Longtime pitching coach Ray Miller used to instruct his staff to work fast, change speeds and throw strikes. It was such a catchy phrase, and so important in developing Cy Young candidates, that he had T-shirts made as a reminder.
New Orioles pitching coach Dave Wallace shares a similar credo, though he has his own ideas to go along with it.
“I think that’s pretty good,” Wallace said. “Ray’s been a real good friend. I know him well and he had great success as a pitching coach. Those are some of the basics.
“What we try to get across to guys more than anything is really commanding your fastball. And we don’t mean controlling it, we mean commanding it, and commanding it at the major league level. Controlling a baseball is throwing it over the plate. Commanding a baseball is using your fastball whether it’s 80 percent, 100 percent or 90 percent. That’s changing speeds. And when you can dissect that strike zone, that whole area where major league strikes are, and you can do it on a consistent basis, especially when a hitter’s got you 1-0 or 2-1, or you can get your off-speed or secondary pitch over the plate in that count, that’s the kind of thing we’re going to try to talk about.”
The conversations will begin early this week in Sarasota at the mini-camp at the Ed Smith Stadium complex. Wallace referred to it as a “meet-and-greet,” which also includes new bullpen coach Dom Chiti.
The pitchers will do a little throwing, but not at full force. It’s too early.
“They’re not going to be going 100 percent,” Wallace said. “Probably some of the young guys are going to want to do that, but one of the first things we’re going to tell them Tuesday morning is, ‘Hey guys, this is kind of a meet-and-greet, if u will. We want to get to know you.’
“We’ll probably sit down with each one of them after the day is over and talk some one-on-one and get to know them a little bit. It’s an on-going assessment, but I think it’s time well spent because it’s a month before spring training. They’re not going to get there and say, ‘Who are these new guys coming in and what are they all about?’ And we embrace all the things they’ve learned and the guys they’ve had.
“There’s not one pitching coach, hitting coach, any coach, who has all the answers. But I think as a group you’ve got to make them understand that we will do what we can, however we need to do it, to help you get the answers and try to help you get better as a group. I think that’s real important for them to understand. We don’t care where it comes from. The important part is trying to get them better.”
As I mentioned last week, players expected to attend the Sarasota portion of the mini-camp include pitchers Dylan Bundy, T.J. McFarland, Kevin Gausman, Steve Johnson, Tommy Hunter, Ryan Webb, Josh Stinson, Brad Brach, Parker Bridwell, Tim Berry, Eduardo Rodriguez, Mike Wright and Hunter Harvey, catchers Matt Wieters, Michael Ohlman and Steel Russell, third baseman Manny Machado and outfielders Nolan Reimold and Henry Urrutia.
Wallace has a track record of working with young pitchers, including Orel Hershiser, Pedro MartÃnez, RamÃ³n MartÃnez, Pedro Astacio, Darren Dreifort, Hideo Nomo, Chan Ho Park, Ismael ValdÃ©z and John Wetteland.
“It’s something I’ve done for a long time,” he said. “To get a chance to do it at this point in my career again with some young guys is pretty exciting. They’ve been helped and they’re going to need some more help, and everybody needs a nudge here and there. But mostly, guys mature a lot on their own. It’s going to be interesting starting (this) week to get to know their makeup, what they’re all about, how competitive they are, how good they want to be, where they assess where they think they are in their career. All that good stuff.
“It’s something I’m familiar with, but again, it’s going to be a challenge because there will be some growing pains, but that’s OK.”
Wallace has no intention of marching in and making wholesale changes. Instead, he’s more apt to “tweak what they can do well,” he said.
“I think you have to play to their strengths or what they perceive to be their strengths, and along the line, you study them. And I think maybe with a set of fresh eyes, we can come up with some things that may help them. But my approach is pretty laid back, pretty soft. And I prefer to take my time and our time, I guess, as a staff to really get to know these guys and know their deliveries and know their personalities and know what they’re all about, so when you make that first recommendation, your chances are better of them going, ‘Oh, OK.’ They buy in and all of a sudden there’s a trust factor that builds. But that takes some time, so I guess I’m one of those guys who’s a slow-hand approach, I guess you would call it.”
Does this make Dave Wallace the Eric Clapton of pitching coaches?