New Phillies pitching coach Bob McClure reserving judgment

Phillies pitching coach Bob McClure with closer Jonathan Papelbon (right). He said no one can assess a pitcher after a handful of February bullpen sessions.
Phillies pitching coach Bob McClure with closer Jonathan Papelbon (right). He said no one can assess a pitcher after a handful of February bullpen sessions. (DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff)
Posted: February 16, 2014

CLEARWATER, Fla. - The Phillies have a new pitching coach for the first time in nine years, and Bob McClure is content to delay any judgments on his pupils. The 61-year-old former reliever did not seek this job; Ruben Amaro Jr. called McClure in November after exhausting a dozen other options to replace Rich Dubee.

McClure did not work in baseball last season. He cared for his 2-year-old twin sons in Stuart, Fla., and watched baseball on TV. A bitter divorce with the Boston Red Sox in 2012 jaded him. "Really," he said, "I didn't think I was going to miss it." This winter, another team offered a consulting job he could do from home.

Then, McClure said, something "strange" happened. He was energized when Amaro called. The idea of adopting a new pitching staff did not overwhelm him. He polled confidants about the Phillies, and they endorsed the idea.

"So many of the organizations are getting into the computer and data and number-crunching, and they said, 'There's a lot of good, old-school baseball people,'" McClure said. "And that intrigued me."

McClure cannot yet trust his eyes when he watches workouts. He studied video of the Phillies' options this winter but said no one can assess a pitcher after a handful of February bullpen sessions. The 27 pitchers in camp arrived with a blank slate.

When A.J. Burnett's one-year, $16 million contract is finalized this weekend, McClure's starting rotation decisions will not be difficult. The bullpen is different.

McClure identified one lock, closer Jonathan Papelbon, who will earn $13 million in 2014. He said Antonio Bastardo and Jake Diekman are arms that merit near-guarantee status. "But I have to see them more," McClure said.

Diekman, specifically, made an impression on McClure during his video studies. The 27-year-old lefty posted a 2.58 ERA. Changes to his mechanics created a fastball that traveled 98 m.p.h.

"Just from watching the hitters," McClure said, "they're like, 'Whoa.' "

Beyond that, McClure is not sure what is at his disposal. He said it could be a challenge for pitchers so used to one style; Dubee was pitching coach from 2005 to 2013. The goal is the same. The message could differ.

"I just believe it's so much simpler - it was for me as a pitcher - when you just think about down in the zone," McClure said. "Down in the zone is your thought and priority before you start thinking about the edges. Hopefully those younger guys that are just getting their feet wet, it's going to help them cut down on the walks."

McClure spent 19 years in the majors, mostly as a lefthanded reliever. He had stints as a pitching coach in Kansas City and Boston. About a decade ago, he conducted a study of veteran pitchers and found a majority did not feel comfortable on a major-league mound until their third or fourth season.

Many of the young Phillies relievers he inherited - Diekman, Brad Lincoln, Justin De Fratus, B.J. Rosenberg, Jeremy Horst, Mike Stutes, Phillippe Aumont, and Joe Savery - fit that category. The Phillies hope McClure will offer a different perspective to those pitchers.

"It's like anything where you fall into a routine, then a new boss comes in and says, 'Listen, I want it done this way,' " McClure said. "At first it's a little bit of a culture shock, but you're basically trying to get the same thing accomplished. It might be in a different way."

Extra Bases. Mike Adams (shoulder) is expected to throw from a mound sometime during the last week of February, manager Ryne Sandberg said. Adams, who is owed $7 million in 2014, will likely start the season on the disabled list. ... Domonic Brown and Marlon Byrd joined voluntary workouts for position players Friday. The entire roster must report by Monday.


mgelb@phillynews.com

@magelb inquirer.com/phillieszone

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