Pirates trust in good doctor to revamp arms
PITTSBURGH -- In the Oz of baseball success, 90 percent of the reasons contributing to a team's breakthrough are behind the curtain. In the case of the Pirates, the lead wizard is Dr. Jim Benedict.
Benedict isn't a medical doctor, only a mound doctor. A special assistant to Pittsburgh general manager Neal Huntington, Benedict takes patients sent to him by the Bucs and cures them.
Benedict stays off the main stage, spending most of his time in Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla., and performing most of his magic during Spring Training. "Magic" may come off as too strong a word, but Benedict's work with pitchers identified by Huntington as good bounce-back candidates has profoundly impacted the Bucs.
Half of the Pirates' top-notch postseason pitching staff consists of pitchers whose careers were on life support elsewhere, then came here to be reborn. They did not arrive together, but now pull together.
"One of Neal's great strengths is evaluating pitchers," manager Clint Hurdle said. "After the selection and acquisition process, we've got a program as good as anybody's, with Benedict and [pitching coordinator] Scott Mitchell. But at the end of the day, the pitchers deserve a lot of the credit for making the transition."
The Bucs' Last-Chance Saloon (record in last full season before arriving in Pittsburgh; 2013 ledger):
• A.J. Burnett (11-11, 5.15 ERA; 10-11, 3.30)
• Francisco Liriano (6-12, 5.34; 16-8, 3.02)
• Jason Grilli (2-3, one save, 5.32; 33 saves, 2.70)
• Mark Melancon (0-2, one save, 6.20; 3-2, 16 saves, 1.39)
• Jeanmar Gomez (5-8, 5.96; 3-0, 3.35)
PNC Park, as a pitcher-friendly yard, may have played a role in those dramatic turnarounds, but that's a factor often overplayed, since half of the schedule unfolds elsewhere. More significantly, pitchers at the end of the road have come to Pittsburgh and found it paved with yellow bricks.
"It has absolutely nothing to do with me," Hurdle said, deferring on the Major League level to pitching coach Ray Searage and bullpen coach Euclides Rojas. "It's got everything to do with those men and the pitchers themselves."