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 Tigers' Knapp shows knack with Verlander tip

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PostSubject: Tigers' Knapp shows knack with Verlander tip   Wed Jan 21, 2009 9:31 am

Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Tigers' Knapp shows knack with Verlander tip
New Tigers pitching coach says one sure objective is to 'get our guys in an attacking stance.'
Lynn Henning / The Detroit News

In almost the same breath that Tigers pitching coach Rick Knapp tells you he will keep his mouth shut and simply watch his new pupils, he mentions a "small little adjustment" that seemed to click with Justin Verlander during an offseason throwing session last week at Lakeland, Fla.

"Watching him play catch, I noticed how after he finishes, he finishes way off-balance," Knapp explained this week, by telephone from his home in Port Charlotte, Fla. "My job was to figure out why that was and how it relates to his delivery, which was to possibly lower his arm slot a bit.

"He was maybe getting a bit too high. That can lead him to arch, and to fall off as opposed to stepping around after the ball crosses the plate," Knapp said of the Tigers right-hander who had a humbling 2008 season. "So, doing long-toss, we had him keeping his hands away from his head a bit more, which seems to free up his arm and his release a bit more out front.

"It was a small little adjustment. But he felt it almost immediately. I'm used to having to sell guys on things because they have a hard time feeling it. Justin picked up on it like that. He was in tune with it. I'm excited to see him again (Tuesday).

"I've just got to make sure the players know I don't have all the answers."

Knapp's assignment is to become a new voice with new perspectives on Tigers pitchers. Their problems were many and mysterious in 2008. Verlander, the team's anointed ace who had won 35 games his previous two seasons, won 11 last year and looked like half the pitcher he had been in 2006-07.

Nate Robertson's earned-run average went from 4.76 in 2007 to a hideous 6.35 in 2008. Dontrelle Willis, a proven 200-innings pitcher in the National League, was so discombobulated that he was all but sent back to boot camp to rediscover his mechanics.

Fernando Rodney, who could end up as Detroit's closer in 2009, had a polarized relationship with the strike zone in '08. Jeremy Bonderman's early exit last season was due to a circulatory problem that required surgery. But he still fought his third pitch, a change-up, which showed only small signs of becoming the option he desperately needs.

To this cavalcade of pitching challenges comes Knapp, 46, who for the past dozen years was the chief minor league pitching coach for the Minnesota Twins.

It was Knapp's reputation for polishing a steady stream of strikes-throwing Twins pitchers that made him a Tigers target after former pitching coach Chuck Hernandez was fired at the end of the 2008 season.

Twins pitchers had the fewest walks in the American League four of the past five seasons. The Tigers walked more batters (644) in 2008 than any American League team except Baltimore.

"I think they (all pitchers) are trying to throw strikes," said Knapp, who spent five years in the Texas Rangers organization before turning to coaching. "It's the inability to throw strikes that has to be analyzed. Is it delivery-related? Is it, physically, because they can't? Or, because they don't want to?

"Sometimes, it's a combination," said Knapp, who says "not wanting to" can be a psychological defense against a hitter.

"But what I want to do is to get our guys in an attacking stance. Their stuff (quality of pitches) is good. Man oh man, is it good."

Knapp has spent most of his time watching video of Tigers pitchers since he was hired in October. Only in the past few days, as pitchers begin to arrive at Lakeland for early conditioning (camp opens Feb. 14), has he begun to see pitchers in real life and to get acquainted with their mechanics and their personalities.

He has been on the phone with others, such as Robertson, who has been working out near his home in Canton. His problem stemmed from the fact his once-fearsome slider melted away, flattened and faltered, turning his year into a befuddling ordeal.

The following are some of Knapp's initial thoughts:

• Robertson: "I haven't talked with him yet about any specifics, but I can tell you what I think ..."

"When you watch Nate Robertson and see him falling down to the third-base side, it's because he's drifting through pitches and not sustaining his leverage point on the back side or controlling what's on the front side. Everything gets horizontal."

