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

In Part Two of our interview with Oakland A's bullpen coach Ron Romanick, we discussed some of the A's youngest bullpen arms, the struggles of Huston Street, the improvements of Gio Gonzalez and Dallas Brade, and more...

To read Part One of this interview, please click here.

OaklandClubhouse: With Joey Devine, he obviously put up some numbers that are pretty historical. Was there a key for him, in your opinion, that allowed him to have that kind of success?

Ron Romanick: Joey was a huge proponent of the daily throwing program. He is a very strong guy and he has a lot of energy and gives a lot of effort. Him learning how to prepare and not be so max effort on everything was important. Joey bought into the daily throwing program and it kept him healthy. You are always fighting through stuff all year long, and you have to know the difference between stiffness, soreness and a problem. Our system is based on health and maintenance and finding different ways to stay healthy. We research this. We spend a lot of time to try to innovate and to figure out why things work well and if things don't work that you thought worked, you change them instead of just doing the same old stuff.

Again, that is the soft sell. Joey, like every pitcher, has his own issues in terms of what he needs to do to stay healthy. Maybe there are things that you can do to tackle issues where you have had problems before. That was the way it was presented and he was a big proponent of that. It kept him pretty healthy all year long and he had a great year. He was fun to go watch and develop. Same with Brad Ziegler.

OC: I was going to ask you about him. You have seen him develop over the past several years through a lot of stages in his career. It must have been interesting to see him succeed like that this year?

RR: With the total style change, there was a niche for him. I have been around Chad Bradford a lot – I rehabbed him three times – and I have done a conversation [from overhand to submarine] like that before a couple of times. Brad had all of the makings of someone who would be able to make the switch. He had the right body type, the mental make-up. He just needed the time to do it and he took it to the next level because he has a lot of other intangibles that allow him to develop and get better. It fit nicely into our bullpen and it was fun to see him do what he did. He made history and ended up saving some games for us. I think he had something like 11 saves, which is really amazing for a submarine guy.

He is a slinker. He throws an upside-down sinker. That was fun to see, to sell him on the conversion and have him go through the tasks and have him stay with it and then put up numbers in the minor leagues and finally get a chance to pitch in the major leagues. Once he got here, he never looked back. I just want to keep him on course and have him keep going out there and throwing groundballs. I know he got a little tired towards the end of the season. We were really using him and Devine and everybody, so hopefully we are going to keep them healthy and fresh for next year and then see who comes up [from the minor leagues] and does what they did.

OC: I'm sure the situation with Huston Street was difficult when he struggled and ultimately lost his closer's job. He was pitching better towards the end of the season. How did you help him with his struggles and with the disappointment of losing that job? [ed. note: this question was asked last Thursday, before Street was reportedly included deal for Matt Holliday.]

RR: Getting the last three outs in the ninth inning is very, very difficult and you've got to be on top of your game. Nobody is all of the time. Huston is a battler, a fighter. He has a tremendous amount of self-belief. He worked through some things. Him pitching earlier in the game and pitching more than one inning a few times, I thought was good for him just to kind of take a breather and get back to what he was doing before instead of having to work through it while he was the last line of defense. That can be tough mentally, as well as physically and emotionally.

I know that Huston wants to close and that that is his mentality. He'll probably get every opportunity to do that. Like I said, he is a battler and you want guys to be competitive and far-reaching with their goals. The competition and getting the outs dictates when you are going to pitch. He understands that. He just wants the opportunities like everybody else. You try to create that culture that no matter when you are pitching in the game, it is business as usual. You are in the bullpen and you are going to pitch. Your performance is going to dictate where and when you are going to pitch. That's how it goes everywhere. You don't find great closers everywhere. It's a very tough job.

OC: A guy who came up as a starter but moved into the bullpen at the end of the year was Gio Gonzalez. Did you guys work with him on anything? It seemed like he was pitching better in those last three relief outings.

RR: Gio has a lot of energy. When he came up, there were a few things that he needed to do. Just disciplining him on how he prepares. He is a young guy who has great stuff. Gio was kind of a need-based call-up because we needed a starter and he was having some success at Triple-A. When he came up, you could see the things that he could do really well and then you could see some things that he needed to work on.

Moving him into the bullpen allowed him to come out early and work on some of those things without the countdown to another start. We worked on a lot of his preparation stuff. We worked on getting his delivery to repeat and worked on the change-up and the command of the fastball. He was great. He did some things and then he took them out into the game eventually when he got the opportunities.

