On the eve of the Grapefruit League getting underway, new St. Louis Cardinals pitching coach Mike Maddux is quite pleased with how things have started off under his watch.
“The schedule’s been great,” he said. “Everybody’s coming back healthy. Days are short and sweet–we get a lot done in a small amount of time. And the focus has been sensational.”
The communication has been noteworthy. Not just with Maddux getting to know his new pitchers and fellow staff, but throughout the whole camp. Coaches and players. Coaches and coaches. Players and players.
“It’s kind of like the standard we set for ourselves–it’s be who you are, don’t try to be anything different,” said Maddux. “I think communication among the coaches has been fantastic. And then the relaying of messages to the players has been great. Then when you see players coaching players, you know you’re doing your job.”
And just one example of that job paying off with results was the live pitching session from Bud Norris, who Maddux helped work through a couple of things in his last bullpen session. Facing hitters, Norris executed the plan and Maddux reacted with a small fist pump as he watched from behind the cage.
“It’s always good when you get immediate results,” said Maddux. “We try something new and it works, you see the instant feedback. That kind of gets the ball going–that’s how you gather trust between one another. That’s how you break the ice and get better.”
The changes are subtle and may be hard for someone trying to decipher big differences between what Maddux instructs and the previous philosophy of Dave Duncan which included pitching to contact down in the zone.
“I think we share a lot of the same things in that regard,” said Maddux. “The game has changed a little bit now with all the upper cuts. The low ball, if you’re going to pitch down, you’ve got to have down action. Plain and simple. Four-seamers down are not as effective as two-seamers down. But pitching up in the zone is a great thing.
“You look at stats in the past of staffs I’ve been associated with, I’m big on pitch to your strengths. If your strength is a high ball, let’s finish guys with a high ball. If it was a low ball, finish them with a low ball. So my philosophy is I’ve got 32 guys–there’s going to be 32 philosophies.”
So what kind of philosophy or buttons will Maddux push for Carlos Martinez, who believes that the new pitching coach can help push him to an even higher level of success?
“As we move forward, we’re going to find out what buttons they are,” said Maddux. “That kind of starts today with our ‘Chalk Talk’. We’ll have our first Chalk Talk today. That’s where everybody gets challenged collectively. It’s going to happen all the home games this spring. We’ll lay the groundwork and then as they go out in the games, what are we implementing, what we talked about into the game, and then we’ll talk about it after the game. And it’s not just for one, it’s for everybody. If it helps one guy, it was worth it.”
A self-described “baseball rat” when growing up, it was in those early years that Maddux began the path to becoming a professional player, but then coach.
“Used to have the baseball cards, know who hit what, who won this many games, really enjoyed the game and loved the game and always wanted to talk shop,” recalled Maddux. “Mentored the younger players as I became older, then toward the end of my career it was kind of like semi-coach. It was a natural cross-over into the coaching realms because I had done some of the fundamental things as far as instruction, but then you get into the whole world of development and coaching. It’s totally different. You’ve got to learn that too because now it’s not one guy, it’s multiple. It’s not one day, it’s for the whole week, and then it’s for the whole month and for the whole season. It all grows, but it was a natural transition.”
And while Bob Gibson and a few of the other Hall of Famers haven’t made down yet, there has been plenty of opportunity to talk shop with Chris Carpenter, Ozzie Smith, and the rest of the coaches on hand.
“It’s been great,” smiled Maddux. “You talk to guys and see what their core is, their core values and really what they believe and how they took it to the field everyday. All of a sudden, you’re speaking the same language. Might use different innuendos, but we all have the same core. I think that’s one of the similarities a lot of baseball rats share.”
As for his wanting to coach with the Cardinals? Maddux had an instant reply.
“Tradition,” he stated. “Class organization, always did everything right–they could beat you on the mound, they could beat you in the field, they beat you at the bat, they beat you base running. It was all the little things that the Cardinals always did, they did them better than everybody else and that’s how they always came out on top.”
GRAPEFRUIT ROTATION TAKING SHAPE
–Jack Flaherty will start tomorrow’s Grapefruit League opener with John Gant, Josh Lucas, Connor Greene, Jordan Schaefer, and Jordan Hicks to follow as needed out of the bullpen.
Carlos Martinez will start on Saturday with Nick Helsley, Bud Norris, Jacob Woodford, Sean Gilmartin, and Gonzales next on the day’s list.
Miles Mikolas will be throwing a side session on Friday, which could put him in line to start Sunday.
MAD DOG BALL
–Without any live pitching practice sessions today, all of the pitchers were divided into four teams for a unique game of what Maddux called PFPs (pitcher fielding practice). Bryan Eversgerd laughed as he suggested it was really “Mad Dog Ball”.
The goal of the game was to score as many runs as possible, with ground balls fielded cleanly or a fly ball over the fence being called an out. A rubber-plastic ball was used and tossed to the hitter from a coach nearby. Line drives that hit the fence on the fly were a home run–that happened often as the game took place on “The Wizard’s” field, which consists of the infield and only a very short outfield grass behind the dirt.
Fielders were gradually removed from the game and the outs decreased to where there were rapid shifts between fielding and at-bats.
The result was a lively and competitive game of the pitchers fielding grounders–some very proficiently and trying to hit the ball hard on the ground past other fielders. Easier said than done at times with rising intensity, similar to the bunting contests of years past.
photo credit: Brian Stull/STLBaseballWeekly.com