Results tagged ‘ Rick Knapp ’

Rick Knapp now Royals pitching instructor

Rick Knapp made his resume as the minor league pitching coordinator for the Twins, reinforcing the philosophies of Minnesota pitching coach Rick Anderson and management, before the Tigers hired him as their pitching coach after the 2008 season. Once the Tigers dismissed Knapp as pitching coach this summer, that seemed like the natural role for him to return.

He found his spot with the Royals, who face a challenge developing the pitching to complement their gifted young hitters. Kansas City announced Knapp as its new pitching coordinator on Wednesday.

It’ll be a little more of a transition for Knapp, who lives in Florida and was able to stay at home during the offseason while going back and forth to Lakeland. The Royals train in Surprise, Arizona.

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?”

What is going on with Rick Porcello?

Rick Porcello doesn’t have that look at last year when he talks about his struggles. A year ago, he looked exasperated, like his mind was spinning into overdrive trying to figure out why he wasn’t able to get the ground-ball outs that were so plentiful in 2009. Porcello believes he’s on the right track now, and he sounds mature about it.

That’s his look off the field. On the field, he’s taking a beating these last three starts.

To be fair, one of those three games was a debacle of singles at Dodger Stadium last Wednesday, when he looked like a hard-luck pitcher. Another was a Coors Field game for a sinkerball pitcher, and as Mike Hampton might attest, those don’t go well sometimes.

Tuesday was a different feel. If Willie Harris had gotten to second base on his fourth-inning shot off the right field fence, then Porcello would’ve given up the cycle in four batters and just five pitches. Their singles were not cheapies.

It was the kind of outing that, when coupled with the other two, creates concern on a ballclub and a task for a pitching coach.

“Obviously tonight, it was just one of those things,” Rick Knapp said after the game. “He felt like they were on him, and he tried. He used his other pitches. He used his slider. He used his curveball. I thought he threw a couple good curveballs tonight. But at the same time, if he doesn’t execute his best pitch consistently, that’s when he’s going to get hurt.”

The mix of pitches was there for Porcello on Tuesday. The finishing pitch with two strikes was not. Divide Porcello’s 47 strikes thrown by the 11 hits he allowed, and he had just over 4.25 strikes per hit. He also had just two swings and misses from Mets hitters. His 2-to-1 ratio of groundouts to flyouts was good, but that’s because the vast majority of the balls they hit in the air against him went for hits.

“Tonight he threw some bad pitches that they hit, and he threw some decent pitches that they hit,” Jim Leyland said. “It just wasn’t his night.”

When you hear about hitters doing damage on good pitches, and hitters barely missing any pitches, one of the first things to come to mind is whether a pitcher is tipping his pitches. It’s something pitchers and coaches don’t like to talk about much, and they weren’t saying a whole lot after the game Tuesday. But it’s safe to say they’re looking at it, looking for anything that might even give a hint.

When those numbers are coming against a pitcher like Porcello, who focuses on one very good pitch that can get outs even when hitters know it’s coming, then it can be a different question. Is he throwing his secondary pitches well enough to keep hitters honest? Is he executing the bread-and-butter pitch?

Statistically, Porcello had one of his better mixes going, with double-digit pitch totals in four different pitches. But his slider, which often complements his sinker, just wasn’t working, getting just seven strikes out of 15 pitches, and his changeup was marginally better.

Look at his strike zone plot on brooksbaseball.net, too, and though he had some pitches low, almost all of them were first-pitch balls, which led to second-pitch strikes higher up in the zone. The two swing-and-miss strikes he got were both on high pitches.

“I think it’s just a matter of pitch making,” Porcello said. “I think early on [this season, when he was on], I was down in the zone very consistently and lately, balls have been coming up. I’ve been paying the price for it. It just can’t go any further. I’ve got to squash it and make sure that everything I’m throwing is down in the zone and keeping guys off-balance with a good mix of pitches.

“I definitely felt like today and in previous bad outings, I think guys have been all over my fastball, especially left-handed hitters. That’s been kind of na ongoing thing for me that I’ve got to make sure I shut down lefties in the lineup. Almost all the lineups I’m going to face are stacked with left-handed hitters. That’s just an ongoing challenge.”

I asked Porcello what he saw as the difference, pitch-wise, between what he threw in Pittsburgh in May over eight scoreless innings and what he threw Tuesday night.

“I think there’s not a big difference between my stuff in Pittsburgh and now,” he said. “In fact, I think velocity-wise, it was the best my fastball has been all year. I felt like I had a pretty sharp slider again. It’s just a matter of throwing strikes and putting the pressure on them to (with) pitches.”

It might well have been that the Pirates simply didn’t hit him well, or that the Mets hit him particularly well. But unlike last year, he calls this a bump in the road.

I know the question will come up among fans whether Porcello needs to go to Toledo to work things out. At this point, I would say no. It wasn’t that long ago that he was pitching effectively, and it’s abundantly clear that the Tigers need to get him going here to have any shot at doing things in October. I don’t see any other clear candidate as a third starter right now. I don’t think Jacob Turner is ready for that yet, and I think Andy Oliver has his own set of circumstances. You have to be able to throw someone other than Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer at a team, and when Porcello is right, he’s by far the best of the rest.

