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Honeycutt key in leading Dodgers' staff to WS

Pitching coach won lone game for Oakland vs. LA in 1988 Fall Classic
MLB.com

LOS ANGELES -- Will Rick Honeycutt return as the Dodgers' pitching coach in 2018? He won't say.

"Let's worry about this year," said Honeycutt, whose two-year contract expires after the World Series.

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LOS ANGELES -- Will Rick Honeycutt return as the Dodgers' pitching coach in 2018? He won't say.

"Let's worry about this year," said Honeycutt, whose two-year contract expires after the World Series.

View Full Game Coverage

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Since 2006, the Dodgers have had four managers and eight hitting coaches, but only one pitching coach. In that time, the pitching staff has the best cumulative team ERA in the Major Leagues. In '17, the Dodgers led the National League with a 3.38 team ERA, a .228 opponents' batting average, a franchise-record 1,549 strikeouts, a 1.15 WHIP and 16 shutouts.

"I think he's terrific," said general manager Farhan Zaidi. "Even in our time here [current management's three seasons], he's done an unbelievable job. He's made a lot of pitchers better. What made Phil Jackson such a good coach was the buy-in, players listened to him. Honey has that."

Honeycutt, 63, has helped rebuild the bullpen around closer Kenley Jansen on the fly this season, with Brandon Morrow resurrecting his career, Kenta Maeda transitioning from a starting role, and lefties Tony Watson and Tony Cingrani joining via trades. Honeycutt has overseen the refinement of Yu Darvish, and by the way, he's been coach for every Clayton Kershaw pitch thrown in the Major Leagues -- for three NL Cy Young Awards and a Most Valuable Player Award.

"The one thing about Honey above everything is that he really cares," said Kershaw. "He feels badly when you're not pitching well, and he does everything he can to help. He communicates. With 12 personalities, they all handle information differently. He does a very good job balancing what you need to know. I can't imagine having another pitching coach. He's been awesome."

Honeycutt also just happens to be the guy who got the A's only win in the 1988 World Series, which the Dodgers won in five games, and he was traded by the Dodgers to the A's for Tim Belcher, who started Games 1 and 4 of that Fall Classic. Now, he oversees the formidable staff of L.A., which opens the World Series presented by YouTube TV vs. Houston tonight.

La Russa's staffs in Oakland and St. Louis, long before computers and SABR connected the dots between statistical tendency and future performance.

"I saw the way Duncan prepared -- and he tracked all this stuff by himself -- and the way he taught about pitching to hitters' weaknesses and developing an attack plan," said Honeycutt. "That's what I try to do. It's a different process for a starter, who faces a hitter three or four times a game, than for a reliever.

"Duncan was a catcher -- he wasn't into the mechanics as much as getting into the pitcher's brain, what he's trying to do with each hitter."

Pitchers generally like Honeycutt because he isn't heavy-handed. He studies tirelessly, but he adjusts his input to the preference of each pitcher. His style bridges languages and cultures, as he's shown with Hyun-Jin Ryu, Maeda and, this year, Darvish.

"He's got a great balance of understanding mechanics at a fundamental level, but also appreciating the value of game-planning and identifying hitters' weaknesses and matching up pitcher strengths to hitter weaknesses to maximize your pitcher's chances of success," said Zaidi. "On the mechanics side, we've had him come into the Draft room and talk about the top pitchers we've had on our board. We spend hours and hours, and you bring Honey in, and he breaks down a guy's mechanics in a way that nobody in the room even thought about.

"On the game-planning side, he's really taking advantage of every bit of new information and technology when it comes online. Being a former pitcher, he understands the rhythm and timing of providing feedback. And when we get an acquisition, he has a notion that this guy might be more successful if we make this tweak, then he figures out when and how to introduce it."

Honeycutt can relate to starters and relievers alike, having done both in 21 Major League seasons -- 268 starts and 529 relief appearances.

"He takes care of me," said Jansen. "Even when I tell him I'm good to go, if he suspects I need a day, he shuts me down. And when he sees something wrong in the mechanics, he's on top of it."

Ken Gurnick has covered the Dodgers since 1989, and for MLB.com since 2001.

Los Angeles Dodgers