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Interview with Blue Jays Pitching Coach Bruce Walton: Part Three

On to the third part of our interview with Bruce Walton.

There was some conversation before the recorder was turned on. Bruce was wrong in guessing Prince Fielder would sign with the Rangers. He figured Prince would enjoy hitting in Arlington and would put up big numbers there. He'd have better numbers there than he will in Detroit. Bruce didn't like the idea of signing him to a long contract saying that 'other than in the 90's' players haven't tended to continue to do well into their late 30's.

What do you think of radar guns? I'm thinking of Brett Cecil coming into spring training last year and it seemed like the first thing he talked about was how hard he was throwing. Maybe it put the focus on the wrong thing?

Yeah you know the radar gun it is a double edged sword. It is a great tool, but it is also a very distracting tool. It's part of the game. It's up in every ballpark now. Its entertainment. The fans want to see how hard you throw. The scouts want to see how hard you throw. And, at times, the hitters want to see how hard you throw. Pitching coaches and managers really don't care as long as you can command the ball and get outs.

But the distraction that Brett went through was rough on him. He did, he lost some velocity coming out of spring training, into the season. Sometimes the arm takes some wear and tear and doesn't come back as strong the next year. You have good years, bad years. Last year for Cecil his arm didn't respond as well as it did the previous years. It didn't have to do with the top of his velocity, it had a lot to do with the radar gun when his fastball and changeup got closer together. So the deception wasn't there. Regardless if he was throwing 88 or 94, he still had the ability to pitch well, it's just that his speeds all kind of came together. It made it harder for him. It was a hard year for him. But still, when you look at his numbers, it wasn't horrible. I mean, he didn't have the win and loss, everyone looks at the win and loss, but if you look at his numbers in general, they are not that much different.

He ended the season well, he just had some parts of the season where they didn't go as well as he wanted them too. You know, the radar gun had a little bit of an effect on him mentally, i think. He went through a mental problem more than he went through an arm problem.

Brett had just an ok year, things didn't go his way, he didn't have a lot of luck. But at the end of the day, go back and look at his numbers they aren't that much different, other than his won/loss.

Which aren't really all his doing anyway.

No, you go out and pitch the best you can, whichever way the game ends up it ends up. The radar gun, you know, I like it at times, but most of the time I don't. I'm not a big radar gun fan. I could careless how are you are throwing. If you get outs, you get outs. Understanding the art of pitching has nothing to do with the radars. Understanding the concept of pitching. Understanding how to pitch in the major leagues. How to move the ball around. How to stay down in the zone. Playing the chess game with the hitter has nothing to do with the radar gun.

How important is the relationship between pitcher and catcher?

It's very important, the most important thing is trust. So the relationship is built on trust and that's it. If you trust what that catcher is putting down and trust that that catcher is putting down the best pitch scenarios for you to get hitters out,then you click. If you are indecisive and you think he isn't putting down the right fingers then that works against you. You start searching for stuff you to throw, that you don't want to throw. JP came in last year, as a rookie catcher, and did a great job of getting to know the pitchers and their strengths and weaknesses and putting a game plan together for them. By the mid-season and the end of season he had a tremendous idea of what to do. It takes a while, even when a new catcher comes in, like a John Buck, the previous year. Here is a veteran catcher who knows every hitter but still doesn't know the pitcher he's catching, on the team he's on right now. So he's got to get to know this person. He's got to know how to yell at him and how to talk to him softly, how to support him and how to kick him in the butt at times. And then he also has to learn what his best pitches are and when to call them and when not to call them. So it is a pretty big part of the game.

Do you work with the catchers on framing pitchers?

No I don't. Anything fundamentally is Wauk, our bench coach, he's a catching guy and he does all that. The only thing I do is scouting reports with them and I help them with our pitchers and I help them with their relationship with our pitchers. I'm kind of like the father figure between the catchers and the pitchers. And me and, last year, it would be me, Molina and JP we'd all be sitting in there and we'd be deciding the game plan. My catchers are a big part of the game plan. They are calling it. They are playing the game. I'm watching it. I'm giving suggestions and I'm monitoring how it is going and if they get off their plan I tell them. If the plan's not working I tell them. They are a big part of my game. I spend as much time with the 2 catchers as I do with the 12 pitchers, as far as talking and planning.

Do pitchers ever still doctor the ball or has that disappeared from baseball?

I think that's disappeared. I know when I played, everyone was accusing people of doctoring the ball, cutting it, making the ball sink more, cut more, scuff it, sandpaper all that. That's disappeared. I think it is a lost art maybe. You know, they throw the balls out after every pitch now, if they get a scuff on them and it is hard to doctor the ball.

HD cameras pointing at you from every direction.

Cameras everywhere. It's not easy to doctor the ball now if you wanted to. I haven't seen it in a long time.

A lot of Blue Jay pitchers seem to throw great changeups. Is that an organizational thing?

It is definitely an organizational thing. Me and Dane Johnson, our minor league pitching coordinator, he understands how good the changeup is in the game of baseball. I mean it helps out every pitcher. He is one of the best I have ever seen to really go overboard with the changeup in the minor leagues. No matter who you are, whether you are Dustin McGowan or Shawn Camp, you throw changeups. I'm big on it. So I love having Dane be as enthusiastic as he is on it. I think it is the only pitch in base you can't sit on. It is the only pitch in baseball that even if you make a mistake with it you can still get outs, I think. I hanging Changeup has better results, I believe, than a hanging breaking ball. So damage control. Hitters hate it. It's not the easiest pitch to throw. It takes a lot of practice, that's why Dane is so adamant, having guys, at 18-19 years old, just constantly throw changeups. So by the time they get to the big leagues, he knows how important it is to me, that we have a guy with a changeup.

Dustin McGowan, is a prime example of a guy, here is a guy that throws 96 MPH, a great slider, a great curveball. We made him throw changeups. Dane made him throw changeups. Dane gave him a changeup and now his second best pitch is the changeup. Brett Cecil's second best pitch is a changeup. Rickey Romero's second best pitch changeup. This is all coming off fastballs. Ricky Romero could have one of the best changeups in baseball. And Brett Cecil, when he is on, could have almost the best changeup in baseball.

It works, it just works. Hitters cannot time 94 or 84 and when 2 pitches look exactly the same coming in, 10 MPH difference in speed, they don't like it. (laughs).