Dubee eager to build rapport with Tigers staff

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Detroit — His predecessor was known affectionately as the Pitcher Whisperer.

That was the soft-spoken Jeff Jones, the Tigers pitching coach from 2011 through last season — a man of precious few words.

Tigers pitchers will have to brace themselves for a lot more chatter from their new pitching coach Rich Dubee.

Asked about how he saw the role of pitching coach Saturday during TigerFest, Dubee referenced the old plate spinner act on the Ed Sullivan Show back in the 1960s.

“Yeah, that guy used to run around, and he’s trying to keep them all up, spinning. That’s what you’re doing with a pitching staff,” he said. “Sometimes, you’ve got to spend an extra hour with this guy who’s going bad. Sometimes, you got to spend an extra hour with this guy who’s going good, because he’s wondering how he’s doing so good.

“There’s a lot of intermingling that goes on, and there’s a lot of dealing with psyches and confidence level, and stuff like that. That’s the fun of it. Dealing with people, getting to learn people, and enjoy watching them. You’re always sitting in the hot seat, you know that as a coach. But, damn, it’s the best seat in the house. It really is.”

Jonesy would get a sore throat just reading all those words.

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But Dubee’s accomplishments as a pitching coach are well-documented and speak louder than his words. He oversaw a pitching staff in Philadelphia from 2005 through 2013 that helped win a one World Series, two National League pennants and five NL East titles.

Those staffs included Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels.

“I don’t feel any pressure,” Dubee said. “I’ve done it for 13 years. Been very lucky to win a World Series. With Philly, been lucky enough to go to back-to-back World Series. Won five divisions there. Was fortunate enough to work alongside the winningest manager in Philadelphia history (Charlie Manuel), so I don’t feel like I’ve got any pressure.

“I’m very fortunate to have a lot of good, talented players around me — and again, the goal is to try to find out what makes them tick, and keep them performing at the highest level.”

Dubee inherits a freshly stocked pitching cupboard in Detroit, that includes newly-acquired starters Jordan Zimmermann and Mike Pelfrey, plus a rebuilt back-end of the bullpen with Justin Wilson, Mark Lowe and Francisco Rodriguez.

“Al (Avila) and the front office here have done a tremendous job here of deepening the rotation, and also deepening the bullpen,” he said. “Inventory is a vital thing in this game. You go through 12 guys, and break spring training, and go all season — I tell you, if they do, I want to see them.

“Major leagues staffs are using probably 10 or 11 starters on each staff, and up to probably 24 guys on each staff. So by bringing in some of the resources that we have … we’ve not only improved them with seasoned guys, but we’ve also increased our depth and inventory, which are two vitally important things.”

Dubee has just begun the process of getting to know his staff. He is a big believer in leaving players alone during the offseason, so he’s only made a few introductory phone calls. The real work, he said, will start next month when players start filtering down to Lakeland, Fla., for spring training.

“I’ll be going over to Lakeland from time to time over the next couple of weeks, on a regular basis, and see who’s over there working out and start to build that rapport, start putting eyes on deliveries,” he said. “I’ve seen some deliveries on tape but I like to see it live, see what makes it work. And that will go on through the course of spring training, and the whole season.”

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Tigers reliever Alex Wilson, who has spoken at some length with Dubee, said he seemed to have a laid-back approach.

“He seems like a great guy,” Wilson said. “He seems laid back, which I am all for. That suits me well. He should be a good fit. Everybody seems to be on the same page and we haven’t even started yet.”

Dubee has the advantage, too, of being reunited with Tigers bullpen coach Mick Billmeyer. The two were together in Philadelphia and Billmeyer will be a huge help with the transition, especially when it comes to the regimens and habits of veterans like Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez.

“I think you have to get a rapport with them, first,” Dubee said. “I don’t think you can jump right in and say ‘This is the way you need to be doing things,’ and ‘This is how you should do it,’ having never seen the guy work.

“You try to gain a rapport with them, gain their trust, see what makes each guy tick as individuals, see what works in their delivery, what works in their mental approach to pitching, and then make adjustments when we have to make them.”

It’s going to be an adjustment for the pitchers, though, if only in terms of the volume of discourse.

“The goal is going to be to get to know as many guys, as deep as I can learn them, in the seven weeks that we’ve got, or whatever,” Dubee said. “That’s mingling in the clubhouse, watching them throw bullpens, watching them throw games, watching how they handle their conditioning, being in the weight room.

“There will be a lot of mingling going on, a lot of one-on-one talk.”

Not a monologue; Dubee wants dialogue. He wants a discussion, a give and take of ideas.

“If we’ll start to work on something, and we’re going to an area that you don’t think can help you — you’re not going to hurt my feelings by telling me ‘Hey, I don’t think this’ll work.’ That’s fine. We’ll go in a different direction.

“So there’s got to be a lot of dialogue, and guys have to have the trust that they can say ‘Hey, listen. I don’t think this is for me.’ Ok, that’s fine. You’re not going to crush me.”

Dubee not only has to learn his pitching staff, he has to learn a new league of hitters. His 13 seasons as a pitching coach were all in the National League.

“There will be a lot more learning curve, as far as the hitters,” he said. “I’ve spent some time already, probably about six teams already, I’ve written up my ideas how we need to go to attack hitters.

“So there’s a lot of that that will go on, and probably a lot more of that this year, because of my lack of knowledge of teams, but that’s where the analytics comes in, and the video department will come in handy.”

At first glance, though, Dubee sees the components of a title contender.

“I think they’re there,” he said. “But I don’t know how we’re going to come out throwing the baseball. I know we’ve had injuries in the past, but if we reach our potential, the way guys have pitched in the past, I feel very good about it.

“But again, staying upright, staying out there for 162 regular season games is a vital piece of the whole thing.”