Oakland A's Q&A: Ron Romanick, Part One

After a decade of overseeing the team's successful minor league pitching program, Ron Romanick joined the Oakland A's major league coaching staff in 2008 as the bullpen coach. Romanick guided a group that finished second in the AL in ERA. We recently spoke to Romanick, who is working with the A's AFL pitchers. In Part 1 of this interview, we discuss his new role, the AFL participants, etc.

OaklandClubhouse: How is your fall going? Are you enjoying working with the guys in the AFL right now?

Ron Romanick: Yeah, definitely. It's something that I have always done, but with Garvin [Alston, 2008 Stockton Ports' pitching coach and coach on the Phoenix Desert Dogs' staff] being down there – he's going to be our new rehab coordinator – it helps me a little bit because I don't have to go down there every day. I just go down there two or three days a week and then I watch them pitch and film the guys and then come back the next day and start it up again. So having him there kind of takes a little bit of the heat off of me, which is good.

OC: How do you think the guys are throwing so far?

RR: The guys are doing good. Jeff Gray has been doing well. He had his first sort of so-so outing the other day, so we are going back to look at that, but his first six outings were really outstanding. Jared Lansford, Andrew Bailey and Andrew Carignan are all doing really, really well. It's a tough time of year because I know that everyone is tired and nobody else is playing baseball except in Latin America right now, but they are doing fine. I think they are in first place [the Desert Dogs had a 5.5 game lead as of Sunday] and if they keep doing it, they'll play in that championship game again. We are kind of hitting the home stretch right now with everybody.

OC: It seems like Andrew Bailey is throwing with more control in the Fall League than he was earlier in the regular season [no walks in 14 innings for Bailey through Sunday]. Did you work with him on anything to get him to throw more strikes, or was he already doing that when he arrived for the Fall League?

RR: With both him and Lansford, it is their first year going from a starting role into the bullpen and Bailey, in particular, I know he didn't have that great of success starting out this season at Double-A as a starter. He always had good control, but when you play up at Double-A or higher, it kind of shows you where you are at and what you need to work on. He throws it over the plate and he has really good stuff, but sometimes when you go to the bullpen, it simplifies that approach because you don't have to pick like you do as a starter. When you are not having success [as a starter], you tend to start getting into that ‘I'm going to pick the corners' mentality, so it can seem like you are not having a lot of control.

But all of those guys have been really good command guys going into the bullpen, and their stuff is amazing. Every guy has plus-stuff. They are aggressive and motivated and it shows. I'm really happy with what they are doing. They are all plus-makeup guys and very focused on what they want to do. It's fun to watch them go through their tasks here, and they are having a lot of success. It has been enjoyable.

OC: I wanted to ask you how you liked your new role this season as the A's bullpen coach? How did it compare for you with the work you had been doing as the minor league coordinator?

RR: They've kind of given me dual access. I think my job description gets redefined every year. It was fun with the new challenge last year. I'm still very hands-on with the rehab-type situations, throwing programs, pitch development and all of that stuff. I'm kind of still there because it is the program that we put together the past 10 years.

The new position with Garvin Alston [rehab coordinator] is something that I thought was really important. He was the High-A pitching coach this season. I hired him a few years back. He is going to be a liaison for all of the pitchers rehabbing and he will have the responsibility of teaching the young guys the entry level part of the throwing program. I think he is going to travel a little bit, too, until the Rookie League season starts up. I know with Gil Patterson [the current A's minor league pitching coordinator] living in Florida and being way over there, having Garvin in this position will help him also. It's a good situation that they have created that position for [Garvin]. I'm taking full advantage of it and I think he enjoys the change of scenery.

In the long run, it expands my role. I just got off the phone with Bob [Geren, A's manager] this morning and I guess I do whatever they need me to do in that particular aspect. [laughs] Being a coordinator and all of that stuff, it really helps round things out. It's doing more than one thing and it gives you the capability of doing a lot of things.

OC: Did you keep in close touch with Gil Patterson during the season, or did you have to remain more focused on the day-to-day stuff with the A's?

RR: You try to stay within the right channels. Gil has his own stuff that he has to work through, this being his first year back with the organization for a long time. He has a lot of experience as a coordinator, but he hadn't done it in awhile so he was working on getting re-indoctrinated into doing that again. It's a little bit different mindset with the travel and stuff. I know that Keith Lieppman really appreciated what Gil did this season and Liepp really lets people do their jobs.

