Tigers pitching coach Rick Anderson keeping his wits as stresses mount

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Chicago — These have been stressful days for Tigers’ pitching coach Rick Anderson. His rotation, due to injuries and inconsistent performances, is a mess, which has put a heavy burden on what has been a better-than-expected bullpen.

And on top of that, two of the organization’s prized jewels, two cornerstones of the Tigers' rebuilding project — prospects Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal — have been thrust into his care without the benefit of throwing any true competitive innings since spring training, let alone any time in Triple-A.

Make them great, Andy.

Tigers pitching coach Rick Anderson, center, talks with  Casey Mize during the team's summer camp.

And yet, none of those things raised his blood pressure more than watching White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson shred his pitching staff the last two days.

“It’s just crazy,” he said before the game Wednesday. “I was ranting up and down the dugout yesterday: ‘Watch, just before a pitch he’ll back off the plate, move back on the plate, move up in the box — he’s moving all around. If you see it, call time out!’”

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Tim Anderson started each of the first two games with a home run. He came into the game Wednesday with three home runs, six hits and five RBIs in the series. Hall-of-Famer and FSD analyst Jack Morris asked him jokingly if he heard trash cans banging in the White Sox dugout — alluding to the Astros’ sign-stealing methods.

Rick Anderson laughed.

“That was probably me banging around,” he said. “If you look at it, we really haven’t pitched that well and when a guy is hot like that it seems like he’s getting good pitches every time. When a guy is not going good, you can throw it right now the middle and they pop it up.

“One thing though, we’ve got to make him uncomfortable. You have to change his posture and move his feet, move him back. He’s been very, very comfortable.”

Anderson spoke on a wide range of topics Wednesday:

►Assessment of Skubal’s two-inning debut: “He was kind of caught in between. He tried to be calm. He told himself to be calm and sometimes when you do that it can work against you and you don’t really get after it. He got caught in between and sometimes not as aggressive as he usually is. That’s the stuff you are going to see…I just told him after, ‘That’s good, we got that first one out of the way, now let’s take off running.'”

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►Concerns about Mize throwing a split-finger fastball, which is not encouraged by most organizations because of the stress it puts on the forearm: “It’s a pitch he had all through college and he was successful with it. And he’s been healthy. So you kind of have to run with that.”

Anderson told the story of right-hander Mike Trombley who he coached in Minnesota. He was struggling to stay in the big leagues and finally, Anderson helped him add the splitter as a last resort to save his career. He pitched for 11 seasons.

“I remember in Minnesota, that was a no-no,” Anderson said. “We were using it down there when we thought a guy might be running out of chances. It’s not something we don't really want to teach. But it’s something Casey had coming in and it’s been successful.”

►On his pointed discussions with struggling No. 1 starter Matthew Boyd: “It’s been a process. He came back from the break and his slider wasn’t what it used to be and neither was the command on his fastball. Those are his bread-and-butter pitches. I made a heat map for him and it showed with his fastball he was throwing a lot of pitches in the middle of the plate. Usually he gets it to both sides. And with the slider, we looked at the analytics and it was flattening out.”

The positive, Anderson said, is that Boyd was a lot better on both counts in his last start. Still, Anderson got on him a bit after the second inning Monday night.

“He came in and I said, ‘It’s the second inning, you’ve thrown 66 pitches and you’ve thrown one changeup. That’s not going to work Matty. You are not a two-pitch pitcher.’ Then he goes in his next two innings, used his changeup a lot and rolled through them. It was easy.”

►Anderson on whether Boyd’s struggles are mechanical or mental: “Mental. Some of things you talk about technique-wise, like don’t try to shape your slider, don’t try to make it break. Trust where you hand is and let it break. It will break. It will get there. He was much, much better last time out.”


Twitter: @cmccosky