Oakland A's Q&A: Pitching Coach Ron Romanick

The 2011 season might be Ron Romanick's first as the Oakland A's pitching coach, but he is certainly not a newcomer to the organization. Romanick served as the A's minor league pitching coordinator from 1999-2007 and then as the A's bullpen coach from 2008-2010. Along the way, he has helped to build one of the most successful pitching development programs in baseball. We spoke to Romanick...

OaklandClubhouse: Congratulations on your new position. Has it changed your off-season at all in terms of how you are preparing for next year?

Ron Romanick: No. I changed some stuff with the throwing program with Curt [Young] and I posted some stuff on the throwing program on my website. I have my own private website that I post these things to. I re-wrote [the throwing program] and just tried to dress it up a little bit and the guys have access to it and e-mail me about where they are at [with the program]. It was something I was going to do anyway. The new guys coming in – the guys we signed, the six-year free-agents and the guys we traded for – they've liked it because it is easy to access.

That was a project I was going to do regardless. Just make use of the technology that is out there. Those guys all have iPads and iPhones, so I figure I might as well use this technology. I see them texting all the time and that is all this is. Instead of carrying around a piece of paper, they have online access to it and then it connects to me and I can text them or give them a call and try to follow what they are doing. My son kind of designed the program for me. That is kind of what he is doing for school, so it was a nice little project.

That took some time. Then I am going to be speaking at the ASMI [American Sports Medicine Institute] thing at the end of the month [their 29th Annual Injuries in Baseball Course in Tampa, Florida] with Dr. [James] Andrews and Dr. [Glenn] Fleisig to go over our throwing program, so that was kind of nice. They asked me to come in there in front of the doctors at their conference. I've been there before, but I've never been a presenter.

It's very interesting there. I'm over my skis, though, because they are all the big shot doctors. I'm the layman guy [Romanick is the only presenter not in the medical profession]. It will be pretty simple for those guys compared to what they do. I think they'll get a kick out of it because I'm the guy who is digging it out of the dirt here and they're the ones who have all of the degrees. They tolerate me, which is good. They have been really good to me ever since I have been here in Oakland. It is a nice honor just to go in there and talk about the throwing program.

OC: Are there guys who have reported [to the A's Phoenix complex] who you are working with already?

RR: Yeah, Rich Harden came in today [Thursday] and we started. He has been playing catch and I saw him a couple of times before he went on Christmas break right after he signed. He lives just down the street from me, which makes it nice. We went over some video stuff and talked about 2008 and some of the similar stuff that we did then. He was telling me some of the issues that he has had, since he is a couple of years older. He's still strong as a bull. It's just going back to basics now that he is down here and is going to work here.

[Clay] Mortensen has been down here and Daniel Farquhar, the new guy that we got in the trade with Toronto, he's been out here. Michael Wuertz has been out here a couple of times. The guys who are down here can use the facility and it's low-key, but it's structured. It's nice of the organization to make it available to them. I am there everyday and if I can't get there, Garvin Alston, our rehab coordinator, picks me up. He comes out on his own dime, and I appreciate it. And the new strength guy for the minor leagues, Mike Henriques, has been there.

It's just really about getting back into the [A's] community again. I've done that pretty much since I got here. My season really starts on the first of January. I think the guys appreciate it. We try to keep it low-key, but structured, and keep it available to them. I'm sure more guys will start coming in next week and the week after. A bunch of guys are coming in the first week of February, so I am looking forward to that.

OC: Have you seen Farquhar throw much? I know he has an unusual motion in that he uses a number of different arm slots.

RR: I saw some video on him and I have talked to him at length. I always pick guys' brains from other organizations to find out what they teach over there. It helps to let them tell you how they do things. I think it makes a little bit easier transition when they tell you what they do and how they do things. Then if you have any suggestions, it ‘s a really soft sell.

His delivery isn't as low as Ziegler's. He changes arm slots. He's a wiry kid, but strong and he loves the throwing program. He has been [at the complex] every single day since he came into town. He's been my best client. I said, ‘don't be too good. Don't raise the bar too high or I am going to expect that out of you all of the time.' [laughs] I know that he's trying to make a good first impression and everything, and he made it a point to come out here everyday. He was in the [Arizona] Fall League and Garvin saw him there, as well.

It's interesting. I've never seen somebody who changes arm slots that much, but he's had success doing that, so we'll see how that pans out. He's got good work habits and he seems willing to listen to a few things and do what he needs to do. I'm not a big change guy. I'm a minimalist. I'm big on structure and my theory is if you are going to do something, do it everyday. That's how you get better everyday. He's been really good. I've been impressed. He's been out there everyday and that's what you've got to do.