But, yeah, from time-to-time I spoke with Gil, but it was kind of double duty. I have daily tasks setting up the work schedule and keeping the relievers going and I had some guys – Justin Duchscherer, Rich Harden, anyone who had a boo-boo – they would go to me and we would put all of the rehab stuff together and coordinate that. So I keep tabs on whatever I can keep tabs on. I have very close relationships with all of the pitching coaches in the system. I think I hired everybody except one guy, and he was already here. The reason we have been successful as an organization is because of those relationships and everybody sort of steering in the same direction, and I just want to keep that going. That's my big concern is that we stay the course and keep the continuity going and we keep improving the program.

That's kind of my role. We are rebuilding with some young guys [at the major league level] and these guys who are in the Fall League are guys who are certainly going to be in the mix very, very soon. It's an advantage living down here [in Phoenix] obviously and if they want me to go to the Dominican Republic, I'll go there. I have been going down there since 1995. My life revolves around my work life right now, which is fine with me. I don't have much that I need to be doing besides taking a few trips here and there. The rest of the time I can be focused on baseball. It makes it very convenient for me to stay and do that.

OC: You had a lot of guys in the bullpen with you this season in Oakland that you had spent a lot of time with in the minor leagues. Do you think it was an advantage for you to have known these guys before they arrived in the big leagues?

RR: Yeah, knowing the system helps. Although, really it is a soft sell [working with all of the pitchers]. I was just talking to Rick Knapp, who was just named the pitching coach in Detroit after a long, long stint as the coordinator with the Twins, and we always talk about the fact that you are soft-selling guys when they come up. They all want input, they all want to get better. It's kind of how you present it to them. Even the guys who come over from other organizations – we had Keith Foulke and Alan Embree, the wily veteran guys who came over – they all want the latest and greatest information.

You are always trying to do stuff. Joey Devine came over from Atlanta and he bought into what we were doing and it kept him healthy all year. When he does have an issue [health-wise], he has a way to get back on-track. That is kind of my thing is to get guys on a daily routine and get them going on daily timelines. You throw some things at them and say ‘this might be a better way to do this' and ‘this will help you stay healthy and stay consistent.' You set it up everyday and all you need from them is to have them show up and do it every day and work hard and they get good results. You see a couple of guys having success by prioritizing a little extra time and a little extra preparation and it gets contagious.

That is what happened this season in the bullpen. The young guys were coming up, trying to prove themselves and the guys who have been around really bought into what we were doing. I just want to continue that culture and that atmosphere. That's what Bob wants. He wants a culture where the guys have fun, but work hard, don't leave anything on the table and are ready to compete everyday. There are a lot of guys that I am working with, and then Curt [Young, A's pitching coach] has the starters and they come out and prepare a little bit differently and blend into that. It was a good system. I enjoyed it.

OC: Was it different working with a younger bullpen with guys like Devine, Brad Ziegler, Jerry Blevins and even Huston Street, who is still pretty young, heading that squad, rather than working with a more veteran group?

RR: It depends on the veterans. You have to have the right mix of guys and you have to have guys who are highly competitive. Like I said, I have yet to run across a guy – whether he has 10 or 15 years in the big leagues or 10 or 15 days in the big leagues – who does not want input. It's just how you communicate it.

You give the guys their due who have been around. I learn from them. The first thing that I say to a guy who has been around is ‘I'm going to watch you and you show me how you get ready. Obviously, you have been doing something that has been pretty successful since you have been around a long time.' That really discharges the situation because when someone comes over there is always some apprehension over whether they have to conform to a new system. I want to see what a guy does and why he has been good for so long. It really opens up the conversation because they realize that I'm not going to just throw something at them, I'm going to listen to them first.

I've always had success doing it that way. Even with younger guys who are very opinionated about what they do, there are always reasons why they are good wherever they have come from. Once they break stuff down for you and they say, ‘this is how I go about my business,' then you let them tell you how they do things and then they are really open to suggestions. It kind of starts from that.

It doesn't really matter whether they are young or old guys. The only difference is that the old guys know that they have done it before and they have that confidence, where the young guys coming up, they are kind of in territories they really haven't been in before and there is a little apprehension. Once they get through that, they believe they can compete there. I saw that with Devine and Brad Ziegler, especially. Once they started having success, Jerry Blevins also, they started to have a different look about them. They start to say, ‘hey, I can do this up here. There is no reason why I can't stay here for a long time.' It is fun to see that metamorphosis.

The veteran guys have been good about helping them. But, yeah, we are definitely going to be a younger club this year. We will probably pick up some guys. We always do. They are going to come over from other organizations. But with these young guys kind of knocking on the door and with guys who had really good break-out first years last year, it's going to be a nice mix. You never have enough arms because of the injury factor or the non-performance factor, especially in the bullpen. So you keep cycling through the system.

Join us on Wednesday for Part Two of this interview, when we discuss Joey Devine, Brad Ziegler, Huston Street, Jerry Blevins, Gio Gonzalez, Dallas Braden, Dan Meyer and more…

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