Knapp's thoughts are to get Robertson's body back on its axis, and then to tweak his delivery. But those notions, he emphasizes, are strictly preliminary.

• Willis: "Looked great" during a Friday bullpen session in Lakeland.

"His delivery looked fine," Knapp said. "His body was in phenomenal shape. I just realized how big he is, and he looked really good."

• Bonderman: He's being treated gently as Tigers trainers and medical people take charge of his recovery eight months following thoracic surgery.

"But the thing that stands out to me," Knapp said, "is how physical he is. I was talking to Gene Lamont (Tigers bench coach) the other day and I said to him, 'Dang, that guy's firm.' He looks strong. I don't know what else he could do to make his body right -- he's strong as an ox."

• Joel Zumaya: He also will be handled with care as he makes it back from shoulder surgery that sidelined him for much of 2008.

• Rodney: He represents a different challenge as the Tigers prepare him for a possible closer's role. Knapp has watched Rodney pitch since his minor league days and is still blown away by Rodney's 1-2 punch: a fastball that can hit the high 90-mph range, and a change-up on a par with ex-Twins ace Johan Santana.

"Tremendous, tremendous arm," Knapp said, "but can he harness it enough for the (closer's) role?

"If we can keep his emotions in check, he'll have a great year, whether as a closer or as a set-up, or as a set-up to the set-up."

• Armando Galarraga, who had a breakthrough year for the Tigers as a rookie right-hander in 2008: He reminds Knapp of Twins right-hander Nick Blackburn, who walked only 38 batters in 193 innings last season for the Twins.

"He (Galarraga) fits the profile of the guy we tried to make (coach) for the Twins," Knapp said. "A big-bodied guy who throws that first pitch for a strike. When I watch Armando, he reminds me of Blackburn."

You can reach Lynn Henning at (313) 222-2472 lynn.henning@detnews.com
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PostSubject: Re: Tigers' Knapp shows knack with Verlander tip   Wed Jan 21, 2009 8:01 pm

Let's hope it helps Verlander win big in 2009
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PostSubject: Re: Tigers' Knapp shows knack with Verlander tip   Wed Jan 21, 2009 9:05 pm

It sounds like Knapp is already finding many of our pitcher's problems... stupid Chucky sure was at a loss. And I am happy to see that he is working on the guys psychologically!

Quote :
who says "not wanting to" can be a psychological defense against a hitter.

I felt this for some time. If they don't throw a strike, in an area where the batter can "HIT IT", then they feel safe against men getting on base... but they end up walking the batter if the batter won't chase after the ball.

Also his line
Quote :
Their stuff (quality of pitches) is good. Man oh man, is it good."

shows his ability to work on their mental part of the game! If they read that they are good, then they may start pitching that way. Baseball is such a mental game!


“It takes pitching, hitting and defense. Any two can win. All three make you unbeatable.”    
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PostSubject: Re: Tigers' Knapp shows knack with Verlander tip   Thu Jan 22, 2009 10:56 am

If you look at Chuck Hernandez' past track record, it shouldn't have been a surprise what he did in Detroit. He worked for the Angels in '93-'96. He turned Chuck Finley into a 3.15 ERA pitcher into a pitcher that was above 4.00 for for the next 4 years. Then in '98 his ERA was 3.39. The Angels team ERA was 1992-3.84; 1993-4.34; 1994-5.42; 1995-4.52; 1996-5.31; 1997-4.52.

Then he went to the Devil Rays from '04-'05. Scott Kazmir did alright under him in '05, posting a 3.77 ERA. Admittingly, he didn't have much more to work with in his 2 years there. Mark Hendrickson, Dewon Brazelton, Rob Bell, Doug Waechter, and Casey Fossum weren't really that great to begin with. The Devil Rays' ERA was 2003-4.93; 2004-4.81; 2005-5.39; 2006-4.96. He certainly didn't do anything to help them.

Then everyone knows what he did to Robertson and Verlander.


bow Z. Miner
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