One at a time for Pirates' Searage
Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage watches the deliver of Jose Veras during recent workouts at Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla.
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BRADENTON, Fla. -- Pitching coaches sure like their three-point mantras.
Remember how former Pirates pitching coach Ray Miller would burn the neat little phrase, 'Work fast, change speeds, throw strikes' into the consciousness of his pitchers?
New Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage subscribes to his own three-fold maxim.
"One pitch at a time, one hitter at a time, one inning at a time," Searage said.
Sounds simple enough.
There's just one thing he doesn't have that Miller, who guided the staff from 1987-96, had, though -- top-notch talent.
Searage doesn't have any Doug Drabeks.
No John Smileys are getting handed the baseball every fifth day on this Pirates staff, either.
Instead, Searage, 55, will enter this season steering his first major league pitching staff -- he served as interim pitching coach late last season -- with his projected top four starting pitchers coming off a season in which they went a combined 24-32 with a 4.65 ERA.
Of the top four -- Paul Maholm, James McDonald, Ross Ohlendorf and Kevin Correia -- only Correia hit double-digit wins last season, going 10-10 for San Diego. None of them were over .500.
On top of that, the three fighting for the fifth spot in the rotation -- Charlie Morton, Scott Olsen and Brad Lincoln -- were 7-24 at the big league level last season.
With all those numbers standing atop the rubber and staring right back at Searage from 60 feet, 6 inches away, what does he say to those who would offer that taking the Pirates' pitching coach job isn't something they would wish on their nastiest enemy?
"If it was that easy, it wouldn't be worthwhile," he said. "If I think about all of that, then I lose my focus for the here and now and the future of what the Pirates are going to be. If I dwell on all that stuff that happened in the past, I will be a mess, I will be a nervous wreck. I got to take care of 2011 in 2011 and see where it goes."
Where it will go is a mystery for this staff that has had just one 15-game winner -- Todd Ritchie in 1999 -- since the franchise began its 18-year losing skid.
But where Searage has come in those same 18 years since Sid Bream slid across a home plate in Atlanta is a study in staying the course, a story in rewarded allegiance. And there is no doubt that the pitchers on this Pirates staff rally around their leader.
A former pitcher with the Mets, Brewers, White Sox and Dodgers from 1981-90, Searage rounded out his own playing career in Class AAA Edmonton in 1992.
He began instructing pitchers not long after in the St. Louis organization. He saw it as part job, part mentoring program.
"Didn't want them to make the same mistakes I did as a pitcher," said Searage, who was 11-13 with 11 saves and a 3.50 ERA in the majors. "I look back and I wanted to be too perfect. I didn't fully understand until I became a coach that you couldn't be perfect all the time, that it was OK to make a mistake. It was more about how you bounced back from it."
From St. Louis' organization, Searage spent three seasons instructing Tampa Bay's minor league pitchers and two seasons teaching the Marlins' prospects.
Searage spent seven seasons at various levels in the Pirates' farm system as a pitching coach from 2003-09 before landing the bullpen coach job on the big club last season.
When Joe Kerrigan was fired Aug. 8, Searage was named interim pitching coach, a position that became full time in November.
Perhaps no member of the Pirates' current staff can speak to Searage's abilities to lead quite like Maholm. Back in 2003, when Maholm was a first-round pick out of Mississippi State, he was shipped to Williamsport for his first season of professional baseball.
When the high-dollar, top-round pick from the Deep South arrived in north central Pennsylvania, Searage was his pitching coach.
"He's really helped me, all the way back to Day 1. He's had my back, he's a guy who is always there for you," Maholm said. "He's positive and tells you the truth. I've always told people, 'If your confidence is a little low, go throw a bullpen [session] with Ray. Because he's positive, high-energy, gung-ho and you will come away feeling like you've accomplished something."
Searage's chief tactic is to allow a pitcher to accomplish things within the framework of his attributes. In short, he's not a re-programmer and doesn't want a staff of clones, like some pitching coaches.
"Ray allows you to be who you are," Pirates reliever Chris Resop said. "He isn't going to make you what he wants you to be. He is going to work with what you have and make you better. He isn't a pitching coach who tries to make everyone throw one certain way. Every pitcher has had coaches like that, and I don't think that's the best approach."
Instead, Searage will move forward through the remainder of spring training and into his first job directing a Major League staff with an understanding that each man is different; each one is to be handled independently.
"You've got to be a psychologist, you've got to be a father figure, you have to be a confidant, you have to be a psychiatrist, and I know that," Searage said. "You've got to be all of those things, there are so many hats you have to wear. But what doesn't change is pitching, whatever level it is. You set up hitters, you read a hitter's swing and you execute the pitch. That's the same everywhere. That's what I need to keep teaching."
And he will do it one pitch at a time, one hitter at a time, one inning at a time.
First Published February 27, 2011 12:00 am