By Rich Coutinho
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When you walk inside the Mets clubhouse, you don’t really notice him. He is not a pitching coach that seeks out the media like his predecessor because he is feverishly working on preparing his pitchers for the task at hand. He does not like to take credit for the success of this staff and consistently says the pitchers deserve all the credit. But make no mistake about it, Dan Warthen is a big reason why the Mets are sitting right in the middle of a wild card playoff race.
Let me be the first to say I enjoyed being around Rick Petersen because he was innovative, interesting, and a really good person. But if I had to choose a pitching coach for this team, it would be Dan Warthen every day of the week. The reason for that is he is not tied to a “pitching philosophy” and really plays to the strengths of each individual pitcher.
Consider the case of Jonathan Niese. Warthen knew that Niese began to show how good a pitcher he was last season, but in order to get to the next level, he needed to do two things. First, he needed to conserve energy during the season because late in the year Niese hit a wall that all young pitchers tend to hit. So, Warthen changed his regimen. Second, the pitching coach knew Niese had to return to throwing his overhand curve ball which, at times, the young southpaw abandoned. So, he refined his cutter AND encouraged him to throw more curve balls, giving the youngster two pitches that are very different in both speed and eye level. And the results have been obvious.
He has also been of immeasurable help to Dillon Gee. Gee simply does not impress you with velocity, but Warthen knew this kid had four good pitches and in this case, persuaded him to throw all of them liberally especially change-ups in hitters counts. So, in Gee’s case the approach was throw more of your pitches while in the case of Niese, he took an opposite tactic — throw your two best pitches most of the time.
Warthen does not just concentrate on young pitchers. He helped Francisco Rodriguez refine his repertoire by adding a two-seamer, which has given the closer another weapon against left-handed hitters. Warthen had to impress upon K-Rod that his velocity had slipped and adding a two-seamer would give the hitter a different look making his off speed stuff harder to discern.
Speaking to Warthen, you get the sense his next project will be Bobby Parnell, who has a world of potential. “Bobby has such great stuff”, says Wathen, “and sometimes the trick is showing guys like that they still have to pitch and not just throw. A great example of that is Pirates closer Joel Hanrahan who always had the stuff but now knows how to harness it and use his explosive fastball to his advantage.”
It is no secret that the 34-34 Mets have overachieved, particularly when you consider the rotation was supposed to be the weak link on this team and ironically, has saved the season. But make no mistake about it — the Mets are in the NL playoff hunt. And a big reason for that has been pitching coach Dan Warthen.