Searage urges Pirates pitchers to work aggressively, get quick outs
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — The gospel according to coach Ray Searage is preached to the Pirates pitching staff every day during spring training.
Be aggressive. Work in the strike zone. Get quick, ground ball outs.
“My philosophy to these guys is get ahead, stay ahead and put them away,” Searage said.
Ideally, they should get it done against each batter in three or fewer pitches.
“It's all about being the aggressor,” pitcher Chad Kuhl said. “It's about pounding the zone, even when you're ahead. Don't let them off the hook. Keep going after them.”
Searage's commandments are one reason he's the franchise's finest pitching coach since Ray Miller. Searage, like Miller, is certain no pitcher can be successful unless he fills the zone with strikes.
“You've still got to stay aggressive,” Searage said. “Some of the guys want to test the waters in the first inning and nibble. Before you know it, there's a two spot on the board. No. Right from the first pitch, go attack. Attack, attack.”
It's not a groundbreaking message. Every pitcher has heard it since he was a kid. Yet, Searage never strays from it.
“He's trying to hammer that into our heads,” right-hander Jameson Taillon said. “The whole ‘be aggressive and attack' thing is kind of cliche and Little League, but clearly we need it.”
On Saturday, Steven Brault pitched with a 10-run lead in the seventh inning against the Philadelphia Phillies. The lefty's first three pitches to Roman Quinn resulted in a 1-2 count — not perfect (after all, Quinn was still batting), but still good.
And then, Brault forgot everything Searage has been telling him.
“I got selfish,” Brault admitted.
Brault nibbled on the fringes of the zone. Instead of forcing Quinn to hit his pitch into one of the seven mitts stationed behind him, Brault went for a strikeout.
Quinn drew a walk. Brault gave up two singles and another walk and left the game with the bases loaded. When reliever Jared Lakind served up a grand slam, Brault wound up being charged with four runs in the inning.
Brault was riding an exercise bike when Searage walked into the clubhouse. They talked quietly for a few minutes.
“We both knew what happened,” Brault said. “It's something that has to be better — and will be better — moving forward.”
General manager Neal Huntington likes to say the team's starting pitchers last season had a low ceiling but a high floor. This year's group, which includes a healthy Gerrit Cole and a more experienced Taillon and Kuhl, has a lower floor but a higher ceiling.
That's why Huntington and Searage don't freak out when someone like Brault has a hiccup on a windy, mid-March afternoon in Florida.
“With youth comes some challenges at times and some guys that have a hard time stopping things from snowballing,” Huntington said. “That's played out a few times this spring as guys have had a hard time getting out of an inning. In spring training, you let them go through that inning typically and let some crooked numbers happen because it's a great learning experience.”
That's important for Brault, who is vying with Drew Hutchison, Tyler Glasnow and Trevor Williams for the lone open rotation spot. Yet, it also applies to the rest of the staff, even the guys who already have jobs locked up.
“The pressure is on the rotation this year,” Taillon said. “Last year, it probably was our weak spot. Going into this year, it's something we all realize and have to embrace. Everyone here likes big games, we like that pressure.”