In the off-season, the Arizona Diamondbacks made some major changes to their coaching staff. They hired a new hitting coach, pitching coach, 3rd base coach, bullpen coach, and first base coach. But perhaps the most significant addition to the staff is legendary pitching coach Dave Duncan. After a long career as the pitching coach of the Oakland Athletics and St. Louis Cardinals under Tony LaRussa, Duncan took a couple of years off to be with his wife who was battling cancer. After she unfortunately succumbed to the disease, he decided the time was right to get back into baseball. He was hired as a special assistant to General Manager Kevin Towers to help pitching coach Mike Harkey who is a major league pitching coach for the first time after spending the past eight years watching Mariano Rivera warm up in the Yankee bullpen. It is clear that after a little under a month of Spring camp, the addition of Duncan was the right one.
Before the team arrived at Spring camp 2014 at Salt River Fields, the D’backs staff and front office held their annual organizational meetings to discuss the status of the organization and the upcoming season. At those meetings, Duncan presented his philosophy for pitching and Arizona’s coaches and front office members were so intrigued by his knowledge, his unique philosophy, and his passion for the game. Just his presence during a bullpen session or in a pitcher’s meeting at camp has made a huge impact. Manager Kirk Gibson was so impressed by his presentation that he showed part of it during his first meeting with pitchers and catchers when they reported in early February and the entire staff was equally impressed.
Duncan’s philosophy is very simple: throw strikes, get ground balls, stay ahead, know your strengths, avoid the big inning or the leadoff walk, all things pitchers have heard before. But that is at the heart of his effectiveness. His attention to detail is amazing and his track record as a pitching coach speaks for itself. That is why whenever Duncan is in the room or on the field, players are listening. Brandon McCarthy spoke about the impact Duncan is having so far at camp with Nick Piecoro of azcentral.com:
“This is a guy who has fixed careers, a guy who has built careers, he’s been there for the length of careers and it’s just been success, success, success. It would do you well to just listen as much as you can. Everybody has that on their mind. Here’s someone talking that we need to stop and listen and pay attention to.”
Duncan is a clear Hall of Famer but his new role allows him to not deal with the day to day stuff and just focus on helping pitchers at both the big league level and the Minor League level. He is an invaluable resource and the players want to take advantage of his knowledge during Spring Training because no one, including Duncan knows how much he will be around during the season. J.J. Putz talked about using him as a resource with Piecoro: “If he’s around every day, he’s not going to be around enough,” the reliever said. “I just hope a lot of these guys realize the resource we have, especially in Spring. Sit down, have a cup of coffee with him, just pick his brain. If you can walk away with one thing every day that would be huge.”
There are things that are happening that are new with the pitchers and that’s all because of Dave Duncan. He tries not to overwhelm them with too much information, they are throwing more in bullpen sessions, and after every session, pitchers and catchers are required to sit down with each other and discuss what they saw to help build trust. No one has their starters throwing more innings or pitches right out of the gate than the Diamondbacks. They started camp earlier because of the Australian trip so they have thrown more and Duncan has suggested that D’backs pitchers throw more right away. Instead of throwing two or three innings in their first couple of starts, the Snakes’ pitchers are throwing four or five innings and so far the results are showing. McCarthy, Bronson Arroyo, Wade Miley, Trevor Cahill, Patrick Corbin, and Archie Bradley have all had at least one great outing and their pitches are really working. The pitchers are confident and they feel their stuff is working. Whatever Duncan and Harkey are doing is working and hopefully it translates into the regular season.