Blue Jay pitching coach Bruce Walton was nice enough to come out into the cold to have breakfast and chat with me, Saturday morning. He was very friendly and we ended up talking for almost two hours. I'm sure, after the last couple of very cold week here, that he's looking forward to going to spring training in Florida.
Bruce has worked for the Jays for the past 15 years or so. He started out as pitching coach for the Medicine Hat Blue Jays, in 1996. Then moved up to The Hagerstown Suns in the South Atlantic League. From 1998 to 2002 he was our minor league pitching instructor. Then he moved up to the big league team as bullpen coach. In 2002 he became our pitching coach.
As always, assume any errors to be from my transcribing. It is a pretty long interview so I'll be breaking it up into 4 or 5 parts.
You started your coaching career started in Medicine Hat, what was that like?
Small town, just across the border, the Pioneer League, it was a great experience. for my first year of coaching. When you get to that level, when you go back to that level I guess I should say, it makes you repeat things a lot. It makes you understand that these kids don't know a whole lot coming into pro-ball. And that you know a little bit more than maybe you thought you knew, at that time in your career. It was a fun time, Medicine Hat was great, loved it. It was a small town, you went to other small towns, you rode the bus a lot. I really enjoyed it.
A pitching coach at the rookie league level, I think you are learning while the kids are learning but, again, I think you find out that you know more than you think you did. Then you find out you have to repeat yourself and you have to constantly have to stay on guys about the same subject. Don't take for granted that they are going to remember it the next day. I think that was the biggest thing I learned.
Your first MLB job was bullpen coach. What is the job of bullpen coach, it is really an assistant pitching coach?
Yeah, I think that, the last 10 years, the role of bullpen coach has changed a little bit. A lot of people are going with pitching background rather than hitting, catching or other backgrounds. They are going with an extra pitching coach. You are finding out, you are responsible for half the staff, being the pitching coach, that's 12 pitchers and actually 2 catchers that you deal with every day, so its 14 players. It's nice to have someone that can help, because it is a big task, when you are dealing with half the roster and you are got one coach. And then looking on the other side, they got 12 players and they got 5 coaches. So more and more you see bullpen coaches who are pitching coaches, just assistant pitching coaches, that's what they are.
They have knowledge, just like the pitching coaches. I worked under Brad Arnsberg and Gil Patterson, great pitching coaches, and that's where I learned. So it is also a step, I believe, if your goal is to be a pitching coach.
But the role of the bullpen coach is to handle the bullpen. Those 7 guys, down there, are your guys. Day in, day out, you talk to them every game, you are with them during the game. You have a relationship with them. You keep them under control and also keep them fired up , you are a big crutch for them. And then you manage the game with the manager. The manager calls down or the pitching coach calls down and you are lighting the fire of who they want up, who they want ready and who is he going to face. You know, that's the in game process and that's exciting. Once the 5th inning hits, people's on edge a little bit and it is your job to calm them down. And make things go as smooth as they can. And not to try to surprise anybody. And go in and get outs and try to get the ball to your closer, that was my philosophy during the game. During your down time you are scouting. Your bullpen coach, is also a part time scout. He's in there watching video, he's watching hitters on the other club. He's advancing for you a little bit. He's also helping you with your scouting reports, your advanced reports for each series. So he's there, you know, he's just helping you out. He's also eyes and ears for you. He also has ideas that, he can think outside the box a little bit more than a pitching coach. Sometime you get caught up, you are in the grind, sometimes things are going kind of fast for the pitching coach. The bullpen coach is back there, in the back seat a little bit, and he has a little clearer picture sometimes. He has a lot of ideas that help you get through the season.
You had a good one last year with Pat Hentgen.
Pat Hentgen was a great bullpen coach. A great person in general. A great pitcher, great baseball man, great Blue Jay. The opportunity work with Pat and Pat could get down on the field and experience that is only going to help him in his career. He is still going to be with the Blue Jays. He's still going to help out. He still has aspirations of working in baseball. Right now timing with his family wasn't the best, but he learned a lot down there. And we had a good time and we got a lot of things done.
You've worked with Cito, a former batting coach and now you have a former pitching coach as a manager. What's the difference?
You know, it's not as big a difference as people might think. Cito knew a lot about pitching, I don't think he publically said a lot about it but he did know a lot about pitching. He used to pitch when he was in high school. So, it's not that big of a deal. John, obviously, being a pitching coach for the Boston Red Sox, has a lot of insight to a lot of things, which is very valuable to me. I went up against him, when I was with the Blue Jays he was a pitching coach Red Sox, so he has a lot of ideas on how to get people out. He has a lot of ideas on how to correct things with pitchers. Maybe a little more technical, maybe a little more delivery orientated than Cito. But all-in-all, about the same when the game starts. I think that the flow of talking about pitching, in the down time, flows a little easier. Than talking to a hitter, you know, Cito's still a hitter. It's kind of funny, they don't always agree with pitchers. While John tends to have that pitching background which agrees with me a little bit more.
You have the same language.
The language is about the same but all-in-all not as big a difference as people might think.