Colorado Rockies rookie pitchers rely on Bud Black’s experience
By Ben Macaluso
Nick Vincent is a relief pitcher for the Seattle Mariners. Now why should you care about a relief pitcher on a team that faces the Colorado Rockies once a decade or so? Back at the end of May when the Mariners visited Denver, Vincent spoke about how instrumental his former San Diego Padres manager was to his big league career. Bud Black is influencing the Rockies young staff, the same way he did with Vincent.
"“Buddy is one of those guys that gets guys going the right way. He is not very loud in a lot of ways but when he talks, guys listen. I think he’s done a great job with the young guys over there [with the Rockies],” Vincent said."
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Black’s influence can be as simple as recommending the correct outfit. When Vincent was a rookie, he went to a charity event hosted by former Rockies closer Houston Street. The righty showed up in a shirt and shorts while the rest of his teammates were dressed like they were modeling for GQ.
The next day, Black took him to the side and said ‘Vincent, what did you you learn last night?’ Vincent responded that he didn’t dress the right way. His manager said ‘remember this. It’s always better to be over dressed than underdressed.’ The statement is part of a process that he imparts on his pitching staff.
Vincent (who pitched for Black between 2012-2015) said Buddy helped him pitch by putting him in the right situations.
"“He kind of just taught me how to be a professional baseball player,” Vincent said. “How to treat people right and how to act the right way. I try to incorporate those things in teaching these young guys on my team. I think he put me in the right situation. He knew when your confidence was high and when it was low. If you were feeling good he put you in big situation. That was good experience for me at a young age.”"
When Black hear’s Vincent’s name he smiles and exclaims he is a huge Nick Vincent fan. Young pitchers are special to him, especially on his current team who have one of the best record in franchise history before the All-Star break partly due to the early success of his rookie pitchers. Part of the reason these young Rockies pitchers are performing far past their service level, is the preparation and process Black establishes for them.
"“What I tell these guys every time they take the field, and also the four days in between, if I’m just talking about young pitchers in general, it’s a learning experience. You learn from being out there,” Black said."
"“The trick is when you learn something, apply it. Have the ability to apply it as quickly as possible. So that the learning curve is a little shorter. Because all guys want to get to a certain level of performance. The quicker you can learn something and have the aptitude and the skill and the ability to apply it in the game, that’s learning and that’s what we talk about all the time. The mistakes that are made or the things that you’ve learned, make sure that you can apply those moving forward. That’s sort of the daily message.”"
With Vincent, that message was proper attire. In Kyle Freeland’s last start he learned from his lack of command. Black visited Freeland on the mound in his July 4th start and asked the entire infield to go back to their positions. The Denver native was struggling with command down 4-1. While the Rockies lost the game, whatever Black said worked as he retired eight straight batters. Black’s influence on these pitchers garners results.
"“He let’s you know where to put your focus at no matter what happens. To him as a pitcher, as a manager, he’s thinking like we are. He knows what we’re going through so he can relate to us.”"
"“We have a lot of young guys but for him, with us, he’s letting us work the way we were working in the minor leagues and how we found success. He’s been able to go along with it and when he sees things he will let us know and he’ll talks to us. Right now he’s letting us learn on our own.”"
Black is also letting his pitchers learn from rest. After a stint in the bullpen, the Rockies win-leader Antonio Senzatela will make his first start in Triple-A. He has gone 2-3 with a 8.54 ERA from May 21 – June 22. Senzatela said he needs to improve on keeping his fastball and breaking ball down.
"“[Black’s] plan is the best plan they have for me. [It’s a chance to] stay relaxed and comeback for a start. I’m good with that,” Senzatela said. “[Bud’s] got a lot of experience. He taught me how to stay focused on what the batter is doing and throw a quality pitch.”"
Jeff Hoffman echoes the advantage that having a former major-league pitcher as manager.
"“It’s obviously a huge advantage for us to have somebody like Buddy. He speaks from his own experiences,” Hoffman said. “Maybe [former manager] Walt [Weiss] didn’t really have those experiences because he was never on the mound, he was an infielder. It just one of those things where we are lucky to have him and to be able to learn from someone else’s experiences. Just knowing that they’ve gone through it and know what they’re talking about it’s a good piece of mind.”"
In his last start before the All-Star break, Hoffman started off slow with a lack of command but went seven innings and kept his team in the game. Black commended him for not cracking and pitching his best towards the end of the start.
That improvement has mirrored Hoffman’s career in the majors so far. He got off to a slow start but going back to the minors to start this season but he has showed his resiliency by being himself.
"“I think I’ve gotten a lot of good stuff from [Black] over the first half. I think the main thing is at the beggining of the year when I was going up and down it was just one of those things where he kind of was giving me that confidence that you know you’re one of us. You belong here. Just be you. If you be you enough times, maybe you’ll get to stay. It’s just one of those things where I just believe in myself and I have the trust in him.”"
Next: Pitcher Antonio Senzatela Optioned to AAA Albuquerque
Bud isn’t these young pitchers’ buddy. He is something far more important. He is their mentor. Helping them to exhibit their personalities and learn from their experiences is Black’s greatest asset to this Rockies young pitching staff.