Now, it’s time for the introductions.
With the official announcement the Diamondbacks hired Mike Harkey as their new pitching coach, the hour approaches for launching new relationships.
After spending the past eight seasons as the New York Yankees’ bullpen coach, Harkey takes over a staff high in salaries and low in achievement.
That means pouring over notes, watching videos until eyes are red and one-on-one conversations with each member of the D-backs’ pitching staff.
Harkey said he’s ready to hit the ground running and discounts the lack of experience with the Arizona job, his first as pitching coach at the major league level.
“Whether this is my first job or fifth job, the approach is always the same,” he said late Monday afternoon during a conference call with reporters. “I’m the one doing it. It was the same as bullpen coach, as pitching coach in the minors and it’s a learning process. I want input from difference guys so I can mold myself into the best coach I can be.”
Harkey’s arrival in the desert is no accident.
His association with Kevin Towers, the D-backs’ general manager, goes back to the late 1990s.
After a tearing a patella tendon in 1998, Harkey hung up spikes and reached out to then-San Diego general manager Towers, who was instrumental in signing Harkey to his professional contract with the Padres’ organization.
Meeting at a minor league game at Lake Ellsinore, Calif. during the summer of 1999, Harkey told Towers he was interested in staying in the game and Towers offered a position as a minor league pitching coach with San Diego.
From there, Harkey moved to coaching positions further within the Padres’ organization and later with the Marlins and Yankees. Under contract with the Bronx Bombers for 2014, Harkey was ready to continue as Joe Girardi’s bullpen coach.
At the recent general managers meeting in Orlando, Towers approached Brad Cashman, the Yankees’ GM, about Harkey. Though locked up with New York for 2014, Cashman granted permission and Towers approached Harkey about becoming the D-backs pitching coach.
During the interview process, newly hired Arizona pitching consultant Dave Duncan sat in and, according to Harkey, asked several direct questions, such as how would Harkey handle certain situations.
Apparently, Duncan, Towers and manager Kirk Gibson were on the same page and sources indicated late last week the D-backs settled on Harkey.
By his own admission, Harkey said he has knowledge of some pitchers, such as Trevor Cahill and Brandon McCarthy, both faced the Yankees with Oakland when Harkey was the New York bullpen coach. Still, Harkey admits, the learning process begins.
Last season, the D-backs’ pitching staff was marginal at best.
The bullpen imploded and tied Houston for the major league in blown saves (29). Among the starters, only Patrick Corbin had a winning record. The staff gave up the most home runs in the National League and threw the most wild pitches of any staff in the majors.
“The first question I’ll ask to each pitcher is what was missing from last season and how do they expect to improve,” Harkey said. “I do know the organization has good, young arms and I look at those guys to help me make the transition.”
One observation from Towers after last season indicated pitchers were not using both sides of the plate. As well, Gibson often made the comment that when Randall Delgado missed inside to right-handed hitters, his ball would slide over the plate and became inviting to opposing bats.
“Pitchers need to pitch effectively inside,” Harkey said. “That’s an issue we’ll address. To go with that, I’m a believer in the first strike. That’s so important because that sets the tone, develops a pattern to work fast and helps follow a game plan.”
For now, Harkey will sequester himself for great periods of time in review, discussion and the future. By the time his pitchers convene at Salt River in mid-February, Harkey wants to know the personnel as well as knew Mariano Rivera.
As things move forward, Harley says he has one significant goal ahead, “I hope to make an impact.”
ALSO ON BOARD
In addition to announcing Harkey’s appointment, the Diamondbacks named Mel Stottlemyer, Jr. as bullpen coach.
Stottlemyer replaces Glenn Sherlock, who moves from the bullpen to take over for Matt Williams as third base coach. During the current off-season, Williams was named manager of the Washington Nationals.
Stottlemyer, 49-years-old, was the Diamondbacks’ pitching coach from 2009-10 and last season was the organization’s minor league pitching instructor.