Brewers Bullpen Prepares Through Communication

BullpenHuddleCropped

Monday night I sent out this tweet.

It wasn’t the first time I saw Francisco Rodriguez more or less holding court. The other three high-leverage pitchers were huddled by the veteran closer’s locker (to be fair, the lockers of Will Smith and Jonathan Broxton aren’t exactly far away from that of Rodriguez, and Jeremy Jeffress need only come down a handful himself) and were locked in a pointed discussion. That is to say that this looked to be more than your light-hearted postgame celebratory chat.

Tuesday, I decided to confirm my presumption and get a bit more insight from some of the men involved and find out what kind of leader the bullpen has in K-Rod and what kind of advice can be gleaned from the veterans who have combined to pitch in parts of 26 MLB seasons.

I first asked lefty Will Smith, the possessor of the Slider of Death, why it’s valuable to have those guys around him. For the record, Smith’s locker is between Broxton’s and K-Rod’s.

“In my case, I ask (Rodriguez & Broxton) because obviously they’ve had a lot of success. They know what they’re doing. So, my thought process: Why not use them as a learning tool?”, said Smith. “We’ll sit and we’ll break down ABs and what you threw to (a certain hitter).”

But what about the fact that they’re right-handed and he’s a southpaw? Does that matter in breaking down hitters? Smith offered that it doesn’t.

“Just because these guys are right-handed doesn’t mean anything. They still help out a tremendous amount with me and (Jeffress) the most, for sure.”

For his part, Jeffress echoed much of Smith’s sentiment when I asked him what exactly they talk about in those mini-meetings.

“We just break down each one of our outings. What we can learn from it. What we can do better. Just how we attack each and every hitter each day.”, Jeffress said. “Then it’s all about coming together as one because we’re all in this together. And at the end of the day we gotta go home and face what we’ve just been through.”

Jeffress then went bigger picture on me by saying that, “We (Smith and Jeffress) pick their brains so much because we know that this game doesn’t last forever for everyone. The next guy is right there so we just wanna take what they learned and what they taught us and just put it in play for the next couple years.”

I brought it back with a question about huddling early in a series because while you may not face the same guy you did last night, you might face who your teammate did. Jeffress responded about Broxton as his fellow power righty. “(Broxton) will tell me that ‘I didn’t pitch him this way, (or) the best way to go about him is that way.’ Just execute your pitches.”

Broxton told me that their huddles are a multi-directional conversation. It’s not just Smith and Jeffress asking for advice. “We just like to sit down and talk and try to pick each others brains. I may try to pick Will’s or K-Rod’s, or K-Rod wants to know what was our thought process out there. We just try to go over it,” Broxton said. “You’re out there trying to read batters and swings and trying to see what each other’s doing and their thought process too.”

As for his having a fellow veteran like Rodriguez in the clubhouse to bounce his own questions off of, Broxton said “That’s what makes (K-Rod) so great. You can sit down and talk to him about anything. Basically just asking him what is he seeing and get his thought process and (then) put yours together and you can come up with a game plan.”

Game plans are all well and good, but when it comes down to it, each guy still has to go out there and execute. Jeffress said that the veterans show faith in the less-experienced to perform every time it’s their name that’s called.

“They give me a lot of trust,” said Jeffress. “They give everyone in the bullpen a lot of confidence, a lot of trust to believe in their self to go and do the job.”

Again, this “think tank” approach is not new to a clubhouse featuring Francisco Rodriguez, nor is it closed to just the four men who got together yesterday. I’ve seen him talking to Brandon Kintzler after games last year, in particular there was a game where Kintzler struggled pretty badly and it looked to me as though Rodriguez called him over to discuss the outing. K-Rod was talking to him about pitch execution and how pitching Kintzler’s game to the best of his ability would be good enough to get the job done.

Suffice it to say, it has piqued my curiosity a few times over the past couple of seasons. After a particularly rough outing for Broxton it felt right that he would be leveraging the experience of Rodriguez, if for no other reason that K-Rod had a much smoother outing the same night.

So finally, I went to the man himself to understand where this activity came from. I had more presumptions. K-Rod confirmed them.

“That’s something that I just learned coming up. I got the opportunity to have one of the best in the game teach me (in) Troy Percival,” Rodriguez said about his mentor with the Angels. “He told me when I was coming up, when he was teaching me everything, to make sure when I get to this stage and I’m a vet to make sure to teach the young guys how to prepare themselves and how to attack and how to compete out there every night. That’s something I do every single day with the young guys. It’s something I like.”

Rodriguez went on to say that he makes sure he talks to anyone in the bullpen after a game in which they pitched. If it’s a good outing, they talk about it. And if it’s a not so good outing? That’s right — they talk about those too.

Pitchers succeed in baseball more often than they fail. After all, even the best hitters are put out more than 65% of the time. But this approach that I suspect happens in far more places than Milwaukee is no doubt a key to those successes and to overcoming any failures.

Preparedness is half the battle in baseball. For a clubhouse with Francisco Rodriguez in it, that preparation is an ongoing, recurring, everyday thing.

(This article originally appeared on Today’s Knuckleball and was republished here with permission.)

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