Detroit — This isn’t about deconstructing what Chris Bosio accomplished as the Tigers’ pitching coach over the first half of the season.
He made a dramatic impact on this pitching staff — individually and collectively. He helped take a pitching staff that ranked at or near the bottom of the American League in every statistical category to one that presently has allowed the sixth fewest earned runs and has the 10th lowest ERA and WHIP.
That’s with a young staff that was without two veteran starters for more than a month and an ever-changing bullpen mix that has to date featured 16 different relievers.
That Bosio was fired Wednesday had nothing to do with his job performance. It had nothing to do with his personality, which could be abrasive at times. It had nothing to do with his relationship with manager Ron Gardenhire or the rest of the staff.
He was fired because of an indefensible and insensitive comment he made to a club employee, a comment, still undisclosed, that was deemed in breach of the team’s zero-tolerance conduct policy.
But now the Tigers move forward. Rick Anderson, who had been the bullpen coach and was Gardenhire’s pitching coach for 13 seasons in Minnesota, is the pitching coach. His personality is vastly different than Bosio’s — he’s more easy-going, more approachable.
Anderson, 61, will bring his own touches and tweaks to the process, for sure. But the Tigers still will be operating with the plan that Bosio put in place. They are not changing horses in midstream here.
“It’s basically going to be the same with what Boz started here,” Anderson said. “We’re going to try to finish what he started … We’re going to keep going with the process. You aren’t going to come in here and change everything.”
Anderson’s first message to the pitching staff — get back to attacking the strike zone.
“It’s something we’ve talked about over the course of the season — the walks,” Anderson said. “The walks are up. That’s my biggest thing. I talked to all of them yesterday — we’ve got to get back to attacking the strike zone. Don’t be so fine.”
He’s not asking his pitchers to just throw center-cut fastballs. He wants the pitchers to attack the zone with all their pitches.
“We are seeing so many three-ball counts and you can’t survive that,” he said. “Just don’t be so fine with everything. It was a great teaching point watching Mike Fiers last night. See what happens when you get ahead?”
Fiers went seven innings — the first Tigers starter to get through five innings in eight games, and allowed one run.
This is one area where Anderson, and Gardenhire, are breaking from the Bosio mold. Bosio was a stickler for getting his starters, especially Fiers, out of the game before he could face the lineup a third and especially a fourth time.
Bosio was wary of his starters effectiveness from about 85 pitches forward.
“I’ve never been one to look at the third time through the lineup,” Gardenhire said. “I know that is an important stat and it’s been expressed a lot around here. I’ve always said you can tell (a pitcher is faltering) by the way the guy is going about it and how the hitters are reacting to his pitches. That will normally tell you when a guy needs to come out of the ball game.”
Gardenhire is not challenging the validity of the statistics. He knows full well the numbers go in the hitters’ favor when they face a pitcher a third and fourth time. But there’s more to it than just looking at the raw data.
“We pay attention to it,” he said. “But you’ll kill your bullpen if you just go by that alone — third time through the order and he’s out. Sometimes those pitchers have to grow up and get through that stuff.”
The Tigers starters, especially the veterans, Fiers, Francisco Liriano and Jordan Zimmermann, have chafed at the early hooks. They have been fighting for the chance to go deeper in games.
“It’s got to be where they get deeper,” Anderson said. “We’re beating those kids up down there (in the bullpen). I asked (starter) Matt Boyd last night, ‘What do you prepare for?’ He says, ‘Nine innings.’ And I told him, ‘You better prepare for nine innings.’
“You can’t prepare like, if I keep my pitch count down I can get a quality start. That’s not where we are at.”
This brought Anderson back to his original point — throw strikes.
“It goes hand in hand,” he said. “If you attack the strike zone, pitch ahead in the count, get quicker outs, you get deeper in the game. But if you are constantly, 3-0, 3-1, 3-2, your pitch count is going to get crazy and you will be out of the game early.”
Another break from Bosio’s plan — the Tigers are going back to a five-man rotation. Left-hander Blaine Hardy, who made eight starts and posted a staff best 3.71 ERA, is going back to the bullpen.
“I understand what was going on with (the six-man rotation),” Anderson said. “But I talked to every one of our starters and told them we were going back to a five-man rotation and they welcomed it. Because they can get back on their routines.”
Hardy is good with it, too.
“I’d rather start,” he said. “I get it. Really, I don’t care where they pitch me because I got the opportunity to prove myself as a starter. I got to make seven or eight starts in the big leagues when I never thought that would happen.”
Anderson was happily retired when Gardenhire called last winter to see if he wanted to come to Detroit and be his bullpen coach. Anderson at the time was glad not to have the added stress of being the pitching coach.
But that was then.
He’s been rejuvenated by the young Tigers staff and he said Thursday that would consider staying on as pitching coach beyond this season if the job was offered.
“I am open to it, for sure,” he said. “We have a bunch of guys who want to get after it and work. These guys just want to win. And we have some exciting young pitchers coming through the system, too.”