The plan is simple: Forget the past and start new


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BRADENTON, Fla. -- The new pitching coach exhorted the fellas to snarl. He instructed them to make a face, look violent, even growl. He reached deep into his expansive resume, one that includes a bunch of staff ERAs in the mid-3.00s and a couple of Cy Young Awards in Boston with Pedro Martinez, and he counseled his new group of young arms: "Scare the spit out of them." Or something like that.

And this was while practicing simple throws over to first base to hold runners.

Imagine the new directions Joe Kerrigan can bring to throws home.

This much seems certain: What the new pitching coach will do for the Pirates, owners of the National League's most-gracious pitching staff in 2007 at five-plus earned runs per game, is provide a novel start.

"I don't want to dwell on last year," this former Red Sox, Expos and Phillies pitching coach said from Pirate City, where yesterday his 28 pitchers endured their second day of Camp Kerrigan. "I just want to move forward, look forward. So if you did have a bad year last year, I don't care. That's the way I think I have to approach it, too. Not to dwell on any negatives. Wipe the slate clean, and move forward."

Arguably, Kerrigan was one of the Pirates' most important acquisitions in an offseason in which the team added two major league players to the 40-man roster and as many new tutors, infield/first-base coach Perry Hill and Kerrigan. And, at the end of yesterday's 110-minute session, manager John Russell concluded of the pitchers: "So far it looks like they have" embraced Kerrigan's program.

"[Kerrigan] does a lot different," starter Ian Snell said. "It's so weird because this is stuff that we've never, ever done before here. He's brought something new. It's very good. I mean, it's working."

"His knowledge of the game is something you might have never seen," continued starter Tom Gorzelanny. "The things that he knows, what he's experienced, just how he goes about with his philosophy, it's pretty cool. It's fun to work with. I look forward to being with him more and trying to get every little piece of info out of him, because I think he has too much in there. It might take me awhile."

Kerrigan, whose Red Sox (with such starters as Mark Portugal, Pat Rapp and Pedro's brother Ramon Martinez) and Expos (with Kirk Reuter and Butch Henry) topped their respective leagues in ERA three of seven years in one 1994-2000 stretch, starts anew here with a simple plan: pitching for dummies.

Actually, it's pitching at dummies. There are blue and red silhouettes propped up aside a home plate. Pitchers each morning work on throwing inside to those stand-ins, whiskers from would-be batters. Often, Kerrigan goes behind the plate to catch them. "So if you want to see two dummies standing back there ... ," he joked.

"He's a character, man," Snell said. "He's something different."

He is big on stats, reliever John Grabow said. And throwing first-pitch strikes. And throwing strikes, period.

"Pound the strike zone, that's it," Snell picked up. "That's what he keeps saying [imitating Kerrigan's deeper voice]: 'Pound the strike zone, pound the strike zone, pound the strike zone.' And when you're pounding the strike zone, he'll just come up behind you, 'Pound the strike zone.' "

General manager Neal Huntington considers it a strategy simplified and strictly tailored: "He's got a few bullet points with each pitcher that he's going to emphasize and focus, some mechanical, some plan, some approach, some unrelated to anything. He's got a few ways he's going to reach each guy."

A huge asset, catcher Ryan Doumit termed him. Most agree that Pirates catchers likewise will benefit from Kerrigan's 12 years as a pitching coach and 18 years as a major league coach since Bill Virdon and the Montreal organization made him their bullpen coach in 1983 alongside Galen Cisco and the late Mel Wright -- or, as Virdon called that, "a pretty good start." Kerrigan, 55, after being an interim manager in Boston then a New York Yankees coach and advisor, spent last year in the world-champion Phillies' broadcast booth but wasn't finished as a mentor. So what if he's the Pirates' third pitching coach in three years in their ears?

"I don't worry about that," he said. "This is the way we're going to do it here, according to a plan, according to a structure, according to a discipline. That's the way we're going to do it."




NOTES -- Nine pitchers threw for 10 minutes apiece in yesterday's workout, prime among them starters Paul Maholm, Zach Duke and Gorzelanny. Jeff Karstens, shut down in January minicamp because of minor elbow soreness, also pitched off the mound. ... Phil Dumatrait made roughly 75 throws from 150 feet as part of his rehab process. ... More fielding, bunting, pitching and conditioning workouts are scheduled for today, when the rest of the position players officially report. ... Eric Hinske, Nyjer Morgan and Andrew McCutchen joined Brandon Moss in an on-field batting practice while Adam LaRoche and Andy LaRoche took BP in cages.


Chuck Finder can be reached at cfinder@post-gazette.com .


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