Tony La Russa on Dave Duncan: Part Two

In the conclusion of this interview, St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa discusses pitching coach Dave Duncan's work with the mental side of pitching, the deployment of Dennis Eckersley and the use of the ninth-inning specialist.

Recently, St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa spoke extensively about what having pitching coach Dave Duncan on his staff has meant over the years. This article covers the remainder of those remarks in detail, following part one.

On whether Duncan required "mentally strong" pitchers:

"Let me tell you, He took guys that were perceived as not being mentally strong and made them mentally strong. If you take a guy who isn't perceived as mentally strong and isn't mentally strong, then there isn't any coach that can make him a pitcher. No way to make him a player. If you're not mentally tough enough, you can't do it.

"But he's taken guys that lacked confidence, that they didn't have things to go to. He's given them weapons and made them more confident and made them tougher. I've seen him do it. If you're a non-competitor and you're not strong, you're not going to make it. I don't care who you are. Nobody can (kiss, kiss, kiss sound) ‘you're great'. It just won't work. You'll be exposed."

On how much of Dennis Eckersley's success was due to Duncan:

"It was mostly Eckersley (pictured). 5% is coaching; the other 95% is the player. My take was ‘that guy's really got it', but Dave is the one that recognized how special he could be and Dave is the one that said, ‘Look, don't you think we have a really good club?' Yes. The more often he is available, the more often he pitches. He's the one that said ‘Why don't we save it for the ninth?'"

On how the idea of using a starter as a closer came about:

"I remember in '86 – the first year we got there (Oakland) from Chicago. We started to play better and had a series and Jay Howell was our closer and had an elbow injury. Looking for a closer for that game. We had a little streak going. I said ‘Man, who's going to close tonight?'

"Well, I was talking to (former Cardinal Joaquin) Andujar (pictured). He was throwing on the side and volunteered. He's good. He had won 20 (games), hadn't he? Take a strong pitcher that had been successful and put him in the ninth inning. If you have a one-run lead or to get three outs. That's been one of the theories over the years – Smoltz, Eckersley to pitch the ninth."

On Eckersley becoming a closer:

"Actually it happened in '86. He had a save and in '87 we had Eckersley in spring training. We had Jay Howell and Jay Howell had some (saves). He had about 15 and Eck had about 15. (They each had 16.) Then we traded Howell after the season

"It was in '86 when he said about Joaquin Andujar and the starting pitcher could be a good closer, but we didn't get Eck until the spring of '87."

On whether they were confident:

"I am sure he (Duncan) believed it. That is when he pointed it out to me that a successful starting pitcher could be a good closer. Just like Carp. We've farted around…. Carp would be a great closer.

"Take any outstanding starting pitchers. This guy has won 20 games – he knows how to pitch the ninth inning. Then we got Eck. We were forced to because Eck was brought over to protect the starting rotation, if one of the five got hurt.

"They all got hurt but he was so good in relief that we kept him in relief except for a start against the Yankees one time because Jay Howell was also hurt."

Brian Walton can be reached via email at Catch his Cardinals commentary daily at his blog, The Cardinal Nation.

© 2009 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

The Cardinal Nation Top Stories