clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

A (transcribed) interview with Pirates special assistant Jim Benedict

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

I thought my interview with Pirates pitching guru Jim Benedict on February 25 on ESPN 970 was interesting enough to transcribe. Here's our conversation, lightly edited for length.

Jim, how do you and Ray (Searage) go about putting together the offseason throwing program for all the guys in the organization?

They are sent home with a lot of trust. We expect them to carry out the weight training and the conditioning. The throwing starts in the December area. The relievers might start a little later. We’ll have a lot of guys trickle in here (Bradenton) early into January. Charlie Morton was here with the hip and Jameson Taillon was in and out of here. There’s been a flood of guys coming through here. We get hands-on with the minicamp. There’s a process. There is a lot of individualization and some group stuff that’s in place.

How long will these guys typically go from when they finish pitching at the end of the season to beginning the throwing regimen again? Do you give them a month, six weeks off, or is there a constant process?

There’s no offseason anymore. I can tell you that. But there’s an off-throwing season. The throwing part varies. If you’ve got an A.J. Burnett, a veteran who knows his routine, he likes it, it works for him. It might be a little different from a lot of other guys. You grow into your own routine, what works for you. If you don’t have one, say a young guy who was drafted into our system, we'll have one given to him and he’ll follow that verbatim. Individually, if you have a reliever that’s a one-inning guy, like Melancon, our closer, it’s a different progression to peaking.

It sounds like Charlie is on schedule. Is April 6 a day when Charlie could be in the rotation, ready to go?

He could be. As far as the medical people, it’s not even on the radar. We don’t even think about it. (We're) treating him as Charlie Morton the pitcher. Maybe some PFP progression, easing into that. I don’t think about it at all working with him on the mound. He doesn’t think about it as far as not being ready when he’s ready, so we’re going to treat him that way. Until you said something I hadn’t thought about it in a week.

[PFP is pitcher’s fielding practice, and Morton has said the only thing he’s cut back on a little bit from previous springs is his running program.]

When you are working with Ray in the offseason, are you guys communicating daily, weekly? How often do you guys speak?

We wipe our hands off each other pretty good for about a month (laughs). And then we start back up. It’s usually me -- I’ll have a brainstorm that I need to throw at him and have him think about. Then I’ll follow up, as I’m at Pirate City pretty much all year round with somebody. I get to do a lot of that. He’ll go on the caravan and do the Pittsburgh scenarios and I’ll stay here and do those.

Around early December, Spring Training gets put together. Neal and the guys sign the six-year free agents and figure out what our depth needs are and we get going. Then it will become a weekly and then a daily.

Last year, two guys, late in the season, come up and help the Pirates. No fans of the team had probably even heard of these guys a few months earlier. Bobby LaFromboise, the lefty, was one, and probably the more unique story that got national attention, of course, (was) John Holdzkom. Can you talk about the process of finding those two guys, how you scouted those guys? And was it something as simple as a grip change for Holdzkom on his fastball, getting his fingers closer together, that made such a difference for him?

As far as John goes, the independent league to this, there is a lot of story behind this. Growth, maturity, mistakes that you make that you learn from. You go from independent ball back into a professional organization, (and) there is a wake-up call of unbelievable accountability there.

So no, it’s more than a grip change—not that it didn’t help. This guy is such a long person, he’s so big, and he’s got such a long stroke that really it was a matter of saying, Let’s stay as short as you can and the grip is the grip. He was hot when he got to Triple-A. They signed him for a Double-A arm with the idea that he had talent and you never know what happens, you keep flooding the system. Every once in awhile a guy like that happens and goes to Triple-A. I remember being there myself with Gerrit Cole’s rehab and watching this guy. And I’m a hands-on guy, and I said there is no way I’m touching this guy. I remember telling Clint like a lot of other guys, "There’s a guy down there that can help us. He’s downhill, he’s 98 and it cuts. And I know that’s hard to hit, so let’s keep our eyes on this one." And all of a sudden he’s on the Pirates pitching meaningful games.

And Bobby?

Now he’s experienced, he’s a poised guy. He’s been around. Anytime you’re a left-handed pitcher and you’re a reliever, you’ve got a chance to bounce around and find a spot. He’s loose, he’s from Southern California. He’s got no fear, he attacks the zone. He’s got a slot that is hard for left-handed hitting. In spring training we’re going to work on getting him a right-handed approach where he can face the righty after the lefty late and provide depth. Our scouts, our pro scouts, our analytics people are always looking to add depth from the left side because (Tony) Watson and (Justin) Wilson carried a heavy load. You never know when they need a blow. And September depth is great, and we saw enough in him to say, this guy’s got a chance to help us this year, in 2015, and he’s doing fine right now.

