Manager, players pleased with Pirates' pitching coach
BRADENTON, Fla. — Ray Searage stood behind and just to the left of bullpen catcher Heberto Andrade at McKechnie Field and watched as Bryan Morris' pitch hit exactly where the Pirates' pitching coach wanted it.
"Do it again, I dare you," Searage called out to his right-hander, smiling.
Once again, Morris was spot-on.
"Ha ha!" Searage laughed. "Muy bien, chico. Do it again!"
The next time, Morris was off — way off.
"See that• There was too much rotation on that. Do it again," Searage called back.
Morris nailed it.
"Good lord, man!" Searage said, the smile broadening across his face again as he walked back to the mound. "O-M-G."
That Searage was kept on as the Pirates' pitching coach when new manager Clint Hurdle assembled his staff this offseason came as little surprise to anyone except, perhaps, Searage. The 55-year-old former major league left-hander said he had no idea whether the new skipper would want him to stick around.
But Hurdle already had done his homework on Searage, and he also had heard plenty from others in the organization, including the pitchers. By all accounts, the reviews were nothing short of glowing.
"Once you get done throwing a bullpen (session), you feel like (Phillies pitching star) Roy Halladay walking off the mound because you throw a good pitch, he's going to let you know about it," Pirates right-hander Daniel McCutchen said. "He cares a lot about the players and doesn't try to change us too much. He knows what you have to do to be successful. He's very positive; that's what all the guys say."
Searage spent seven seasons as a pitching coach within the Pirates' organization, moving throughout the minor league system until he became the club's bullpen coach in October 2009.
Then-manager John Russell fired Joe Kerrigan last August, when the starting rotation had a 21-58 record and 5.38 ERA, both second-worst in the majors. Searage was named interim pitching coach.
Russell was fired at the end of the season, and Searage was called in from Venezuela, where he was coaching winter ball, to interview with Hurdle. The new manager wanted to know, among other things, what Searage had planned for certain pitchers, how he would get them ready for the season and how he would handle the psychological elements of the position.
Leaving the interview, Searage didn't know whether he had convinced Hurdle he was the man for the job. All he knew was that he answered everything honestly and didn't try to be someone he wasn't.
"There were a couple cuss words in there. I slipped a couple times," Searage said, smiling. "But I was myself. I was myself."
Searage had little to worry about.
"Ray deserves some of the credit for how our pitchers settled down after the move (firing Joe Kerrigan) last year," Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said. "Clint had done his research ,and he'd heard a lot about Ray and talked to a lot of people.
"So, as we put the staff together, Ray became an easy candidate, and after visiting with Clint, Clint was set that Ray was his guy."
Closer Joel Hanrahan was among those who lobbied for Searage, putting in a good word when he met Hurdle at a Steelers game last fall.
"He lets you be you," Hanrahan said. "He's not going to go out there and try to change your mechanics. He's not going to tell me I have to throw more over the top or maybe mix in an overhand curveball because he knows I can't do it. So, he lets you get your delivery, then he's going to help you master the delivery that you have.
"He puts in a lot of work, and you have to respect him for that."
Said lefty Paul Maholm of Searage: "He's energetic; he's gung-ho. He's not the cookie-cutter pitching coach that tries to make every pitcher the exact same. He's able to adapt to each guy, see your strengths, notice your weaknesses and speak in normal terms and just see what clicks with you and is able to get you back on track."
Knowing he had the support of his players meant a lot to Searage.
"That means I did something," he said. "I made a difference, and that feels really good. And I hold that in high esteem; I hold that greatly."
Part of Searage's philosophy is to treat the No. 1 pitcher the same as the No. 12 pitcher. And no matter who you are, Searage will be nothing if not honest.
"If you ask me a question and don't want to know the answer, then don't ask me the question because I'm going to be honest with you," Searage said. "When I was a player, that's the way I wanted it. (I have to) earn their trust and be honest and always have a two-way conversation with them because it's not my way or the highway. It's our way; it's what's going to help you the best. And I think they appreciate that. And that's all I am. That's all."