TigsTown Q&A: Pitching Coach Rick Knapp Pt 2

Continuing the conversation with Tigers' pitching coach Rick Knapp, Knapp dives into talk about some of the top arms on his team in 2010, as well as some other high profile pitchers within the organization.

TT: Looking at the 2010 season with the Tigers, one of the big stories throughout was how much Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello struggled. Both of them went down to Toledo and eventually came back to turn things around to varying degrees. Can you talk about your interaction with AJ Sager and the staff in Toledo as you tried to get those guys straightened out?

RK: Absolutely. The first thing about Scherzer, there's so much that was made of this and it was kind of a story that kept perpetuating itself. It was a bit frustrating for both Max and myself. When we sent him out, I thought we were real close to being fixed. There was a combination of things that happened.

The first thing, and the overriding thing, is we had two off-days in a very short period. We were going to LA, we had a day off after that, then we were going to Seattle for two games, and we had another day off after that. It was one of those deals where we decided he was going to skip a start, and he was going to work out of the bullpen between starts. That didn't make any sense to me. Why don't we send him down, he can throw on his two fifth days, and then if he does well, he will rejoin the team. I don't want to take anything away from AJ, because I talked to he and Jon [Matlack] both, and I told them where we were and that we were real close. It was just a matter of getting his hand out of his glove faster, and he got a little too rotational. His arm ended up taking a wider path, and he ended up all over the place at the end. We talked that we were on the right track, and we just needed to get him those two starts in to keep him on track and on his routine.

After his first start, AJ called me and said "You're right, he's pretty good. He's on the money. I didn't tell him anything. I just let him go out and do his thing." The next start was the same thing and we brought him back. He wasn't great, but he was better, and he kept at it. He kept working and then his slider came on. After the All-Star break, that slider started working, and he became untouchable. That's the Max Scherzer story. A lot of people think he went to Toledo and got fixed, when he really went down there to stay on his normal rotation, came back, and then after the All-Star break he got the slider going, and that was it.

TT: That makes a lot of sense, and clears up a lot of things. How about with respect to Porcello?

RK: Porcello's situation was totally different. The hardest thing with Rick is to realize that he's only 21-years old. You just expect and think that he has it, but he's still learning. The fact of the matter was that he did not have command of any pitch. We were working on things in the bullpen and he was doing good, but he was just trying too much in games. He's got 20 extra pounds of muscle on him now, and when he tries harder, things start moving a little more and a little differently. He just had to go someplace where he could clear his mind, get back to some basics, and feel comfortable. He is the exact reason why there is Triple-A. He didn't realize at the time. He was upset, angry, mad, whatever, at being sent down. Nobody wants to be sent back down. He did well in his first outing, didn't do well in his second outing, and was okay in his third outing.

In the end, he admitted that it was a lot easier place to get things ironed out and cleaned up. It's a lot easier than doing it at the Major League level with all that pressure. AJ and Jon both did a wonderful job of getting him back to being who he is. They got his body back over his front leg instead of around his front leg, and it really made a difference in all of his pitches. He worked on how he was separating his hands and got himself postured better, and overall, it was just the perfect situation for him. He and Scherzer were really two different kind of cases, but that's exactly what Triple-A is for.

TT: I get a lot of email and a lot of questions about Jacob Turner. What have you seen with him, and what is your expectation of him over the next couple of years?

RK: That's a tough one. He was in spring training, and you hate to compare him to guys, but his mentality is low key, and his approach is very similar to Porcello. As much as you don't want to compare him to Porcello, that's kind of what he is. Is he ready to be a big league pitcher next year? I don't know. I'll tell you this, we ran into this with Mauer in Minnesota. Whenever the Twins were looking to make a trade, people wanted Mauer, but when he finally got to the big leagues people stopped asking about him because he's so darn good. [Turner] will be that guy. He's a very talented player that looks like he's going to have a tremendous Major League career.

I don't want to rush him. I don't think it would hurt him to hit every step along the way. He needs to experience failure. In his mind there have probably outings where he hasn't pitched too well, but that's not failure. That's just having a bad outing. Maybe he won't ever have that feeling, who knows. You can't help but get excited about him. I have friends and coaches in the Florida State League that saw him, and they raved about him. Everybody thinks he's going to be a real good pitcher, and with his ability to change speeds and create spin on the ball, it's hard to say he won't be. He probably does those things better than Porcello at the same age. I want to say that I'm really looking forward to working with him, but I just hope it doesn't come too soon.

TT: One thing fans always seem to be curious about is what actually happens during the visits to the mound. Can you walk us through your average, run of the mill mound visit?

RK: It really depends. I never want to make a trip. Sometimes I see [Texas Rangers pitching coach] Mike Maddux and he looks like he just can't wait to make a trip! Then, boom, he's out! Sometimes it seems like he's out of the dugout before the play is even over. I don't look to make a trip. There are places in the game where I need to make a trip. I don't want a guy to ever throw more than 25 pitches in an inning, so if he's at the 18-22 pitch mark, I think I need to give him a break, so I'll go out and do just that. I'll tell him that too, "Look, I'm just out her to give you a break, and let you catch your breath." Sometimes I'll get out there and talk about the situation and what this hitter has been doing, and I'll ask the pitcher what he wants to do. If he says he doesn't know, well, then I'll tell him what to do. I always want to make sure we're clear before I walk away; that our plan is absolute and clear.

But there are other times where [Jim] Leyland wants to change the timing of the game and he sends me out there. He might want a second to think about who he is going to bring in the game, or think about what match up he wants, or if things are starting to unwind a bit, and he'll send me out there. Sometimes the visits get heated, but sometimes they're nothing more than "Hey, you're doing great! Let's just get this guy here."

TT: Wrapping things up here, this is a little bit more of a fun question. Your son was picked in the 44th round by the Tigers in the June draft. As a proud father, how did that feel, and was there ever any consideration of him signing at all?

RK: Well, he thought he was going to be drafted. There were about six teams that talked about it with some seriousness. In the end, it didn't seem like anyone was going to draft him that high, only because they knew his signability was what it was. I don't want to make it sound like my son is the greatest or anything, but I think my kid is going to be pretty good. But right now he's not the physical kid that he's going to be. He has not matured physically. He's very mature pitchability wise, with what he sees and how he attacks hitters. What he lacks is the power piece, and that comes from just developing himself physically. I think Ricky would have considered signing, but it never really came up. Quite frankly, he did an excellent job of picking the college he's going to, and I think he made the right decision, and he's going to get an opportunity to pitch, and that's how you get better. I think there's a chance that next summer he might pitch in the Northwoods League or something like that up there in and around Michigan, and I might get to see him pitch a bit.

TigsTown would like to thank Rick for taking the time out of his busy off-season full of travels to see players and what sounds like a lengthy "Honey-do List." We wish him a good off-season, and we look forward to seeing him back on the field in 2011 helping the Tigers as they strive toward a Central Division title.

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