There are two guys that you have brought in that are interesting arms. Radhames Liz pitched in Korea, of course, and was in Double-A last year. He’s 31 years old. What’s his situation and what did you see in him last year that led to the signing?

The Korea-back-here scenario can do wonders, just like the Americans that go to Japan and come back. Not unlike Holdzkom, but not the emergency-type feeling. The Korea experience -- he was made to use his changeup. He’s a very powerful guy. He throws in the high-90s with a hammer breaking ball, very difficult two-pitch. And the changeup was a pitch that we knew, if we get him, we’re going to have to explore this so he can separate the velocities of his pitches. In the big leagues you can sit hard and those guys can out-quick the ball. You've got to have some contrast, so that’s what he’s working on here now. As far as his role, right now he’s a multiple-innings reliever. He’s one of the twelve guys we’re looking at, that we’d like to have. Like I said, he’s a powerful guy with experience and it’s hard to find that. But he was more of a winter ball … he lit up some guys. The staff we have down there and the scouts that went through there (thought he was) a guy we needed to have.

You made an acquisition late in the offseason to acquire Arquimedes Caminero, a guy who was designated by the Marlins. There is a profile that a lot of these guys (that you acquire) fit. Caminero fits the profile in the sense that he’s a hard thrower, but he’s more of a fly ball pitcher. What do you see and what are your expectations for him?

He came in with the mindset that he was willing to make some adjustments with us. As you well know and the industry knows, we are going to make those adjustments to suit our needs, as well as the player’s, short and long-term, and introduce (them) to the things that they might not know about themselves. Caminero comes in here with a delivery that’s got a lot of moving parts. There’s a lot of velocity, a lot of arm speed. We’ll take away certain things in the delivery, add certain things in the pitch arsenal. Make it simple for him. He’s a dead reliever, not going to start. So it’s not like we’re teaching him to go 35 pitches, 45 pitches, or go deep into a game. This is going to be more ... real simple, get the velocity, get a breaking ball, some of the things that maybe he wasn’t willing to do with the Marlins or they didn’t explore. One of the things I really like about acquisitions is when you’re the second club that gets a guy, there’s a lease on life, there’s a fresh start. This is a great spot for him.

Stolmy Pimentel is a guy that’s in a difficult spot, as he’s out of options. He’s going to be competing for a roster spot. Where do you see him fitting in in this whole picture? I know there was a thought that he could join the rotation at some point in his career but he hasn’t been able to make that leap yet.

It’s hard when you have a guy who went through a year that he went through with us developmentally. It’s hard to get him the innings and the consistent work and the side work that a younger arm needs to get to find his true rhythm. That being said, this is a tough spot in a lot of ways. I know we’re counting on him as one of our guys, maybe in a role that would help him get more reps. Less rest, more reps than what he got last year. This is a powerful guy who’s got good arm strength. He’s got a split-fingered fastball that might be interrupting some of that arm strength, so we’re going to explore different things there in a Spring Training environment. This is the place to do that, to make those changes. In Pittsburgh during the regular season it can cost you if you start doing things like that. We’ll try to get a ceiling out of him.

One last guy, a non-roster invitee, who has some major league pedigree (is) Clayton Richard. Where is he in the process and how is his health?

Health is good. If you look at his career, he had a year where he had over 200 innings and that might not have been in his best interests physically. There was hiccup in the shoulder. In rehab, he didn’t realize -- and this is another part of the artwork with the Pirates -- that he was muscling the ball, that he was laboring, that he was trying to throw around an injury. So sometimes in a rehab situation, not unlike Charlie or Cole or now Taillon, they end up throwing like they are protecting (against) a future injury even though they are healthy now. So you introduce them to the videos and what it looks like before they were hurt. Through instruction, you bring these guys back slowly. It’s hard to bring them back quickly because they are missing a component, the rehab progression.

That’s where he’s at now. We are going to try to rehab him, even though he’s not hurt. Get him that year in two weeks. Then get him on the mound and get after it as a healthy pitcher. This is a big, strong guy that can really bring it. He can pitch. He’s not afraid. There’s a lot there, you've just got to bring out some of the career hiccups and smooth that out and we can go forward. So we aren’t quite sure what the end game is. We are incrementally getting towards it.