Rick Knapp out as Tigers pitching coach
The last time the Tigers gave up more than 51 runs in a five-game stretch, the year was 1996, and Detroit’s pitching staff was on its way to a 6.38 ERA for the season, an incredible number to consider nowadays.
This team wasn’t headed anywhere near that. This team has Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Joaquin Benoit and Jose Valverde. If it’s right, it has the chance to be the best pitching staff in the division. As it was, it had a 4.89 ERA aside from Verlander.
Rick Knapp, rightly or wrongly, took the blame for that. And when Jim Leyland called the performances this week “unacceptable,” it turned out to be a forewarning of what came down Sunday.
“Was there any signs? Well, the 15 runs last night, that was a big sign,” Knapp told MLB Network Radio Sunday evening. “And the 16 runs against the Mets, that was a bad sign. You know, it’s one of those deals where you feel like, if I had to be in their situation and maybe in their pressured shoes, that I might consider to make a change if I was the owner or the manager or the general manager. I can’t answer that.
“I came at it every day like it was Day 1, you know? There’s no difference. I put the hours in. I put the time in. I mean, there’s only so much waking hours that you have to put in. Wasn’t meant to be. That’s just the way it is.”
In the end, it’s hard not to see Knapp at least somewhat as a fall guy in a situation where it’s difficult to hone the blame on one particular person. His replacement as pitching coach, Jeff Jones, worked alongside Knapp with a lot of the pitchers in what has been described as a very good relationship. Together, they assembled a lot of the scouting reports, and a lot of the individual work.
The struggles of Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello, in particular, had to be frustrating. When Scherzer looked as lost mechanically on Saturday as he has been at any point since being sent down to Triple-A Toledo last year, it had to hurt. A year ago, Scherzer said he knew the mechanical change he needed to make, but just had to do it in a different setting. That doesn’t sound as obvious right now.
Porcello said the other day that he had become too predictable and needed to mix things up, and tried to do that Sunday in an outing that yielded three wild pitches and three hit batters, but also seven quality innings in what looked like a bizarre pitching performance.
It’s hard to see a dramatic change in message coming out of the coaching change. The main change might be the message sent by the coaching change itself, the reminder that this team and this regime is under pressure to win this year, and take a division that clearly looks like it’s there for the taking.
Leyland couldn’t remember making an in-season coaching change at any other point in his major league career. That might say a lot.
The ebb and flow of the season, the highs and lows, the pressures of trying and having to win, I think that what ended up happening, quite frankly, I think Max probably was underperforming and Rick Porcello was underperforming,” Knapp told MLB Network Radio. “That’s not to say that we hadn’t made strides or we weren’t moving towards a big second half. But in their eyes, I wasn’t the guy to lead them to the next level or where they want to be.”
That seemed to be the message coming out of the clubhouse. But there’s this comparison: When Knapp’s predecessor, Chuck Hernandez, was let go at the end of 2008, Leyland basically said he had the pay the price for the struggles. On Sunday, he said he and team president Dave Dombrowski were in agreement on Knapp.
“We just felt like it just wasn’t working,” Leyland said. “It was a joint decision between Dave and myself. We both agreed on the decision. We felt like it just wasn’t working, and that pretty much sums it up.”
Knapp, to his credit, didn’t burn any bridges. In the end, he just sounded exhausted, because the work he put in to try to work with the pithcers got him there.
“I’m proud of the stuff that we accomplished here,” Knapp said. “Justin has been an all-star all three years. He has a no-hitter. Last year, Galarraga had a no-hitter taken away from him. I mean, I feel like I don’t know what else I could’ve done other than made those guys good. Frankly, that’s the nature of the beast. You know, you get all the blame and I deflect all the credit. I wish the guys the best and I’m disappointed that it ended this way and frankly, I’m a little shell-shocked at the moment and I’m going to try to regroup here. Hopefully it’ll lead to bigger and better things. Who knows?”