On Jackson and tipping pitches

jackson091709.jpgOne of the things pitching coach Rick Knapp mentioned Sunday that he and bullpen coach Jeff Jones were working on with Edwin Jackson in his morning side session was a quirk that they believed was tipping his slider, letting hitters know it was coming. But the thing is, it’s still a good enough pitch that hitters haven’t been pounding it. Really, they haven’t been swinging at it, and Knapp’s belief was that by knowing it was coming, hitters were taking it so that Jackson would fall behind in counts, or just not finish off hitters with two strikes.

It’s an interesting little twist on the pitch-tipping saga. A lot of times, you hear about it allowing hitters to attack a pitch. Alfredo Figaro went from a decent Major League debut against the Brewers in June to a pounding from Astros hitters a week later, some Tigers believed, because he was tipping pitches. In that case, the Gameday app showed Astros hitters pummeled Figaro’s breaking balls and offspeed pitches while laying off the fastball. A few years ago, the White Sox found something in Verlander’s mannerisms that tipped his pitches, and pounded his changeup.

In Jackson’s case, Royals and Blue Jays hitters generally went after his fastball his last two starts. Yet if you look at his pitch data, his ball-strike ratio wasn’t any different than usual, and he still got a high number of swings and misses, 12 of them from the Royals. However, it didn’t take looking at Gameday to notice Jackson was throwing fewer sliders. Leyland complained about it after the Royals outing. Jackson is throwing 25 percent sliders this year, according to fangraphs.com, compared with about 20 percent last season.

I don’t know what Jackson was doing to tip his slider; Knapp obviously isn’t going to say it. But I do know he had Jackson working on his mannerisms over and over leading into his delivery during his side session Sunday morning in the Metrodome. Will it make a difference? We’ll find out, but the question will be whether hitters swing more at his slider, not less.

Knapp OK after passing out on plane

Tigers pitching coach Rick Knapp was back at work for Monday’s series opener against the Rangers, but his trip to Texas was still the talk of the clubhouse after a frightening incident on the team flight.

Knapp passed out after trying to enter the restroom on the team plane, and briefly lost consciousness before head athletic trainer Kevin Rand and their staff scrambled to his aid to awaken him. An ambulance met the plane upon landing quickly at Love Field and took Knapp to a local hospital, where he stayed briefly before being released early Monday morning. The rest of the Tigers arrived at the team hotel around 2:30 a.m.

The Tigers were less than a half-hour away from Dallas when the incident happened, so emergency landing was necessary.

Knapp said he had been feeling ill before the flight and felt worse after he ate something. He also had taken Tamiflu, prescribed to all team personnel on the trip after Rangers pitcher Vicente Padilla tested positive for H1N1 Type A influenza, commonly known as swine flu.

No official diagnosis was given for what was behind Knapp’s blackout, but a heart attack or stroke were quickly ruled out. Follow-up tests showed no cause for further concern.

Knapp resumed his normal duties Monday, albeit on short rest. He was more embarrassed about the incident than anything.

Still, that embarrassment couldn’t match the concern on the part of the Tigers as they watched Rand and others trying to revive him as the plane rushed to land.

“A lot of players were upset, scared,” Leyland said.

Said reliever Bobby Seay: “It was just pandemonium there for a minute. You don’t know what was going on.”

Friday's caravan notes: Dombrowski, Knapp, Everett

There wasn’t really much media time for the Tigers on the second and final day of their winter caravan, certainly on their local bus. However, there were a few tidbits that came out of some of the events, including the stop at the Henry Ford.

  • Dave Dombrowski acknowledged the idea that the Tigers haven’t been in the conversation among the AL Central contenders. He kind of likes that. “I think that’s good if people look past us. I think it’s a mistake. And in some ways, I hope they do, because you can sneak up on people.”
  • Dombrowski on the makeup of last year’s lineup compared to what they have now: “We almost had an All-Star at every position. … And it’s apparent it didn’t work. Sometimes you have to change the mix.”
  • The longer the caravan rolls on, the stronger pitching coach Rick Knapp’s comments seemingly become about pounding the strike zone. He gave the pitching staff a vote of confidence Friday, but he also emphasized the point that a repeat of last year’s control woes can’t happen. “There’s no reason for us to lead the league in walks. There’s absolutely no reason for that. We want to come out and set a precedent. But with the stuff our pitchers have, there’s absolutely no reason to lead the league in walks.”
  • If there’s a question and answer session at a Tigers stop, it’s a safe bet the question will come up of who made the biggest impact on a player’s career growing up. Most players say their parents. Adam Everett gives a nod to Hall of Famer Bruce Sutter, who happens to be a family friend. He was also a mentor and instructor for Everett growing up.
  • Given the news on Freddy Garcia’s deal with the Mets, it’s worth noting that the Tigers had minimal contact with Garcia’s agent on a deal as the offseason wore on. The club seemed to decide early on that it would at least pursue different options.
  • Former Tigers minor league reliever Ian Ostlund will be part of spring training with the Cardinals. He signed a minor league contract with St. Louis early in the offseason.
  • I booked my flight for spring training today. That’s neither here nor there — well, it’s out of the weather here and down to some warm sunshine there. But given the winter we’ve had in Michigan, it felt good to do. Hopefully some of you get the chance to make the trip down to Lakeland.

Hope to see some of you at TigerFest on Saturday. It’ll be cold, colder than today, but at least no snow.

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