CLEARWATER, Fla. -- For new Phillies pitching coach Bob McClure, every day is an information gathering session.
The Phillies have 28 pitchers in camp. McClure knows little about most of them. That will change over the next six weeks.
“I’m just laying eyes on them for a second day,” McClure said after Friday’s workout.
McClure, formerly a pitching coach in Kansas City and Boston, did make a couple of visits to Clearwater this winter to work with early arriving pitchers. He also watched video of the staff.
Anyone jump out on video?
Anyone beside Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee?
“[Jake] Diekman,” McClure said. “From watching the hitters, they’re like, ‘Whoa.’ “
For the second straight year, lefty reliever Jake Diekman came up from the minors in 2013. From the time of his arrival in June until the end of the season, he was one of the most improved players on the club. His confidence soared in the second half of the season as he threw more strikes, walked fewer hitters and lit up radar guns with fastballs that approached triple digits.
At 27 years old, and with 77 big-league appearances under his belt, Diekman might be ready to be a major difference-maker in the late innings for the Phillies.
That would fit some of the theories that McClure, 61, has reached during 19 years as a big-league pitcher, seven as big-league pitching coach and several more as a minor-league coach.
“I did a survey of 30 or 40 major league pitchers years ago, some of them Hall of Famers, some of them everyday pitchers with 10 years in,” McClure said. “I asked them, ‘How long did it take before the game slowed down for you?' Because that’s the key. To do everything right, you have to be calm. Even if you’re aggressive, you have to stay within yourself to repeat your delivery to make all of your pitches.
“To a man, everyone said between their third and fourth year, it started to slow down.”
Slowing the game down, keeping it simple, will be McClure’s goal with some of the young pitchers that the Phillies are counting on now and in the future. We’re talking about Diekman, B.J. Rosenberg, Ethan Martin, Justin De Fratus, Phillippe Aumont, Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez and others. The Phillies need these guys to throw strikes and now be awed by the glare of pitching in the majors.
“What I’m hoping to do -- and I’m sure [Rich] Dubee said the same thing because he’s a heck of a pitching coach -- is keep it simple,” McClure said. “I’m just a believer that it’s so much simpler, and it was for me as a pitcher, to just think about being down in zone. Down in the zone is your thought and priority before you start thinking about the edges.
“Hopefully with these younger guys that are just getting their feet wet, it’s going to help them cut down on the walks, cut down on the runs scored, cut down on the ERA.
"So I’m trying to simplify it in a way and I hope it helps.”
McClure continued to talk about the speed of the game at the big-league level and how it’s different from the minor leagues.
There are exceptions, but most pitchers need time to adjust to the intensity.
“It goes fast,” McClure said. “It’s almost like being in a convertible car in the middle of an arena with 30,000 people yelling and screaming at you. It’s intense. Now put that car on a racetrack and go 200 miles per hour. And try make your car fit through two cars on the first turn. Well, that’s what it’s like when you first come up. It’s going fast. And a lot of guys are afraid to make mistakes when they first come up.
“So once it slows down, the talent really starts to show and that’s kind of my job -- to help them slow it down. How do you do that? Well, to me, if you’re pitching to the bottom of the zone and you’re getting ahead and the hitters are getting themselves out it starts to build confidence and it should slow down.
“That’s where we’re going to start.”
McClure’s keep-it-simple style won’t include bombarding his pitchers with analytical data. He believes too much of that can get in the way of executing the pitch.
“So many organizations are getting into the computer and data and number crunching,” he said. “There’s a lot of good old-school baseball people here and that intrigued me.
“I use it. I think there’s a place for old school with the new stuff and a place for new stuff with the old school. I think a mixture is good. But for me, I think it can be overdone.”