It's tough to learn to do some of those things in the big leagues, so probably the best thing that happened to him was to go into the bullpen where the expectation was that he may pitch tonight or he may not, so we could come out and do some extra things without the extra pressure of having to take it all out there right away. I was very pleased with what he did, looking at the things that he needed to improve on and then taking it out there. The last couple of outings that he had were really good. The quality of what he was doing went way up. Hopefully he keeps working on those things that he did at the end of the year and when I see him this spring – hopefully he'll come down [to Phoenix] a little earlier – I can see where he is at with some of the goals that we set.

It was really the same thing with Jeff Gray. We asked him to do some things when he came up to the big leagues and that's why I committed the time to him here in the Fall League when they created an opening for him instead of going to winter ball. We've been grinding pretty good. It's tough to learn that stuff in the big leagues, but we had the opportunities to do that. I have had no complaints with the guys putting in the work and that is a big part of it, the willingness to want to see yourself realistically and then say ‘this is where I need to get to.' A lot of those things are subtle changes that take a fair amount of time to correct because you are competing at the highest level. You don't see drastic changes, but a few little things can add up to a guy who can make the club and succeed in the big leagues.

OC: Another guy that you have spent a lot of time with over the past few years is Dallas Braden. He had a much better season at the big league level this year. What improvements did you see from him?

RR: For me, it was his breaking ball. He has always had great command of his fastball and he has a really good back-and-forth game, a nice change-up. He has been able to change speeds, but his breaking ball has been inconsistent. Whether it was a curveball, slider, slurve or cutter, he was always trying to find a consistent grip. He kind of noticed something on his grip where he didn't really have his thumb on a seam. I always set guys' grips and he kind of presented it to me when he was in the bullpen. Then he got sent out back to Sacramento and when he came back, his breaking ball was just outstanding. It was consistent, sharp and it was a completely different pitch for him. He was able to spot it on both sides of the plate.

I think that was the one thing that gave him another dimension to what he was doing. He also tightened up his whole game, the way he prepares, he missed better and he did a nice job. He really did. It was really a few little things, maybe a different way of looking at things, that allowed him to work more effectively. It takes a lot to be a successful pitcher, especially in the American League. It takes a certain repertoire of pitches to get through the line-up three times. If you don't have that, it makes it very difficult. I think that was one of the biggest components of his success. It was fun to watch because I always set guys' grips and that, for me, was a huge component for him and it gave him different weapons to use against different guys. He took it and ran with it and I give a lot of credit to him for sticking with it.

OC: Was it hard to see Dan Meyer picked up by another team after all of the time that you have spent with him over the past few years, or were you just happy to see him get another shot at the big leagues?

RR: Obviously, he's got a heck of an arm. He was kind of going back and forth with us, between starting and relieving, and he's been up-and-down a little bit. He's got an opportunity with another club and I'm happy for that. He can throw over 90 consistently and being left-handed, those guys are not easy to find, so I am sad to see him gone [from the team's perspective]. Sometimes that is just what happens. Maybe he needs a new venue there. I don't know how they are going to use him, but he has the ability to do both. He can come out of the bullpen and he can start. Like I say, he has a quality arm and everybody is looking for one. As long as he stays healthy and keeps on learning how to get better, he'll always have the opportunity to pitch somewhere. I think it is going to be a good situation for him.

OC: What did you see from Jerry Blevins this season?

RR: Jerry comes at you all arms and legs and he has plus stuff, a great curveball. He came up and carved a nice niche for himself. Alan Embree was kind of his guy. They kind of hung out together. I'm sure he would like to have Alan's career potentially, too. Jerry is a nice kid, but he is a very fierce competitor. I'd like to see him throw a few more first pitch fastball strikes, but he makes it tough. He gets out both lefties and righties, and he came up and did a good job. He is going to be a big part of our success next year coming out of the bullpen. I'd like him to put on a little bit more weight. We are always kidding him about how skinny he is. Between him and Ziegler, I've never seen guys eat so much. Both of those guys have hollow legs. It ticks me off because I'm the opposite way. [laughs] Jerry is a great kid and is very open to things. He is always very respectful and he is always very competitive.

It was fun to watch these young guys carve out their own niche among themselves. The young guys that are with the club next year, they will have one year in the big leagues and they have created their own little culture. That's what I wanted to see them do. I wanted to see these guys believe that they could compete against anybody, a first-place club, the Bostons, the Tampa Bays. It was important for them to be able to compete against those teams because that is what we aspire to be. I want to make sure they know how good they are now and how good that they can be in the future if they keep working in that direction.

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