By: Scott Jackson
LAKELAND, FLA. — Detroit’s biggest off-season addition won’t play an inning this season. He won’t even warm-up before games.
Rick Knapp was hired as the team’s pitching coach in October. He spent the last twelve years as the minor league pitching coordinator for the division-rival Minnesota Twins. Pitchers he worked in Minnesota included two-time Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana, now the New York Mets ace.
This season, Knapp is being asked to revive a pitching staff that had the worst earned run average in their division, and surrendered the second most walks in the major leagues. The Tigers also lost reliever Todd Jones, who had the most saves in franchise history, to retirement.
Fernando Rodney is scheduled to be the team’s closer. Rodney spent the last two months of 2008 closing for Detroit, converting 13 of 19 save opportunities. “He’s a good guy who will be a good pitching coach for years to come,” Rodney said of Knapp.
Rodney isn’t the only member of the Tiger’s bullpen excited about Knapp. Righty Scott Williamson, working out recently at the team’s spring training facility in Lakeland, Florida, said the former Texas Rangers farmhand is a smart man. “He has a lot of knowledge (the team) can use,” he said.
Williamson also commended Knapp’s knowledge of the game. “It’s like he’s been (with the Tigers) for years,” he said. Manager Jim Leyland has worked with countless pitching coaches and is also happy to have Knapp on board. “He’s a quality baseball person who brings an excellent track record of developing major league caliber pitchers,” the veteran manager said when Knapp was hired in October.
Since he arrived with Detroit, Knapp has been working with the team’s pitchers. He’s been working on mechanics and kinesthetics and says pitching is about more than just trying to throw the ball over the strike zone. He’s also not dwelling on Detroit’s dismal 2008 campaign and is trying to get the team to look towards the future.
He’s also excited about working in the majors. He was the Twin’s pitching coach for one game in 2004, when pitching coach Rick Anderson missed a game with the Tigers to attend his son’s graduation. But this is his first spring training as a major league coach and he’s relishing everything about the experience. “There are a million things that made it special for me,” he said.
But there are just a few that will make his first year in the big leagues special and they come in the form of wins.
By: Scott Jackson