OC: Was there anything in particular that Harden indicated he wanted to work on getting back to from 2008? It seems like last year he was healthier than in some other years but just didn't get the results he normally does.

RR: They have a really high-profile pitching coach in Texas [Mike Maddux], a good pitching coach, and they have Nolan Ryan [the Rangers' team president] and he brought a mindset over there. They did a lot of really good things. I think Rich kind of got lost there a little bit and didn't get the results he wanted. It was tough for him to not be pitching in the playoffs and all of that because we all know how good he can be when he is on. He's as good as anybody. He got going in the wrong direction and sometimes it's hard to get back to where you were. You start pressing and all of that. And he got into some bad habits.

That's why I wanted to show him some film of when I felt he was locked in and throwing the ball well and when he thought he was throwing well. He pitched a really good game against us at home where I thought he really threw the ball well and then I saw a couple of other times [last season] where he didn't throw the ball well and didn't get the results. He was doing some things fundamentally different and he changed some things. You do that when you don't get results. You go down a path and all of a sudden you don't know where you are sometimes. Everybody goes through that. I'm just trying to pull him back into good habits to where he was before and we'll start from there.

I've known him for a long time. As long as he shows up and puts in the effort to keep him healthy, we will get back to the way he threw the ball before. It's exciting. I just want to keep him on the field. So we'll start from that premise again. It's very similar to what we did in 2008. Get back to that set of fundamentals that he kind of lost a little bit.

OC: You have a few guys coming back from injury-plagued seasons, like Brett Anderson and Andrew Bailey. Does the throwing program change significantly for injured guys or guys who may not currently be injured but are coming off of injuries?

RR: That's why the relationship with ASMI was so important for me when I started this. They are the guys who are on the cutting edge of things. I changed the program to add healthy things that are backed up medically. Then I ask them questions and they study it and they throw stuff back at me and ask me what works in the trenches and whatnot. Sometimes what happens, you develop something but you can't take it to the field or vice versa, so that has been the process.

When you get guys who have the boo-boos or the tweeners – I talked to Nick [Paparesta], our new trainer who has been in Cleveland and Tampa about how you deal with guys who are semi-rehabbing or who had a minor setback – you adjust the program for that. We've always been able to do that. Everybody has a different need. It's not a cookie-cutter program. I use the phrase ‘they are all the same, but they are different.' It's a confusing statement, but basically the fundamentals are all the same but we all look different doing them because we are all built differently. There should be enough allowance in the throwing program to address each guy's need. Brett does some different things in the throwing program and Andrew Bailey, he has issues in his delivery and program that we can adapt to.

When you see those silly [orange] cones set-up there, it's just a way to measure [the progress]. Everyone is in the same basic throwing program, but they can be doing different things. I can keep track of all of them because I know where they are at [in the program]. It's just a big ruler. I ask guys what they are doing and we can customize it for each guy. That's why those [throwing] distances are set-up like that and then we can control the volume [of throws]. Our therapist Kyle Yamashiro up in Sacramento, he does a lot of work with our guys who live up there, he's always on the cutting-edge of tweaking programs. He always runs things by me and I run things by him. He's a really good resource for me. And you try to customize it to the need of the player.

It's structure. It's a healthy structure. If it's a shoulder, elbow, back leg, whatever is ailing a guy, you can adjust the program for that, but there is still a structure there so we can track it. It's being a little more mindful of what we are doing. I've felt that that is what separates us since I've been here is that we take it a couple of steps further and if something doesn't work, at least we know what works and what doesn't. Guys can lean on that. Someone always has something going on: whether they aren't pitching up to their expectations or they are coming off of a minor injury or a major surgery, and you can adjust the program for that.

OC: Rick Rodriguez, the longtime A's minor league pitching coach, was chosen to take your old job as the A's bullpen coach for next season. You obviously worked with Rick closely when you were the minor league pitching coordinator. What about Rick makes him a good fit for the A's bullpen coaching position?

RR: Rick was here when I was hired. He was here before me and we played against each other. He has supported the program since I've been here. He even managed one year in Modesto and then returned to being the pitching coach, so we've been through the wars together. When he got the Triple-A job and I was roving, I would fly into town a lot to go over stuff. The loyalty he has given me. It's easy to throw your loyalty out there when things are going great, but it's hard when you've got an issue you've got to deal with and you've got to head something off.

