Detroit – New Tigers pitching coach Chris Bosio was general manager Al Avila’s choice.
That’s not to say manager Ron Gardenhire was opposed – far from it. Bosio’s resume, and his World Series rings with the Cubs, speak for itself. Plus, the two are long-time combatants, dating to the early 1990s when Gardenhire was coaching at Minnesota and Bosio was pitching for the rival Brewers.
But for his entire managerial career in Minnesota, from 2002-2014, Gardenhire had only one pitching coach – Rick Anderson. In fact, his relationship with Anderson dates back to 1980 when the two roomed together as Double-A players in the Mets organization.
A happy compromise was reached. Anderson will serve as the Tigers’ bullpen coach.
“Gardy wanted me to come in some capacity,” Anderson said Thursday. “I know Bosio a little bit from talking to him over the years and I know he’s a good one. And they wanted him to come on.
“I just said, ‘Heck yeah, I’ll take the bullpen if that’s what you want.’ That’s where it ended up and that’s fine. I am looking forward to it.”
It’s quite a package deal for the Tigers. Two former big-leaguers with a combined 50 years of coaching pitchers in professional baseball.
Anderson gained a reputation for developing a pitching staff full of aggressive, strike-throwers. He helped mold two-time Cy Young winner Johan Santana and also helped transform Joe Nathan into one of the most dominate closers of his time.
“In the bullpen your role is just as important because you are talking about the mental part of the game,” Anderson said. “You are fine-tuning mechanics because you are with those guys every day. Al (Avila) said, ‘You will be kind of like an assistant to Bos, assistant pitching coach.’
“Which I am going to enjoy.”
Bosio, who spent the last six seasons with the Cubs, helped develop the likes of Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks. The year before Bosio took over, the Cubs ranked 25th in ERA and 22nd in opponent batting average.
In 2016, on their way to a World Series title, they led baseball in both categories.
“There are a lot of similarities, record-wise, with the Tigers and where we were with the Cubs six years ago,” Bosio said. “Ron has a tremendous track record as a manager in player development. And one thing he said that stood to me was, ‘We’re going to have to develop players at the Major-League level.’
“And that’s something we embraced in our time in Chicago. I am looking forward to doing that here in Detroit.”
Bosio, as he showed in his work with Jon Lester and John Lackey, is also able to show old dogs some new tricks. In that regard, he is anxious to work with the Tigers’ Jordan Zimmermann. He said he sees similarities between Zimmermann, when he’s healthy, and Arrieta.
He saw Zimmermann pitch in college, a Division III regional tournament game in 2006. He was an assistant pitching coach at Wisconsin-Oshawa and Zimmermann was at Stevens Point.
“Zimmermann pitched a one-hitter and struck out 16 and he was doing much of the same things I saw Jake Arrieta do,” Bosio said. “Am I excited to work with Jordan Zimmermann? Yes I am. I know he’s had health issues. But you have to get to know the individual, maybe get him to try new things and see what his capabilities are.”
The Tigers finished last or near the bottom in nearly every pitching statistic last season, so both Bosio and Anderson know what they are up against. Both, though, have done their research and have seen the crop of young, talented pitchers that are presently in the lower minor-league levels.
“The one thing that really stood out was there are so many arms we have with talent and velocity,” Bosio said. “We’ve got some guys with power arms and big bodies and that’s always fun to work with. A lot of these guys are making their way up through the system and that’s an exciting thing.
“I know this organization is going in the right direction. It’s a matter of these players getting that opportunity and gaining the innings to get that experience.”
Soon, Bosio and Anderson will get together and share philosophies and better define their working relationship. They, no doubt, will also rehash some old war stories. Bosio was born in Sacramento, but grew up in the Twin Cities a huge Twins fan. He wore No. 29 early in his career to honor his favorite player, Rod Carew – though he'd torment the Twins in his years pitching for the Brewers.
“Our battles go back to those border battles in the American League,” Bosio said of the old Twins-Brewers American League East series. “It was like the Packers-Vikings rivalry. You always watch when you are playing against people you respect and I always respected Gardy, Tom Kelly (former manager) and Rick.
“They always did things the right way and that’s what really attracted me when I knew the Tigers had interest in Gardy. When you are player, you could see yourself playing for him. And now here we are, grizzled baseball guys and I’ve got the opportunity to work with baseball men like Gardy and Rick.”