The Philadelphia Phillies made a high-profile announcement when they promoted Ryne Sandberg from Triple-A manager to major league third base coach and infield instructor immediately after last season ended. However, the promotion of Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs pitching coach Rod Nichols to major league bullpen coach also deserves its just due.
The Phillies have decided to separate the pitching coach positions between starters and relievers. While Rich Dubee has overriding authority for all mound men, Nichols' addition is telling.
Consider Sandberg's elevation, the replacement of hitting Greg Gross with Steve Henderson (another former Iron Pigs coach) and the newly created bullpen slot that Nichols will fill as one major sign that a period of transition is fully underway. As to whether the 2013 season will allow for a smooth baton toss among the coaching staff and within the roster is yet to be seen.
Nichols shouldn't have to tell Jonathan Papelbon, newly obtained setup man Mike Adams or returning middle-man Chad Durbin all that much. Those veterans are competent and have been effective through many major league seasons. But, he will continue working with some of his former Triple-A pitching disciples who began wearing red Phillies' pinstripes during the past few seasons.
This ripe Phillies' bullpen guru needs to keep Antonio Bastardo steady, lead Michael Stutes back to his 2011 form and sooth the developing egos of a few other young arms this season. He knows, as well as anyone, that an abundance of potential exists in the arms of Jeremy Horst, Phillippe Aumont, Justin De Fratus, B.J. Rosenberg and Jake Diekman.
It's possible that a 2012 team weakness (the bullpen) can be transformed into a strength in just one season if Nichols is able to strike the right balance among the Phillies' relief corps this spring and summer. If he's successful, October ball could be seen again at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia.