Oakland A's Q&A: Gil Patterson, Part One

After more than a decade at the helm of the Oakland A's minor league pitching program, Ron Romanick moved onto the A's major league coaching staff as the A's bullpen coach. Replacing Romanick as the A's minor league pitching coordinator is Gil Patterson, a long-time and highly respected coach. We spoke with Patterson on Sunday about his transition to Oakland and some of the arms under his watch.

Gil Patterson was a hard thrower before arm injuries ended his career prematurely. Here he shows Andrew Bailey a few tricks.
Gil Patterson was a talented pitcher in his own right back in the 1970s. He was a first round pick of the New York Yankees (seventh overall) in 1975. It was the fourth time he was drafted by a big league club in the first round and the fifth time he was drafted overall from 1973 through 1975 (baseball used to have a January and a June draft). He appeared in 10 major league games with New York in 1977, going 1-2 with a save and 5.40 ERA.

His pitching career was sidetracked after those 10 games by arm trouble. Patterson had multiple surgeries on his right arm, but was never the same. Before being injured, Patterson was once called "the best young pitcher he'd seen in the AL for a long time" by Boston Red Sox's slugger Carl Yastrzemski. After the arm troubles, Patterson attempted numerous comebacks and was even talented enough to make a successful switch from being a hard-throwing right-handed pitcher who could touch 95 with his fastball to a soft-tossing left-handed pitcher who sat mostly in the mid-80s, but his pitching career ended for good in 1983 when he underwent yet another arm surgery.

Patterson began his coaching career with the Yankees in 1984, but he was let go after that season reportedly in part because he refused to send a young Al Leiter out on the mound with a sore arm. Patterson first joined the Oakland A's organization in 1991 as a minor league pitching coach and stayed through the 1996 season, when he was the A's minor league pitching coordinator. In 1997, he joined the Arizona Diamondbacks organization, where he was the D-Backs' minor league pitching coordinator for three seasons. In 2001, he joined the Toronto Blue Jays as their major league bullpen coach and from 2002-2004, he was the Blue Jays' major league pitching coach.

After being let go by the Blue Jays following the 2004 season, Patterson returned to the Yankees, where he spent the past three seasons working with pitchers such as Joba Chamberlain, Chien-Ming Wang, Brian Bruney and Scott Proctor. After the A's decided to shift minor league pitching coordinator Ron Romanick into the big league bullpen position, Oakland pursued Patterson to take Romanick's place overseeing their minor league arms. Patterson re-joined Oakland during the off-season and he is glad to be back with the organization. We spoke to Patterson on Sunday about his transition back to Oakland, his pitching program and his first impressions of a number of the A's pitching prospects.

OaklandClubhouse: When you made the move to Oakland from the Yankees organization this off-season, what interested you most about the opportunity with the A's?

Gil Patterson: I had been here [with the A's] before. I had worked with Oakland in the nineties, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. Keith Lieppman [A's director of player development] is just wonderful to work for. Billy Beane [current A's GM] was here at that time, as well as Sandy Alderson [A's GM from 1981-1997]. It is almost like a mini-homecoming for me. I know I pitched with the Yankees in the major leagues years ago and have spent the past three years prior to this with them, so those are probably my deepest roots, but Oakland and working with Keith, it is tough to find a better person and really a better organization to work for.

Patterson says that Fautino De Los Santos has been consistently between 93-99 MPH with his fastball.
I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to come back after the three years with the Yankees. It was really good there [with New York]. After I got let-go by Toronto, I went to the Yankees' Triple-A team for the first year. My son then developed Tourette's Syndrome, so it was difficult for me to leave home in 2006. The Yankees then created a position for me that turned out to be very good for them and for me. It allowed me to go home and I basically was like a rehab coach and special assignment coach for the Yankees. For instance, when Brian Bruney got released [by the Arizona Diamondbacks], I helped him get back to the big leagues with the Yankees, so that was good. And last year they sent me Kei Igawa and, as a matter of fact, Joba Chamberlain was here last year, so it worked out good for them and for me.

This year when Oakland first talked to me about the opportunity to come here and be the coordinator again, at first they said, ‘maybe you can come over for two years.' I kind of hesitated and was like ‘only for two years?' and they quickly came back and said ‘how about for three?' I was under consideration for the big league coaching job with the Yankees and didn't get it. At that point, I began to think, ‘you know, maybe this is where God wants you to be.' I prayed about it and this is where I am and I am very fortunate to be here with Oakland.

OC: How long did it take you to get reacquainted with the organization and familiar with the pitchers in the A's system now? Did you change the program that was in place with Ron Romanick before, or are you pretty much sticking with that program for now?

Patterson says that Henry Rodriguez is working on refining his approach on the mound.
GP: For the most part, the program here has been a very good one, so it was really easy to step into. Like I said, I've done it before. The hardest part was really getting to know the players and having to make some decisions about those players. But with Keith's input and even David Forst's [A's assistant GM] and Ron's and the A's pitching coaches, it made my job a lot easier. My job is not only to evaluate the pitchers and the pitching coaches, but also to make sure that the things that have been here already continue to go in the right direction. It is also to add a few things.

If you would ask me the two things that I have tried to bring here – and I wouldn't say that they weren't here before, but we are trying to, perhaps, put a bigger focus on them, the first would be the mental aspect of pitchers being warriors and no-excuse makers. It's the idea of being responsible and being accountable. We are still in the process of printing tee-shirts that say ‘Deal With It.' If anything happens, I don't want anyone to complain about the wind, the sun, the umpire or that it is not their day. It's really about being a man and dealing with it. Be relentless, be a warrior on the mound. We are trying to take some of the excuses away. We don't want to hear it; we just want them to go out there and do their jobs.

