December 18, 2014
A pitching coach isn’t just someone who tries to correct skewed mechanics or teach a new pitch.
“He’s a guy with knowledge who will teach the young guys about different situations they’ll come across in a game,’’ Cubs reliever James Russell said. “He’ll help them look at film and read hitters’ swings and what it means at certain times when they foul off pitches, whether they’re sitting on it or if you have them beat.
“He’s someone to fall back on if you’re struggling or just to talk to whenever you’re going good.’’
And when you have a staff that is about to add young arms to its rotation, you have a pitching coach with his hands full.
Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio knows that.
“We are going to be getting young arms because of the trades that we made,’’ he said of losing starters Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to Oakland. “It’s going to take some time to get them acclimated to the league and get to know them. It’s a challenge we have as an organization. There’s going to be that [learning] curve.
“We put together a pretty good month of June as a team. Now the team is starting to change, so there will be some learning curves and ups and downs that go with it.’’
Bosio has dealt with this second-half scenario for the last two seasons. His patience and approach are among the reasons team president Theo Epstein wanted him to remain part of new manager Rick Renteria’s coaching staff.
In fact, Bosio already had agreed to a multiyear extension with the front office before Renteria officially got the manager’s job.
Epstein told coaches in individual meetings after manager Dale Sveum’s firing that he couldn’t guarantee their job statuses under a new manager and that regardless of contract status they were free to interview with other clubs if they chose in the meantime.
Bosio, who was under contract for one more season, almost immediately became one of the hottest coaching commodities on the market with at least three teams pursuing him, according to major-league sources, including division-rival Pittsburgh and Ryne Sandberg’s Philadelphia Phillies — with Epstein denying teams permission.
The Cubs compensated Bosio by then working out an extension that puts him among the highest-paid pitching coaches in the game.
“Theo wanted him to remain on,’’ Renteria said. “[Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer] liked what he and [catching coach Mike Borzello] did. He’s had a lot of guys under his tutelage who have done well.’’
In the past, the team used a patchwork of pitchers — declining veterans and untested young players — to get through the last months of the season.
This time Bosio is likely to get more prospects as the organization begins to see what the system has to offer.
Some already have debuted, including Kyle Hendricks (last season’s organizational pitcher of the year), Dallas Beeler and Tsuyoshi Wada.
Staying power is what will matter.
“It’s not going to be easy for them because they don’t know the league,’’ Bosio said. “We like to think we might have some kind of advantage because they haven’t been seen, and we’re going to try to put them in the best possible position as far as matchups go.
“But this is an extremely tough division.’’
Bosio, 51, a major-league pitcher for 11 seasons with a no-hitter on his resume, has almost as much experience as a coach.
He was in Seattle, Cincinnati and Milwaukee’s minor-league systems and was Lou Piniella’s pitching coach in Tampa Bay in 2003.
He has experience as a college coach, too, spending two seasons at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin, and two at Wisconsin-Oshkosh.
For as much as he enjoys working with young pitchers, Bosio knows his job is very different at this level.
“These guys are pros — that’s the big difference,’’ he said. “Any time you get pro athletes, they’re drafted because they were good and they project. All the guys at Triple-A are already well past that [projection.] They’ve proven themselves in the minor leagues, and that’s why they’re getting an opportunity here.’’
This opportunity comes at the highest of stakes — for the pitchers and an organization that needs to find out if there are arms to go with its projected position player stars.
“It is major-league baseball. It’s not the Pacific Coast League. It’s not the Southern League — and it’s certainly not college,’’ Bosio said.
“Where we’re sitting now with the club, we’ve still got a long way to go. We’ve got a lot of experiences we’re going to be going through as a young team, and we’ll learn from them.’’
Russell, who has progressed as well as anyone under Bosio, believes his coach has proven he will be a positive guide.
“He’s been helping us a lot, especially all the young guys we’ve had coming up,’’ Russell said. “He’s done nothing but good things for those guys. It goes a long way.’’