USA Today Sports

Red Sox' secret to getting pitchers to finish line

Rob Bradford
September 14, 2018 - 11:24 am

Much has been made of the Red Sox' doing everything in their power to make sure pitchers aren't running on fumes come October.

Fewer innings. Disabled list stints. Managed pitch counts.

But there is one aspect of the approach taken by Dana LeVangie and Alex Cora that should be brought to the top of the list: they haven't asked, they have told.

"You ask any big league pitcher how are you doing today? They will say good. So don’t ask," the Red Sox' pitching coach said. "You’re just not pitching today."

Previous regimes' would take the tact of roaming the outfield prior to the games and get a feel for whether or not a reliever might be ready for action. According to LeVangie, that method has come and gone.

Going off of usage, both in games and in terms of warming up, along with medical reports, the Red Sox staff have come to determine if they deem a pitcher is available or not with most of the conversation not coming from the player.

Pitchers want to pitch, and sometimes they will volunteer to do so when they probably shouldn't. It was a reality LeVangie truly came to appreciate while serving as the Red Sox' bullpen coach prior to his current position.

"If I lose that perspective then I’m losing what I used to deal with out there," he said. "You have to respect those guys. You can’t win a championship without those guys. It’s really important we take care of them. Instead of saying how are you doing today? You’re either pitching or you not. If we have any reservation we’ll just take them off the chart."

It has been a practice that the Red Sox' pitchers have not only accepted but come to appreciate.

"They said, 'Do not ask me how I’m doing because I’m going to tell you every time I’m fine. Just make a decision,'"  said LeVangie, who does note that the only pitcher the Red Sox do ask is closer Craig Kimbrel. "'I’ll be pissed for 10 minutes or an hour and I’ll get over it.'"

Cora and Co. do understand, however, the approach is an imperfect one.

They can only mandate availability off what they know, and sometimes pitchers won't let even their coaches know absolutely everything.

"I think honestly, it’s more about the arm than anything else," Cora said. "But I guarantee you there have been a few guys that ... like Barnesy (Matt Barnes.) He was grinding it out with that hip, we know about it, what two, three weeks? Maybe it was before that and he didn’t want to say anything. That’s the nature of the job, they feel like they have to be there for their team. And they have to grind it out be tough and go out there and regardless of how you feel, you have to show up and do your job. So, that’s something that you try, you try to make sure they’re healthy. But it’s more about arm and fatigue and usage. But the other stuff, I guarantee you there’s guys that have pitched with sore backs, or sore necks, or with the hip. That’s tough right there. You want them to be genuine and transparent, but at the end, it’s their job. They feel that they have to be there for their teammates."

"We’ve used the bullpen a lot. We want to make sure we’re not taking advantage of those guys just to win games at all cost," LeVangie explained. "We understand we’re going to be who we are at the end of the year because our bullpen is fresh and not worn out. Alex has a pretty good method to his madness."