So I was flipping through the twitters while the Washington Nationals were playing the
Florida Miami Marlins on Friday while waiting for phenom Lucas Giolito to get his work in and an interesting tidbit from The Washington Post's Chelsea Janes popped into my timeline.
Gio said Maddux told him to keep his eyes on target more between pitches, and look down less. He used to look away during his leg kick.— Chelsea Janes (@chelsea_janes) March 4, 2016
I retweeted it with a pithy comment to the tune of, "Oh look, actual coaching from the pitching coach." I think I'm funny sometimes. But then Ms. Janes brought it up again in her notebook after the game, so it now deserves more than just a half-baked snort.
One of my biggest problems with Gonzalez over the past few seasons was his habit of looking down as he raised his leg at the start of his kick. I was a pitcher back in the day, so call me old school on this, but when I read from Janes that new pitching coach Mike Maddux not only noticed as well, but pointed it out and made it a point of emphasis to the left-hander, I was as impressed as I was relieved.
As Janes quotes Gonzalez: "No more looking down, looking away, more just picking up the target," Gonzalez said. "So it was a little different for me."
The article goes on to mention that when Gonzalez was finished with his work -- a tidy two innings (27 pitches, 17 strikes with no runs and two hits) with, surprise, surprise, no walks -- Maddux instructed Gonzalez to sit with him to watch notorious strike-thrower Bronson Arroyo work.
Now Arroyo got pounded, but that's a story for another day. But Gonzalez noticed the same things from Arroyo that he was himself instructed on.
"The whole time, Bronson was picking up his target, staying on track," Gonzalez told Janes. "That’s something you can watch and learn from a guy when you pound the strike zone and he’s being aggressive in there."
Maddux comes to D.C. with a heady reputation as a pitching coach. We're already seeing evidence of it. The Nats pitching staff seemed to stagnate or regress a bit last season, with Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister, Tanner Roark, Blake Treinen and others seemingly taking a step backward.
Shoot, even Gonzalez scrapped his two-seam fastball from early in the season to rely more heavily on the four-seam to try for more stirkeouts as things progressed.
Not to denigrate the previous pitching coach. To a man, the Nats staff will tell you how much they liked and respected Steve McCatty. But "Cat" was more of a "how'd you do it before, let's get you back to that" type of coach, and not as much on the video review and new instruction.
Maybe these guys needed a fresh pair of eyes on them.