Photo Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
Pat Hentgen has been a bullpen coach for the Jays, a scout, a Cy Young winner, and this year will move more to the player development side, working as a roving instructor in the minors, while also joining the big league club on every other home stand.
He’s a jack of all trades, but one that knows the pitchers in this organization very well — and isn’t afraid to speak his mind about them, as we learned yesterday (if we didn’t already know) when he appeared on Jeff Blair’s show on the Fan 590. So let’s check that out! (Audio link).
On Aaron Sanchez:
For me, I just think Sanchez is the type of guy that’s — he’s a different guy right now than he was two, three years ago. You know, he’s gained some weight, he’s gained some strength, he looks a lot better — his legs and butt are better. I just think, with his fastball command and the sinking movement that he has, he could be a Scott Erickson type guy for us. If he does break camp in the rotation, it wouldn’t surprise me to see him as one of our best pitchers in the rotation by May. And I don’t know what they’re going to do — I’m here, I’m helping out Pete [Walker] and Dane [Johnson] — but it’s going to be interesting to see what they decide to do, I’ll tell you that.
I love that Erickson comp, just because it’s not exactly asking the world of Sanchez, even though Erickson was a very, very solid pitcher from 1991 to 1999. It’s a bit of an imperfect comp, though, as Erickson certainly didn’t throw as hard as Sanchez, at least not by the end of his career, which we have Pitch F/X data for. And he threw a lot more changeups than Sanchez seems to, and a slider instead of a curve. But whatever! Sure! Be Scott Erickson — I’ll take it!
I think it’s just strength, you know, he was a young kid and we drafted him out of high school, and he’s just starting to put on that “man weight.” It just makes a big difference when you have that core and that base to withhold all the stress on your arm. So, like I said, again, I think it’s going to really come down to the front office, Gibby, Pete, and Dane, making a decision, is our staff better with him in the bullpen? I could see that argument. But man, 180 innings with Sanchez on the mound? Whew! He could really be dominating.
So far so good for Aaron this spring, I’d say.
The conversation then turned to Sanchez’s main competitor for that last rotation spot, Gavin Floyd. And… uh… Hentgen’s train of thought tends to shift around a bit — or at least it did in this interview — so I honestly wasn’t sure if he was speaking directly about Floyd, and saying that he’s told people that he can’t pitch out of the bullpen, or making a more general point about whoever ends up not getting the spot. He wasn’t exactly as glowing here as he was when he was talking about young Sanchy.
It’s going to come down the the end. I really don’t know where the front office is on this decision. I know that Floyd — any pitcher that tells you they can’t pitch out of the ‘pen, I’m not buying it. I don’t buy that. I did both, and I talked to many guys that have done both — it’s a mental state of mind; you have to be ready — and if you can help our team out of the bullpen: your choices are, do you want to go to the bullpen or do you go to Buffalo? So for me, I think that whoever ends up in the bullpen needs to make the adjustment and compete.
Well… unless he goes to Buffalo to keep starting.
Speaking of! Here’s Hentgen on Drew Hutchison:
Drew’s a good pitcher — he won 13 games last year. His splits were crazy, but I think that Drew is a guy that — I know we talked with Russell, and Pete did with Russell, about front-dooring his breaking ball. And I guess it went really well yesterday — he was throwing it at the front hip of the righties. And Russell was telling me that when he throws it glove side it has a little hump to it, but when he throws it on the arm side it stays like his fastball all the way to the end. So we talked about it with Pete, and Dane, and myself, and we were like, why can’t he front-hip guys if he feels better with his breaking ball on that side? Here the problem with front-hipping the ball: a veteran hitter will sit on a 1-0 breaking ball, and when you throw that ball inside, it’s open up the hips, and it’s usually a bullet down the left field line, sometimes a home run. And I remember Molitor telling me that when I was playing with Molitor. “When you throw your curveball make sure you don’t leave it middle-in to a veteran hitter, because those veteran hitters are seeking that hanging breaking ball.”
OK, so that’s at least something. Hutchison’s slider was huge in driving his late-2014 success that got so many of us excited about his potential last year, so him starting to figure that out is great. Even if it means he’s going to be particularly careful with how he uses the pitch.
Hey, and Hentgen’s use of Hutchison’s win-loss record almost works in this context — I don’t think the 13 games he won last year were necessarily the best ones he pitched (he was getting a tonne of run support, as I recall), but he did pitch quite well a number of times. And then other times — usually on the road — he was serving up meatballs.
What’s up with that, Pat?
