BRADENTON, Fla. -- Count Ian Snell among the converted.
He feels better because of new Pirates pitching coach Joe Kerrigan. He pitches better, so he firmly believes. And he leaves camp tomorrow to begin practice with the Puerto Rico entrant in the World Baseball Classic, and he's carrying with him the Kerrigan plan, the Kerrigan pitch count, the Kerrigan confidence.
"I'm looking forward to the whole year, I'm not just looking forward to that," Snell said of the WBC.
"I mean, I feel 20 times better. Kerrigan helped me a lot, with his knowledge of the game. He really helped me figure out how to pitch a little bit better."
This was the opening day starter, the ace signed to a new five-year deal, who saw his season go splat with a career-worst 7-12 record, a 5.42 ERA and a stint on the disabled list because of a strain in his right pitching elbow. The Ian Dante Snell who Thursday struck out the final three Boston Red Sox he faced, including Julio Lugo and American League MVP Dustin Pedroia, is a different pitcher nowadays, so he says.
"It seems like it's coming easy," he said. "Because I never kept the ball down like that before in a game. It was just pounding down, down, down. A couple pitches were up, but, you know, it happens. Other than that, the changeup and everything was amazing. I threw all my pitches. Threw fastballs in, fastballs away. Got some good outs. ... He helped me out a lot."
Kerrigan's effect thus far is difficult to truly measure, and, yes, it is early. Too early, he said, to judge Snell's Fort Myers performance of two unearned runs, two hits, two walks, three strikeouts in a row and 49 pitches, though only 16 in the second inning. Too early to judge Tom Gorzelanny's brief no-hit appearance -- two walks on eight consecutive balls to open a second and last inning he escaped with groundouts -- yesterday in a 5-2 loss to Atlanta at McKechnie Field.
Snell, 27, and Gorzelanny, 26, both slipped last year after posting sturdy 2007s. Thus, so much of the Pirates' pitching staff success, and therefore the Pirates' success, is based upon such young guns returning to prior form, if not surpassing it. Enter Kerrigan. Immediately, he made an adjustment to Snell.
"Mechanical. Not mental. I'm always there mentally. Mechanically, I was doing one thing wrong," Snell said. "He looked at the film one time. And that was it. Solved.
Kerrigan added of the adjustment: "We're just trying to get him a better turn, get him in a better position over the rubber. And he did that for the most part" Thursday.
"To tell you the truth, I don't even remember" what it was, Snell continued. He just came one day and told me at minicamp, 'Early work.' The next day, 'Early work.' So I did it every day. Every day I don't pitch, early work. He said, 'From now on, this is how it's going to be.' Early work when you don't pitch. Then preparing to pitch. Come up with a plan the day before [a start]. And there you go. You're ready to rock 'n' roll."
Tomorrow, Snell of Camden, Del. -- his father is from Puerto Rico -- joins utility infielder Ramon Vazquez of Albonito, P.R., and the rest of their Puerto Rico teammates at camp in Fort Myers. It sounds as if the new pitching coach is almost part of the luggage Snell totes with him.
Will he alter his regimen? "Nope," Snell said. "I'm going to be doing everything that we've been doing here. Kerrigan and I already talked, and [manager John] Russell and [general manager Neal] Huntington. I told them I wasn't going to change anything; I wanted to keep everything the same. Just go out and continue to have a good spring, like I have been. They know. I'm not going to jeopardize anything for my season."
Vazquez, 0 for 3 with a walk and two strikeouts, carries a similar mind-set: The Pirates are Priority One.
"It has been awhile since I put my country on my chest," he said, referring to a Little League competition half his lifetime ago. "It definitely should be fun ... especially now doing it in my country. But I'm getting ready for the season. I don't want to be sitting there and not getting at-bats [for Puerto Rico]. Supposedly, they're going to start me at third and get me playing time."
Puerto Rico plays host to Panama in San Juan the same Saturday that Pirates reliever Dave Davidson and Canada play host to the United States in Toronto. Their teams could collide later.
"Ian's all over me right now. He keeps on telling me that we're not going to get past the first round," said Davidson, a 40-man roster pitcher from Class AA Altoona by way of St. Catharines, Ontario. This left-hander tossed five-plus scoreless innings for a 2-5 Team Canada in August's Olympics in Beijing and looks forward to being reunited with such youth-baseball teammates as the Dodgers' Russell Martin once he reports to their camp in Dunedin tomorrow. "I'll let Ian talk. We'll see what happens."
More important to Snell, see what happens when the Pirates regular season begins.
Chuck Finder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . First Published February 28, 2009 5:00 AM