, who has lacked his normal velocity on his fastball — it’s down to 86-88 m.p.h. from the usual 92-93 — needs Walton to expand his pitching coach role and become something of a psychologist to deal with the demons raging inside Cecil’s head.

When you happen to be a pitching coach, there isn’t any less stress than when you’re fixing the basics such as mechanics.

It just allows you to change your focus and work on other things.

“It frees up more time for us to just throw pitches,” Walton said. “Making different adjustments in the changeup, making adjustments with the cutter, just kind of putting the whole thing together now. It’s more of a pitch selection, pitching plan than mechanical and delivery issues.”

Last spring, the big issue for Walton was revamping Brandon Morrow’s delivery but he also spent some time tweaking things with both Ricky Romero and Cecil

“Mostly with Morrow but with both Ricky and Cecil we went through a little bit of changes of staying over the rubber a little longer and giving us a chance to pound down in the strike zone,” Walton said. “We did some things and came up with some real good keys where they can coach themselves during the games.”

Walton can’t be on the mound holding young pitchers’ hands so part of the process is teaching them ability to realize what they’re doing wrong and then make the proper changes by themselves on the mound.

So, what’s next with young pitchers now that mechanical problems aren’t an issue?

“My next step is to identifying their game, identify what’s working that day and having a solid game plan for the whole season,” Walton said. “We’ve started it in spring training and it’s something that goes start by start. It’s just identifying what our strengths are, how do we approach things, how do we start the game off. If we get into trouble, what’s our go-to pitches.

“We’re still preaching to our goal of 105 pitches in 21 outs. It’s basically the simple things that we keep talking about. I think the better we can get at the simple things the more consistent we can get at the simple things, the more consistency we can have the whole year.”

This spring, the trio of Romero, Morrow and Cecil were secure in their spots with two job openings at the back end of the rotation.

Walton worked along with all the candidates but kept his message a simple one and didn’t want to step in and mess with any of the contenders’ delivery with so much for them on the line.

“Mechanically they’re pretty sound,” Walton said of Kyle Drabek, Jo-Jo Reyes and Jesse Litsch. “With Drabek, I’ve worked with keeping him on line (he has a habit of overthrowing and falling off the mound). With Jo-Jo, just staying behind the ball, staying behind the rubber, knowing where his power comes from. With Jesse it’s just staying over the rubber and keeping the late sharpness in his game.

“I’ve just touched on those things a little bit but for the most part I’ve left them alone more (than the top three) just because they were competing and battling for jobs. I let them run their own game plan, keep their strengths that they have right now and stay away from the specialized stuff — stuff like working on a back door sinker, a front door cut, stuff like that.

“Now that they’ve identified who is going north we’ll start getting into some of that other stuff.”

But his mechanic’s gear, at least at the start of this year, has been tossed in the fire.


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