PITTSBURGH (93-7 The FAN) - Every year, Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage has his work cut out for him.
The 2016 season should be no different. Searage has inherited a back end of the rotation that many aren't bullish on, and pundits are skeptical that the Pirates' well of luck with the ever-familiar "reclamation projects" is soon to run dry.
As the careers of A.J. Burnett, Francisco Liriano, Edinson Volquez, JA Happ and others have turned around for the better and gone on to make significant amounts of money, by coming in contact with Searage, "Uncle Ray" has become a rock star and is considered by many one of the elite pitching coaches in the game.
Yet, there are still some that believe that despite these miracles, it's a risky proposition to bet on their certainty, year after year. The law of averages is soon to catch up with the Pirates and the tide will turn.
While Pirates fans believe his behind the scenes approach to be all-encompassing, extremely thorough and uber-scientific – in some instances it is – Searage really believes his success stories have come just the opposite: Simplification.
"I try to pick out one-to-two keys, three at the most [when working with a new pitcher]," Searage said.
Searage has zeroed in on two keys for Ryan Vogelsong. The 39-year-old comes to the Pirates in the twilight of his career, hoping for the magic to rub off.
Searage believes the formula for Vogelsong is simple: The right-hander needs to throw his two-seam fastball more.
"There's also a plan for him to increase pitching inside a little bit more. We looked at some of the heat maps, and the percentage of when he [pitched] in[side] on guys is not very high," Searage says.
Searage also believes that Juan Nicasio, who will likely be used as a long reliever by the Pirates, but is also available for starting pitching depth, is poised for a bounce-back year. Nicasio experienced a bit of a breakthrough in just his second bullpen session with Searage on Friday.
"We made a minor adjustment with him, and 'boom' he was able to get the fastball down in the zone," Searage said.
While Pirates fans have become accustom to Searage's successes, it has been said by many that the pitching coach's work ethic and ability to dig behind the scenes is what sets him apart. Working in harmony with the analytics department, watching copious amounts of video of pitchers both while they had success and failure allows him to be prepared when actual work on the mound begins.
"It's not rocket science, you just have to make sure you do your homework," he said. "When they ask you, 'Why is my ball cutting? [etc.]' You have the answer because you're already prepared."
Searage spoke in depth about many of his new pitchers with Pirates pre-game and post-game show host Dan Zangrilli. You can listen to the entire interview here:
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