ANNA ASKS: Hi Buck, I was wondering how much of an impact pitching coach Bruce Walton and the Jays organization have had on Brandon Morrow realizing his potential this season? Do the Jays have a different philosophy than Morrow’s former team the Mariners or is it simply a matter of everything finally clicking? Thanks!
BUCK: Anna, I think Bruce Walton and Rick Langford have had everything to do with Morrow’s success this year. Morrow had been bounced back and forth from the bullpen to the rotation while in Seattle but the Jays made a commitment to Brandon that he would be given the opportunity to start in Toronto. Then the work began.
Walton recognized a mechanical flaw in his delivery that kept him from throwing the ball down in the zone. He was too much across his body and the arm was too close to his head when he began his delivery. The stride was altered to get him more on line to the plate. Then the arm angle was dropped to a high 3/4 slot that created more movement on his fastball at the same time, allowing a more positive angle to throw his breaking balls. Another addition to his arsenal was the two-seam fastball. He had never thrown that pitch before. It moves dramatically with similar velocity as his power four-seam fastball.
Early in the year we were concerned with the number of walks he would allow in a game, now we are concerned for the hitters. Brandon Morrow is a special athlete who strives to be great. His delivery is consistent now with his physical ability. There are no limits on how good he can be from this point forward.
ROB ASKS: Hi Buck, at the end of August the Jays are honouring Dave Stieb, who threw the only no-hitter in club history and still holds many records. What was your experience in having Stieb as a teammate in the 1980s?
BUCK: Dave was the most talented pitcher I ever caught. He had a tremendous “feel” for pitching that allowed him to add and subtract on his velocity, which produced dramatic movement on his fastball. That being said he had the best slider of his generation. The break was late, tight and sweeping.
Dave was an all-around athlete playing football and the outfield in baseball. He was an All-American at Southern Illinois University. He was an intense competitor who never settled for mediocrity, causing some problems from time to time with his teammates as he wore his emotions on his sleeve. I have always said if Dave Stieb had played on the great Jays World Series teams in his prime he would have won 25 games a year. I had my run-ins with Dave, but if I needed to win a big game, he would be my pitcher.
ALBERT MCCALLUM ASKS: Hi Buck. We all saw what J.P. Arencibia can do with the bat. What is the scouting report on how he calls a game, his defence, and throwing out base stealers?
BUCK: Albert, J.P. can swing the bat as we have seen already in his short time with the club. As for the skills of catching, that will take some time and that’s not a knock against him. Catching for a contending team requires leadership, defence, psychological finesse and pitch-calling, which all takes time to master. When a young catcher plays in high school or college he rarely calls his own game. Coaches call all of the pitches so the young player never thinks about the process.
When he starts out in professional baseball in the minors, he doesn’t have the same pitching staff to work with all year, nor does he have a scouting report to help him attack the opposing hitter’s weaknesses. When he gets to the majors it is expected that he can call a game; that’s a lot to ask right out of the chute. J.P. wants to learn how to call a game and he may become that leader behind the plate, but it takes game experience in the heat of battle to understand how to do that. When he catches for the Jays he will sit with the pitcher and the pitching coaches to break down the lineup he will face that day. He will also break down his pitcher as to what he can and can’t do.
The entire goal of calling a good game is to put the pitcher in the best possible frame of mind on every pitch so that pitcher doesn’t have to think about the “theory” of why that pitch at that time, he only has to think about “executing” that pitch at that time. John Buck and Jose Molina had trouble with this staff early in the season as it was the first time they worked with this staff. But as the season progressed, so did the skills of the catchers with these particular pitchers. Hopefully J.P. will groomed into a solid catcher to complement his great hitting skills.
MIKE ASKS: Hi Buck, were you surprised that Seattle Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik survived the purge last week that saw Don Wakamatsu, pitching coach Rick Adair, bench coach Ty Van Burkleo and performance coach Steve Hecht all lose their jobs?
BUCK: Mike it is very difficult to make that call without being involved with the club on a daily basis. When the season began everyone was picking the Mariners to win the AL West because of the dramatic improvement from 2008 to 2009. I wasn’t one of those on the Mariners bandwagon. I didn’t see the offensive production in place to allow for another big jump in the standings. They didn’t score many runs in 2009 and the off-season moves didn’t address that. Zduriencik has a good reputation as a talent evaluator but I am not sure that is enough of a resume to expect him to be an effective GM that can put together a championship ballclub.
BRIAN ROSE ASKS: Hi Buck, in a Red Sox-Jays game last week, I saw a Boston pitcher lick his fingers while on the mound and in possession of the ball. Has the rule been changed to allow this?
BUCK: Brian, the rule has changed a bit regarding a pitcher going to his mouth on the dirt part of the mound. In years past a pitcher had to step off the dirt before going to his mouth; now he can go to his mouth while on the dirt but not on the pitching rubber. The penalty comes if he doesn’t wipe his hand on his uniform before touching the ball. Not wiping off his hand after going to his mouth will force the umpire to call a “ball” and the at-bat will continue.
MIKE GAUDET ASKS: Buck, what did you find most difficult about managing in the big leagues and is it something you would ever consider doing again?
BUCK: Mike, the most challenging part of managing or coaching in any professional sport today is getting the players to play for a uniform goal of winning. There is so much money to be made by individuals if they simple play and put up individual numbers, average, home runs, RBIs, innings pitched, ERA and wins. All of the focus of the 25 guys has to be on winning and that is a difficult thing to accomplish.
As for me getting back into managing I don’t think it is something I will do again as I love broadcasting and have a great opportunity to work with Rogers Sportsnet covering the Blue Jays at a time when the club is headed back to being a force in the American League again.
STEVE ASKS: Buck can you elaborate a little on the new HGH testing in the minor leagues and when you think we’ll see it in the majors? Thanks!
BUCK: Steve, as I understand the new minor-league HGH testing program, the minor leaguers will be subject to blood tests for HGH ramdomly throughout the season. The reason this can be unilaterally implemented in the minors is the players are part of the Major League Baseball Players Association and don’t have the privacy rights of big leaguers. I don’t think you will see HGH testing in the majors until the association is shown that testing is 100 per cent accurate and that testing can be done without the blood testing. This is a very touchy area as far as the players’ privacy and the association will not give into this until they believe it is a valid, safe and accurate test. That being said, the game has cleaned up dramatically since the PED testing has been in place in the majors and I am a big fan of that.