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redsmetz
02-26-2007, 11:55 AM
Interesting column today from the Post's Lonnie Wheeler.



Coach keeps close watch on Homer

Column by The Post's Lonnie Wheeler

SARASOTA, Fla. - Before chapel Sunday morning, before stretching, before his new polyester Reds cap was pulled down over the hair that extends down his lanky neck, Homer Bailey sat at a table in the coaches' room with 56-year-old Dick Pole, his new pitching coach, who was earnestly engaged in the act of forming his own impressions.

"I've heard a lot of things about Homer Bailey, and I want to make my own judgments about Homer Bailey," said Pole, who is now three months into his sixth stint and 14th season in the same position, which isn't counting the last four years he spent with the Chicago Cubs as Dusty Baker's bench coach. "Other people can tell me how quick he learns and what his fastball is like, but I reserve judgment for myself."

His is a judgment that has been informed in such a way that could be pertinent and rather interesting when applied to the makeup of the Cincinnati staff on Opening Day. Pole's first pitching-coach job came in 1988, when Greg Maddux was turning 22 in April and starting his third season in the big leagues. As a 20-year-old - the age that Bailey is now, for what it's worth - Maddux had begun the season at the Class A level, then skipped up and won 10 games in Triple-A before the Cubs called him to Chicago for six starts. At 21, he was 6-14. At 22, with Pole in place, he went 18-8 and made the all-star team for the first time. He has since called Pole the best pitching coach he's ever worked with.

Then there was Cleveland, 2001, when a hulking left-hander named C.C. Sabathia showed up at camp with little to suggest he'd be leaving it with the Indians. The season before, pitching in A and Double-A, his record had been 6-9 with a combined 3.57 earned run average. The kid wouldn't be 21 until July - two months later than Bailey will turn that age this year, for what it's worth. He went 17-5 for Cleveland.

"I don't assume anything in spring training," Pole said Sunday, after watching Bailey throw live batting practice - live pitching practice, they ought to call it - to catchers Ryan Hanigan and poor Ryan Jorgensen, who took one on the forearm and when it was over announced that he had been hit by Homer Bailey and would be available for interviews in 10 minutes.

"It depends on the person. I went through it with C.C. Sabathia. He was 20 years old and he pitched well enough in the spring that he made us keep him."

That, for what it's worth, is not the course that the Reds have led us to believe they'll be taking this spring with Bailey, whom many consider to be the top pitching prospect in all of the minor leagues. His numbers last year - 10 wins against A and Double-A competition, with a 2.55 ERA (1.71 in his 13 starts at Chattanooga) - did nothing to dispel that general opinion. And yet, in spite of manager Jerry Narron's good-natured pleadings, general manager Wayne Krivsky has held fast to the position that a young prodigy of Bailey's standing should not be rushed into arm or confidence troubles.

On the mechanical level, there's also the changeup factor. The Reds like changeups. So does Maddux. So does Sabathia. So does Pole.

So it was, Sunday, that Hanigan and Jorgensen saw a disproportionate number of them from the young pitcher everybody's watching down here. It might have had something to do with the little visit in the early morning.

"That's something we talked about," Pole acknowledged. "It's a big part of his repertoire. He was making a point of throwing more changeups today."

Pole has shared the same line of thinking with Kyle Lohse, the other Cincinnati pitcher whose equipment bag is packed tight with upside. Unlike Bailey, however, Lohse has come to camp with a spot in the Reds' rotation that's his to lose.

"Kyle Lohse is to the point where he has to make a little turn here and pitch to his stuff," Pole said. "You try to keep the game simple for him. Today, when he threw batting practice, he didn't throw anything but fastballs and changeups and try to pound the strike zone with them, and that's a pretty good way to approach things.

"I've been trying to tell him he's got a pretty good changeup and he needs to use it. He took the initiative, and I liked what I saw. I've watched guys throw a whole game without using a breaking ball. Trevor Hoffman has had a nice career that way. Greg Maddux has had a nice career with fastball-changeup."

For all the spring training talk of the fifth spot in the Reds' pitching order - the candidates include Bailey, Matt Belisle, Kirk Saarloos, Paul Wilson, Elizardo Ramirez, Victor Santos and Bobby Livingston - just as critical will be the emergence of somebody, anybody, as a No. 3 starter behind Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo. Lohse and Eric Milton have been virtually guaranteed their turns, but, based on recent results, a vast and unnerving chasm stands between the top two fellows and all the rest.

Chief among Pole's duties here will be to find the right guy, young or old, to bridge that imposing dropoff. "Anytime you've been around the block and seen as much as he has, you know he can work with any type of pitcher," Narron said.

Like any pitching coach, however, Pole happens to work best with those who caress the corners or throw 95 miles an hour or, better yet, both. Praise the changeup, but what, Dick Pole, is really the best thing about Homer Bailey?

"He's got a good fastball. The other thing is, he's 20 years old. That's a pretty good combination."

But is it Opening Day good? That's the question.

As to the answer, Pole is reserving judgment until the time arrives. Or until Krivsky tells him otherwise.

Sea Ray
02-26-2007, 05:48 PM
Has it been announced yet when Homer will pitch in a Grapefruit League game? I imagine it'd be this weekend.

Redsland
02-26-2007, 05:53 PM
How about that Dick Pole?

I know I'm pulling for him.

Joseph
02-26-2007, 05:56 PM
How about that Dick Pole?

I know I'm pulling for him.

I think thats wrong. I'm not sure, but I'm leaning towards laughing. :)

Red Leader
02-26-2007, 06:05 PM
This thread should be titled:

Lonnie Wheeler on Dick Pole watching young men become grown men.

redsmetz
02-26-2007, 08:32 PM
Oh well, I tried to avoid all of this with the title. It's going to be some season with all of this.

Redsland
02-26-2007, 09:30 PM
I'm sure it'll blow over.

dfs
02-26-2007, 09:37 PM
the last four years he spent with the Chicago Cubs as Dusty Baker's bench coach

sigh. You know...if I were a baseball guy, I'm not sure that I would advertise the fact that I've spent the last few years in the national league's chicago franchise.

I believe one of the keys, to this season is that Jerry Narron doesn't implode his bullpen. Hume didn't help there last year, but I was hoping that Pole could somehow temper some of Narron's arm abuse.

If he was part of Dusty's crew, I don't think that's gonna happen.

Hope I'm wrong.

KoryMac5
02-26-2007, 11:48 PM
I like the fact that Pole keeps things simple, fastball, changeup. This is going to be a good experience for our pitchers.

dougdirt
02-27-2007, 12:20 AM
Has it been announced yet when Homer will pitch in a Grapefruit League game? I imagine it'd be this weekend.

Homer is scheduled to get some work in the intrasquad game on Wednesday. He wont be starting, and there is no schedule of him starting as Narron said if they schedule Bailey to start a game, it wont be announced until the day before.

Sea Ray
02-27-2007, 12:29 AM
Homer is scheduled to get some work in the intrasquad game on Wednesday. He wont be starting, and there is no schedule of him starting as Narron said if they schedule Bailey to start a game, it wont be announced until the day before.

I don't care if he starts. I'm just interested in when he'll pitch. So if he goes on Wednesday look for him again on Sunday. Thanks

Caveat Emperor
02-27-2007, 01:35 AM
I like the fact that Pole keeps things simple, fastball, changeup. This is going to be a good experience for our pitchers.

Same here, it's something that can really benefit a guy like Bailey who has the fastball to create a large velocity differential between fastball and change. I hope Dick pounds the point into his head.