11/07/2006 7:26 PM ET
Pole named Reds pitching coach
Veteran instructor takes over talented, but young pitching staff
By Jason Beck / MLB.com
Future Hall of Famer Greg Maddux has called Dick Pole one of the best influences on his career. But as Pole points out, he's not coaching Maddux anymore.
The Reds finalized their 2007 staff on Tuesday by naming Pole as their new pitching coach. Pole's next challenge is taking over a relatively young pitching staff in Cincinnati that made strides in 2006 but still has room to grow.
Pole fills a vacancy that had been in transition since Vern Ruhle was diagnosed with cancer. Tom Hume filled the position this past season, but the Reds prefer to return him to his previous role as bullpen coach and look for a more veteran pitching instructor.
They quickly found their guy with Pole, who embarks on his 19th year as a Major League coach with his sixth big-league pitching coach assignment.
"Just competing against him, seeing him through the years, I've always been impressed with the way he goes about his business," manager Jerry Narron said on Tuesday. "His reputation has been outstanding. There's been some very good pitchers who believe in him. He's been a grinder. He's stuck around in this game and he loved it."
The biggest name of those pitchers is Maddux, who became Pole's project in 1988 coming off a 6-14 record as a 21-year-old rookie the previous season. As the story goes, Pole tried to get Maddux to think less about strikeouts and more about simply making pitches and getting outs in whatever fashion.
Maddux improved to 18-8 in that '88 season, the first of 17 consecutive seasons with 15 or more wins and 14 straight seasons with over 200 innings pitched. His innings per start went up, his hits per inning went down and the rest, as they say, was history.
"I know that's something that kind of stuck with Dick," general manager Wayne Krivsky said. "When a guy like Maddux says something like that, it has to make you feel good."
Pole and Maddux were reunited the last few years with the Cubs, except that Pole was the bench coach instead of the pitching coach. When Narron and Krivsky approached him about the Cincinnati opening, Pole said that it was a chance for him to return to his roots.
Plus, he's doing it in a league and a division he knows pretty well over the last several years.
"The last few years I've seen them get better," Pole said. "I've seen [Aaron] Harang, and then they added [Bronson] Arroyo. They have some young pitchers that need to get better, but I saw Wayne make some moves near the end of the year. That's part of my job [with young pitchers], to let them know they belong."
The numbers should help in that regard. Despite playing in hitter-friendly Great American Ball Park, the Reds finished in the top half of the National League with a 4.51 earned run average, lowest of any team in the Central Division except for the pitching-rich Astros. Their nine complete games were an NL best.
Likewise, their 464 walks allowed were the fewest of any NL team, helping mitigate the effect of their NL-high 213 home runs surrendered and 2,593 total bases allowed.
"The one thing that impressed me about that pitching staff is how few walks they had in that ballpark," Pole said. "When you don't walk a lot of guys in a ballpark like that or Coors Field, you give yourself a chance. You let them hit one-run homers instead of three-run homers."
That's one part of being able to pitch effectively in a small ballpark. The rest, he pointed out, is a matter of pitching to the opponent rather than the dimensions.
"The biggest thing in a park like that is execute your pitches," Pole said. "Whether you're a sinkerball pitcher or a four-seam pitcher, if you execute, you're going to get your outs. I can't come into a place like that and take somebody who's a four-seam pitcher and say, 'Uh-oh, we have to get you throwing sinkers.'"
He doesn't want to change Reds pitchers, but part of his task will be to develop them. Take away the trio of Arroyo, Harang and Eric Milton, and 55 of the remaining 66 starts came from pitchers age 27 or younger. Key relievers Todd Coffey and Bill Bray are trying to build on two seasons or less of big-league experience, while Gary Majewski will try to turn his career back in the right direction after a nightmarish 2006.
Before Pole can teach, he said, he has to earn their trust. Like new hitting coach Brook Jacoby, that will be part of Pole's job in Spring Training.
"From my perspective, I don't think it's good for a guy like me to go into a situation and see a guy two times and say you've got to change this or change that," Pole said. "The first part of my job is to observe them and see what they can do. Change has to be a little bit at a time. If you come in and say to a guy you've got to totally revamp them, you're going to lose their trust real quick."
The Reds already held a special place in Pole's life before this. His only career playoff assignment came against Cincinnati in the 1975 World Series, walking the only two batters he faced in Game 3.
Pole pitched six Major League seasons in a career shortened by a freak line-drive back up the middle. He made 122 career appearances, 77 of them starts, with the Red Sox and Mariners before finishing his career in Mexico.