Arnsberg gives Astros fresh perspective
New pitching coach puts focus on positive, trust
HOUSTON -- Brad Arnsberg doesn't promise to turn the Astros' pitching staff into the best in the National League. He doesn't pretend he's the key to turning Felipe Paulino into a bona fide big league starter or put Roy Oswalt back on track. But don't be surprised if he does.
Arnsberg, who will take over as pitching coach in Houston this season, will bring the Astros a fresh voice that is coming off a solid five-year run as pitching coach in Toronto. He's inheriting a pitching staff that ranked 13th in the NL in ERA and homers allowed last season and one that has undergone some drastic changes, so it's not an easy assignment.
"The biggest thing I've always said is the key for a pitching coach is earning their trust," Arnsberg said. "Letting them know that basically I am an extension of them and vice versa. The trust factor is so key. It works that way in everyday life, and when you have trust of the pitchers, you can tell them to stand on top of their heads and try something and they will give it a try."
Don't expect to see any Astros pitchers head over heels on the mound anytime soon, but Arnsberg is full of ideas. He's going to stress communication and trust. He will emphasize attention to detail, and he's all about pounding the lower portion of the plate with fastballs.
He brings a one-for-all-and-all-for-one mentality and a wealth of experience. He came to the Astros after his stint in Toronto, where he helped Blue Jays starters have the best ERA in the Majors in 2008 in the rough-and-tumble AL East. He was pitching coach for Montreal in 2000 and Florida in 2002, so he has experience handling NL staffs.
A native of Arlington, Texas, he pitched six seasons in the Majors, spending time with the New York Yankees (1986-87), Texas Rangers (1989-91) and Cleveland Indians (1992). He was 9-6 with a 4.26 ERA in 94 games. And he played for Astros manager Brad Mills when Mills managed in the Minor Leagues.
|"By recognizing the positive and not dwelling and focusing on the negative, that's helped me succeed and helped me with guys I've worked with in the past."|
|-- Brad Arnsberg|
And he loves to talk.
He loves to talk about his philosophies on pitching and things he's learned along the way. He's not afraid to admit former Toronto ace Roy Halladay is a great friend and that he called the pitcher to consult him upon his move to the Astros. Most of all, he likes to talk about the staff he'll be working with in Houston.
The Blue Jays dismissed general manager J.P. Ricciardi late last season and told the coaching staff it was free to look elsewhere. Arnsberg wanted to stay in Toronto, but understood that nothing was certain. Mills, who was familiar with Arnsberg in his six years as bench coach in Boston, called him to gauge interest.
"I talked to my wife and did what I needed to do for my family," Arnsberg said. "I don't have one bad word to say about my stay in Toronto. I wasn't 100 percent sure I was going to be asked back."
Halladay continued to flourish under Arnsberg in Toronto and won 81 games in five years, and Arnsberg is getting another ace in Oswalt and a solid No. 2 starter in Wandy Rodriguez. The addition of Brett Myers strengthens the rotation, but much of Arnsberg's impact might be felt on youngsters Bud Norris and Paulino, who aren't guaranteed rotation spots.
"It's my job to express the level of importance and being good at the little things, the bunting and moving guys over and all the things that go into it, especially with a starting pitcher," he said. "A starting pitcher could pitch an extra 15 to 20 innings or as many as 30 or 40 innings, if he was a decent hitter or good at getting bunts down.
"My job going into Spring Training is to let guys know we're going to work hard on these things and stress the importance of these things. Pitchers are happier when they pitch deeper into games."
When asked about his philosophy of how long he'd like to leave starters into games, Arnsberg deferred to Mills.
"It's his ultimate decision, and everybody runs around the skipper and follows his lead," he said. "That's why he's the manager. I know with the guys I've worked with in the past, we've prepared to go out there and throw 95 to 115 pitches every fifth day, and I really want to instill that into our guys.
"I want them to understand we're going to try to work as deep as we can, and the more innings we compile as a starting pitching staff the less we ask of our bullpen, which means guys are more rested. Instead of appearing in four or five games a week, they [relievers] can appear in three or four or two or three. It makes it easier for them to go out there and work their magic."
But keeping pitchers healthy can be a difficult task. The Astros' bullpen was rocked by injuries last season, and Oswalt has been bothered by back problems the past three years. Arnsberg said listening to what players are saying about their bodies and arms and getting them to be honest is vital.
"It's one thing I've prided myself on my pitching-coach career is trying to listen to my guys," he said. "Hopefully, they're 100 percent honest with me, and when that happens it's so much easier as a manger or a pitching coach to evaluate who might be the guy to go to that night."
As far as the mechanics of pitching, Arnsberg's philosophy probably won't be anything Houston's pitchers haven't heard before. He wants them to pound the lower half of the strike zone as much as possible and go upstairs when given the opportunity. He wants them to command the fastball to both sides of the plate, have a solid No. 2 pitch and confidence in their entire arsenal.
"I'm a positive teacher and don't focus on the negative," he said. "If a guy gives up a two-run dinger in the seventh inning and was pitching a shutout, instead of focusing on the two bad pitches that got him into the situation, I'll focus on the 57 quality pitches he threw to get Major League hitters out.
"By recognizing the positive and not dwelling and focusing on the negative, that's helped me succeed and helped me with guys I've worked with in the past."
Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.