Following the 2012 season the Red Sox underwent significant changes and, in a way, cleaned house. This was particularly true with the coaching staff, led by the hiring of former Red Sox pitching coach, and then-Blue Jays manager John Farrell. With how poorly the pitching staff performed last year, the selection of the new pitching coach may have been the most important of all the coaches.
It was thought Farrell would select long-time pitching coach Rick Peterson for the job, so when it was announced that former White Sox bullpen coach Juan Nieves would be the man for the job it came as somewhat of a surprise. That somewhat of a surprise may have been one of the best moves Farrell has made since he came back to Boston.
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As a staff, Red Sox pitching had the third to worst ERA in the American League in 2012 at 4.70. Both the starters and relievers couldn’t get it done, and coming into 2013 the success of the team relied heavily on how the pitching staff could rebound. Nieves made it a point from the very beginning that this year would be different, and the pitching staff would be more prepared than ever, starting in spring training.
“He always prepares,” Red Sox starter Jon Lester said. “He has the ability, especially in spring training when he had a whole new staff to learn, to do that as quick as he did I think made the transition very smooth for us.”
Everyone knows about the tremendous turnaround the Red Sox made from last season - finishing in last in the AL East, to now leading the division in the final month of the season. Much of their success is due to their pitching staff as going into Thursday they had the third-best ERA in the American League at 3.83, almost a full point better from last year. A lot of the credit needs to go to Nieves, especially considering how much time he spends with his staff.
“His message is creditable,” Farrell said. “He has developed a lot of trust with every pitcher here. He is extremely consistent with each guy as each individual relationship requires. I think he epitomizes what a coach is, he is there countless hours for every guy that is in need. You can feel his genuineness and I think that is one of the reasons why they trust him. “
Lester, an eight-year veteran, notes how well Nieves works with him, as well as the rest of the staff using the right combination of being hands-on, but never overwhelming.
“He has the right mixture as far as being in the bullpen and working on things and then giving you space when you need it, and then being able to kick you in the butt when you need it as well,” Lester said. “I don’t think he is any different than anyone we’ve had, he’s probably a little more consistent in the everyday aspect.”
After Farrell left to take the Blue Jays job following the 2010 season, the Red Sox have had three different pitching coaches over the two seasons in Curt Young in 2011 and a split between Bob McClure and Randy Niemann last season. Although pitching coaches are working with professionals who should be able to help themselves, it is always helpful to have someone who knows tendencies and what works for a given pitcher.
“Obviously its better to have the same guy every year as you develop those relationships and you develop kind of what works for you and they know that and figure out and understand how to communicate that to you,” Lester said. “The more you’re consistent with that the easier it becomes year after year. With that being said, we are all professionals and we should know how to fix things out there on the mound and be prepared for a start. Obviously the comfort level is there year after year, but at the same time you have to know yourself and know what to do every five days to be prepared.”
With the success of the team as a whole, especially the pitching staff, it is pretty safe to say Nieves’ presence will be with the staff for years to come, which will surely go over well with the staff as it’s that consistent presence they haven’t had since 2010, with the man who is now their manager.
“He has been very stable and has done a damn good job,” Farrell said.
Follow Metro Red Sox beat writer Ryan Hannable on Twitter @hannable84