It's a tough job being the Triple-A pitching coach. You've got a lot of guys who come down from the big leagues and they need to work on something after you give them a little pause period because they want to be in the big leagues in that competitive environment. When you sign a six-year free agent who comes over from another organization, you are not just going ram something down their throat. You have to soft-sell that we have a pretty good program going and we seem to do a very good job developing pitching and you might want to look at what we are doing and gradually blend it into what you are doing. There is a reason why they are not in the big leagues. Guys who sign on in Triple-A who have been around, there is usually something that they are missing from their game besides an opportunity and they can make themselves better.

He's been really good at soft-selling that. I've been the pitching coach at Triple-A before and I know how hard it is to get guys on the program who have been around. You've got to find a way to make them competitive, but it is also your job to get them to the big leagues. I appreciate that and it's a hard job. Rick has been really good throughout the years. I'm very comfortable with him being down there [in the bullpen] because we've been through it a little bit. Whatever challenge comes ahead, I know what I am getting with Rick.

OC: How closely do you work with Gil Patterson [the A's minor league pitching coordinator] and the rest of the minor league pitching coaches on developing a program for the minor league guys?

RR: Gil obviously has a lot of experience and he has his ideas, but we had a program in place [when he was hired here], a business model that we don't want to get away from. We want to maintain that and add to that. That's Gil's responsibility is to maintain that and then bring his flair to it. He's the one who is in charge down there, so you trust him to add to the program. I think what keeps us consistent is everybody understands the basic fundamentals of the throwing program: this is how we develop starters, this is how we keep guys healthy, the terminology that we use and the order in which we do things. Take care of the little things and measure everybody against that and then add to that. As long as we stay with our basic program, we will have success. You can't have eight different programs. You need continuity.

When I was hired over here, that's what I tried to do. I feel very lucky that I got rewarded for that. When we built up the pitching instruction staff – and I hired and worked with a lot of them – we hired them with the understanding that the basic fundamentals are in place and that they can add something to that. We need to do these things first and then often someone will come over from somewhere else and add to the program. But you don't change the model. Like any good business plan, you don't change the model. If you can add to it, add to it, but it's managing a timeline. Starters have to do this to pitch in the big leagues and if you can't do that then you will be a reliever. Some guys can do both, but we want the talent to get there and we want them to stay healthy. That's Gil's role is to add to the program and keep intact what has been in play for a long time. That's why I try to keep that continuity and not have it disconnected. As long as we do that, everyone is happy. We get healthy players and guys who get the major league call. That's what I expect.

OC: Is there a difference in dealing with a young pitching staff then when you are dealing with a staff with a few veterans at the top of the rotation or the back of a bullpen?

RR: Not necessarily. Ben Sheets was our veteran last year. He was a wonderful person. He really helped the young guys out. It was just a shame that he didn't stay healthy. But he was a really positive influence. The guys who have come over in past years like [Russ] Springer, they understand that we develop from within the organization. You have to earn your innings and there is a high expectation for success. But if the talent is unencumbered and you keep the program structured, the talent eventually rises and will keep them healthy. The veteran guys who come over here understand that.

My last two years with the big league staff, a lot of the veteran guys were in the bullpen and it was a good time. They understood how things worked. Everyone wants structure, even veteran guys want structure. They earn a certain thing, but as long as you treat everyone the same, they appreciate that. I try to keep them motivated and let them handle their own stuff as long as it doesn't become a distraction.

These young guys, there is a high expectation for them to come back and repeat [what they did last year]. The only way you can do that is to put in the same amount of work and effort that you did the year before. You just can't sit on your laurels and expect the same things to happen again. They just won't.

OC: With spring training around the corner, it looks like there is going to be a competition for the fifth starter spot and maybe one or two bullpen spots. Do you think it helps spring training when there are open jobs to compete for?

RR: It's always competitive. I like that atmosphere. They know that it is pretty thin air up there. Certain guys because of what they did last year, it will be their jobs to lose, but you still have to come in and be competitive. It looks like what we've done, we've signed a lot of guys. There is a high expectation that if you aren't getting it done, there are other guys there ready to step in and take that spot. That's kind of what it always is. That's just being in the big leagues for everybody. We have high expectations but you have to put the preparation to reach those expectations. That's my gentle reminder that you can't sit back and expect the same thing to happen. You have to put together the same time, effort and commitment.

There's a lot of bodies. It should be an interesting camp. I just hope that the weather stays a little better than it was last year. We got a little behind last year because the weather was so bad early and I think impacted preparation early in the year. We had a really wet spring and then we were over in that complex [Phoenix Muni] the whole time and it was a little more cramped than usual. The weather didn't help us. Hopefully won't be the case again this year.

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