If I had a theory I would have told him in April last year, right? Yeah, I don’t have a theory — I think it’s coincidental. It started maybe getting in his head a little bit. Wasn’t the year before the opposite? Well, this year he’s putting it together. They’re both going to be good — home and away.
Agreed! I think Hutch will be just as good on the road this year as he will be at Coca-Cola Field. Heyo!
Marcus Stroman will certainly be in the majors, though, and on that front, Hentgen has got some strong advice:
To me Stro’s got to be careful because he’s almost a little bit bored being good, if that makes sense. I mean, to work on the quick pitch and stuff? I mean, with 27 career starts, the league already knows what you got — I get that. But don’t adjust until the league makes you adjust. I remember a story in Fenway when Cecil — I had Cecil in the bullpen. He said, I think it’s time for me to make an adjustment, I said, “Cec, you’ve got a two ERA. You had one bad game. We’re going to change everything???” So I think players sometimes try to make too many adjustments at times. But Stroman’s got two things that are huge: confidence, and he can spin the ball, and he’s a competitor, and it’s just a really good combination.
That’s three things, Pat. But we see what you mean.
He wasn’t done worrying about the quick pitch stuff, it turns out:
It’s like, if you’re going to do the quick pitch like Cueto, and you’re going to hesitate on the mound like Cueto, do it in counts that won’t hurt you. Do it in a count that’s 0-2. Use your best control pitch, which means your fastball, typically. Don’t try and quick pitch and throw a changeup or quick pitch and throw a breaking ball. Those are usually your second and third command pitches, so for me, I’m like, if you’re going to do the quick pitch, let’s do the fastball — maybe up and in. Maybe send a message 0-2 — you know, throw that neck ball. So it’s funny, because I think he quick pitched earlier in spring with a changeup and gave up a home run, and I remember thinking to myself, “Don’t get caught up in throwing your third and fourth control pitch with a different delivery!” It’s hard enough to command it with your normal one.
Hentgen also gave us a little on JA Happ, too, which was just as honest as, by this point, we’ve come to expect:
I think the big thing with JA was that we knew the character, we knew the guy, we knew the work habits — great teammate, he brings all the intangibles. I think at times he nitpicks. At least when we had him. He would nitpick around the strike zone. I really think that Ray Searage just got him to believe in his stuff and throw more strikes. And I know the other day, he pitched in the minor leagues and I went over there the next day, and the guys were all talking about Estrada and Happ and how they just pound the zone, pound the zone. And we even told the minor leaguers, Estrada’s throwing 88, you guys are all throwing 92. So why are you worried about your radar gun? Let’s locate the ball.
Even Joe Biagini got some love-ish:
When you see Stroman go out there, so fluid, so athletic, you just want all your pitchers to kind of adopt that, and I think sometimes guys get a little mechanical — like Joe Biagini, our Rule 5 guy. He starts out throwing a little bit mechanical, but by the end of the inning he’s smoothing it out, he’s got that fluidity like that. So I think if he can start the inning with that fluidity, it will really help him, because they’re just athletes in the end.
. . .
I think even when he warms up, when he’s not going in the game, he starts out a little mechanical, and I think it’s just because he comes from Double A. He may not be 100% confident in his delivery, and he’s got some things that he does, but in the end the stuff at the plate is fantastic.
And lastly, he offered some thoughts on Marco Estrada, and what clicked last year, and how he’s going to keep being successful going forward:
It’s funny, I think it shows to me how important a catcher can be. I think it’s the one position that affects half your roster, and I can think of — when I played with Charlie O’Brien, and had my best year, it wasn’t coincidental. He did a great job of calling the game, convincing me that it was the right pitch, and also knew when to light a fire, and when to pat me on the back. There were days when he made me feel like King Kong on my fifth day. And I think that Navarro and Estrada had that chemistry. Now I remember Cito told me, “Don’t get married to a catcher, Pat. You can’t marry a catcher.” I played ten years in Toronto, I probably had 25 catchers, so Marco’s going to be fine, but I think he did outdo what I anticipated, for sure.
. . .
I think that Marco’s going to take what he learned from Navarro. I remember when I had O’Brien, I’d be like, “this is what you’re calling? I would never throw that right here “– and it would work. Next thing you know you’re in the fifth inning with no runs. So I think with Marco, a light might have gone on with just having Navarro.
Not to diminish what Navarro did with him last year too much, or the importance of having a kind of chemistry with your catcher, but the way I see it, if you look at the game logs, when Estrada moved to the rotation it took him a little while to get up to speed and everything working right. Navarro happened to be behind the plate when it really came together, and Gibbons decided to keep going with that combination. Uh… I think he and Russell Martin will be fine.
Good talk though!