The other thing is that every once in awhile, we are looking to think out of the box. So we may see someone and think, ‘they might benefit from trying this new pitch' or maybe teach them a new grip or something along those lines. But like I said, the program that has been here has been a very good one, so not much has changed. We are really just trying to build onto it. So far, I've been very happy with it. Hopefully, Billy Beane and Keith have been happy with it, as well. [laughs]

OC: How did you feel Spring Training went given that it was the first time that you had a chance to get everyone out on the field to see them throw?

Patterson has been impressed with Brett Anderson's maturity.
GP: That was the big thing for me. Not knowing anyone and having Ron and Curt [Young, A's big league pitching coach] in big league camp and having all of the minor league pitching coaches talk to me about each pitcher as they threw their side-sessions was very helpful. The biggest thing that I have had to adjust to was learning everyone and seeing everyone for myself. As much as someone can tell you, ‘this guy is good or this guy needs work,' you trust it, but until you see it yourself, that is when you really know for sure. That was probably the biggest benefit of the spring was just getting to know 70-75 players. As a matter-of-fact, you probably know better than I, but I think they had 30 or 35 new guys brought in this off-season, didn't they?

OC: Yeah, they did. It was the most I've seen them bring in over one off-season.

GP: [laughs] So I am bad enough that I have to learn 70 new guys, but the coaches who have been here are still having to learn 30 or 35, so they still had the same process to go through that I did. Whoever decided to bring those new guys in did a tremendous job because the pitchers who were added have had a terrific impact on all of the teams that they have been assigned to.

OC: No kidding. I was going through the minor league stats earlier in the week, and I think that a number of the affiliates were among their league leaders in team ERA, strike-outs, fewest walks, etc.

Trevor Cahill's sinker is a plus pitch, according to Patterson.
GP: That is probably all due to the new pitching coordinator, wouldn't you say? [laughs]

OC: Definitely. [laughs]

GP: I'll take all of the credit now and then when they aren't pitching so well, I'll say ‘you know, that program that they had here before, just didn't work.' [laughs]

OC: So have you had a chance to visit all four of the affiliates at this point in the season?

GP: Yeah, I have. I haven't seen as much of Sacramento as I have of the other three affiliates. I have seen Brad Knox and I have seen Gio Gonzalez and Dallas Braden has been up [in the big leagues] for a couple of games. I've also seen Dan Meyer pitch in Phoenix [at extended spring training], but I still haven't seen him pitch in Sacramento. For the most part, I have seen everyone. I have only seen three games for Sacramento, but usually when I go into a city, I see five games. I have seen the other affiliates in at least five games, a couple of them even more. When I head back out on the road again in early May I'll see just about everyone. I'll see Sacramento, then I'll go to Stockton, then I'll go Kane County and then I'll go to Midland.

OC: I wanted to talk to you a little bit about the Stockton pitching staff. Obviously Henry Rodriguez, Andrew Carignan and Patrick Currin have moved up already, but that original group just seemed like a special collection of arms. What has struck you about some of the young guys on that staff?

GP: The arms, like you said, are special. Rodriguez and [Fautino] De Los Santos are throwing the ball between 93 and 99 miles per hour. That just doesn't happen on a regular basis. You can put Carignan right in there in that mix because he's at 92 to 97 miles per hour. Trevor Cahill and Brett Anderson, they don't have to take a back-seat to anyone even though maybe their velocity isn't as high [as Rodriguez and De Los Santos].

Anderson, of course, is left-handed and he just knows what he is doing. He can sink the ball. He's got a good change-up and a curveball and he's got a slider. He can get his pitches in on the hitters and he does all of the things that you would want a pitcher to do. Cahill has got a sinker that is just – it's probably too much, I don't want to say pressure, but you can talk about a sinker like Brandon Webb's and, of course, I had Roy Halladay for the three or four years that I was in Toronto in the big leagues. I'm not sure that Cahill would have to take much of a back seat to those sinkers. He's just a tremendous competitor and warrior and can sink the ball. [Sunday] he struck-out 12 guys in seven innings of work, so he has that ability.

OC: When the decision was made to promote Henry Rodriguez to Double-A, was it that he had reached certain milestones or was there just a feeling that it was time to move him up?

GP: Yes, if you don't throw 99, you don't get moved up. [laughs] When you look even at what the Yankees did last year with Joba Chamberlain, you want to challenge guys, without putting them over their skis, so to speak. Every step is a challenge to guys. With Henry, I think they thought – and I was asked my thoughts and my opinion – but ultimately, Keith and David and Billy probably make that decision and rightfully so, but I'm sure their thought process was ‘is this guy ready to be challenged at the next level?'

For the most part, he is. We just have to make sure with him that it isn't all just about throwing hard. That's not the only thing that is important. With Henry, he can spin a breaking ball and he can throw his change-up, but the biggest thing with him right now is just getting him to stay focused on one pitch at a time for the entire game. There is going to be a little work that [Midland pitching coach] Scott Emerson is going to have to do with him, and he is more than capable of doing it. It's not like Henry is just going to dominate right away. He is still going to have to learn a little bit and repeat what he learned before. Really repeating your delivery and throwing quality pitches is the biggest key for me. He's close, but he's not exactly where we want him to be yet. But that is why he is still in the minor leagues, to learn those things.

Stay tuned later this week for Part Two of this interview, as we discuss Vince Mazzaro, Ryan Webb, James Simmons, Jared Lansford, Jason Fernandez and more...

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