Kerrigan's intangibles impress pupils
New pitching coach's energy, knack for preparation among assets
BRADENTON, Fla. -- When Joe Kerrigan was hired as the team's pitching coach early last fall, the talk surrounding the addition centered heavily on his vast experience.
Separately, both general manager Neal Huntington and manager John Russell spent the offseason lauding Kerrigan's credentials. And for good reason.
The 55-year-old has 18 years of coaching experience at the Major League level, with 12 years as a pitching coach. Insert another five years as a Minor League coach, and there's no debate that Kerrigan's resume stands above many currently in the profession.
But while management may have highlighted Kerrigan's experience initially, pitchers are beginning to find out that experience isn't Kerrigan's only asset. It's his enthusiasm, too, that make him the right man for the job, players are now saying.
"His experience is certainly a strength, though he has more going for him than just that," starter Ross Ohlendorf said. "The energy that he brings and the passion with really wanting to help us out is what I think is going to make him really good for our team."
Kerrigan's energy was something Ohlendorf was already familiar with when he arrived in Bradenton, Fla., for mini-camp in January and now Spring Training. Ohlendorf was introduced to Kerrigan while in the Yankees organization, where Kerrigan served as a bullpen coach during the 2006 and '07 seasons.
Also familiar with Kerrigan's style of coaching is Jeff Karstens, who, like Ohlendorf, came over to the Pirates in a Trade Deadline deal last July.
"He's a guy with a lot of knowledge," Karstens said. "He has a great plan of what we need to do to be successful, because we don't have the guy that has been around for 10 years to kind of help us. I think a lot of what he brings is just something that we didn't have."
According to Russell, Kerrigan's enthusiasm has already been infectious. Kerrigan arrives at Pirate City early every morning to put in extra work with pitchers. He's brought with him in-depth plans and scouting reports, as well as dummies to be used as imitation hitters during side sessions.
"You're not going to be able to outwork him," Russell said. "You're not going to be able to out-energize him. That's the great thing he has."
Added reliever Sean Burnett: "You leave with a confidence and a swagger after talking with him. He can relate to us because he pitched at this level, and he seems to have a very detailed plan for everybody."
And it's the little things -- like Kerrigan's willingness to crouch down to catch pitchers' side sessions -- that have been noted.
"It is something small," Ohlendorf said. "But it shows how much he cares."
Kerrigan estimated he has already served as the catcher for about half of the 28 pitchers in camp.
As for signs about what to expect from the new pitching coach, the emphasis on preparation will be there. And expect that preparation to begin from the top, with Kerrigan himself.
Before meeting his new pupils, Kerrigan spent a week in the video room of PNC Park this winter. He watched every pitcher he'd be working with. He made notations, and with those, he built plans. The key, Kerrigan said, is spending the necessary time observing.
"Before you go up and talk to a guy, you really have to know what you're talking about, and you better be sure," Kerrigan said. "The only way that you're sure is by watching him throw."
For years, Kerrigan has also played significant roles in developing team scouting reports on hitters, something he will continue to do with the Pirates. The attention to detail, the thoroughness and the emphasis on finding unusual patterns in hitters' statistics are especially important when developing those reports. That would seem to bode well for improved preparation from his staff moving forward.
And since Kerrigan inherited a young staff that produced disappointing results last season, the importance of each of those items will be magnified.
"He's a great mechanics guy, but it's the total package," Russell said. "He knows what else goes into pitching. You have to know how to get people out. You have to know how to prepare. You have to know what you're looking for. That's what he brings -- the vast experience of being able to do that on a daily basis."
In coming over to the organization, Kerrigan brought some company with him as well. He brought hitter dummies, a tool that Kerrigan decided would be needed after determining from his film sessions that the 2008 staff did not throw inside enough.
Right now, the dummies will be set up at the plate while pitchers throw from a shorter distance. They will then be set up during every normal side session pitchers throw later in camp.
Though players have described the dummies as a bit odd, the exercise appears to have caught on and the benefits are tangible.
"We're going to have to come inside, and I think that's something that we lacked last year," Karstens said. "I think a lot of it, too, is that we're young. We're going to have to hit guys. It's part of the game and not something we're going to do on purpose, but it's something we're going to have to show guys that we can do."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.