Dan's Dugout: Famed Pitching Coach Slams Limitations • Latino Sports

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Dan’s Dugout: Famed Pitching Coach Slams Limitations

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Innings limits and pitch counts are “a load of crap,” according to celebrated pitching coach Leo Mazzone, whose Atlanta Braves won a record 14 consecutive division titles from 1991-2005.

Matt Harvey should have no restrictions, Leo Mazzone insists. Image Credit: Bill Menzel

Matt Harvey should have no restrictions, Leo Mazzone insists.
Image Credit: Bill Menzel

During an exclusive interview on the BRAVES BANTER podcast Thursday night, Mazzone pulled no punches in stating that the Washington Nationals had as much business shutting down Stephen Strasburg in 2012 as the New York Mets did in trying to limit Matt Harvey now.

“When we won in 1991, we have a young staff too,” Mazzone said, referring primarily to starters Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, and Steve Avery. “We didn’t shut them down. We wanted to win and they wanted to win.

“Innings limits are a joke. Pitchers need to practice, to pitch, and to throw more often.”

A disciple of Johnny Sain, an unorthodox pitching coach whose methods rubbed off on Mazzone, he began his second Atlanta tenure on June 22, 1990 — the day Braves GM Bobby Cox appointed himself to succeed Russ Nixon as manager.

Mazzone, Cox, and Smoltz were the only three men in uniform for the entire 14-year title run.

“Sain’s pitchers worked in a four-man rotation but I had a five-man, so I had to keep my guys sharp, said Mazzone, explaining why he became the first pitching coach to have his charges throw twice between starts. “We didn’t have any injuries. Until Smoltz had Tommy John surgery, our guys rarely missed a turn.

“Controlling the fastball is the key to good pitching but they had to throw a lot,” he said. “Nobody learns to pitch anymore — not only with the Braves but all throughout baseball.”

Mazzone noted that Maddux and Glavine became Hall of Famers without throwing hard. “No question

Tom Glavine (left) and Greg Maddux (right) made the Hall of Fame without throwing hard

Tom Glavine (left) and Greg Maddux (right) made the Hall of Fame without throwing hard

about it,” he said when asked about the long-time Atlanta control artists. “Pitchers don’t need to be concerned with velocity.”

The West Virginia native, who’s rooting for the Pittsburgh Pirates in the playoffs, said his decisions stemmed from gut reactions rather than computers. “I didn’t even know how to turn one on,” he said.

Known as Rockin’ Leo for his nervous habit of swaying on the bench during games, Mazzone said the best Braves teams of the title streak were the 1995 edition, which won the World Series, and the 1996 team, which won the first two games at Yankee Stadium before dropping four straight. A Yankees fan as a kid, Mazzone calls the 1996 World Series opener his favorite game — not only because Andruw Jones homered twice in a runaway but because it was played in the House that Ruth Built.

Affiliated with the Braves only as a pre-game radio host, Mazzone says the team needs two top starters plus a bullpen overhaul. In his eyes, Shelby Miller should be the No. 3 starter and Julio Teheran No. 4.

He also likes the future potential of hard-throwing but injury-prone Mike Foltynewicz and sinkerballer Williams Perez, both rookies this year, along with Matt Wisler, Ryan Weber, and closer Aroldys Vizcaino.

Craig Kimbrel, traded in April, could return to Atlanta

Craig Kimbrel, traded in April, could return to Atlanta

“Rebuilding the staff starts with the starting rotation,” Mazzone said. He also admitted he’d like to see the return of All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel, traded to San Diego on Opening Day but on the bloc since July.

Affable but outspoken, Mazzone could be a miracle worker for practically any major-league club. But teams have to let him handle the pitchers without interference.

That’s how he was treated by the Braves by both Hank Aaron, the former farm director, and Cox, who retired as manager in 2010. According to Mazzone, both said, “Leo, those are your pitchers. You take care of them.”

Considering the Braves led the majors in earned run average virtually every year of their 14-year division title streak, the little pitching coach was a big success.

Elsewhere in baseball:

Yasiel Puig, who missed May and September with hamstring problems, promises a big playoff

Yasiel Puig's return could be critical for the Dodgers in the Division Series against the Mets

Yasiel Puig’s return could be critical for the Dodgers in the Division Series against the Mets

performance for the Dodgers in their quest to beat the Mets in the NL Division Series . . .

If Baltimore loses Chris Davis to free agency, it will be the second straight year that the O’s lost a 40-homer slugger — but they’re also losing the only major-leaguer who fanned 200 times this year . . .

Even if the Houston Astros fall short of the AL wild-card game in the final weekend, their recovery from a 92-loss season (preceded by a pair of 108-loss campaigns) is nothing short of remarkable . . .

The playoffs-bound Toronto Blue Jays would like to add prospective free agent Doug Fister (Nationals) to their 2016 rotation . . .

Oakland shortstop Marcus Semien (34 errors) makes Washington shortstop Ian Desmond, a likely free agent, look like Ozzie Smith . . .

After getting no-hit twice in 10 days — a major-league record — the streaky Dodgers could be the most unpredictable of all the playoff teams . . .

The long list of probable free agents includes three middle infielders from the Dodgers alone: Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, and Howie Kendrick . . .

Adding to the upcoming confusion, both Chris Young the pitcher and Chris Young the outfielder will be available in the free-agent market . . .

A-Rod has stumbled through the stretch drive

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Alex Rodriguez was a shoo-in for AL Comeback Player of the Year before his September collapse . . .

Washington wonders whether Yunel Escobar would be best at second, short, or third in 2016 . . .

Giancarlo Stanton would be bashing the Green Monster today if the Red Sox had agreed to include Xavier Bogaerts in trade talks with the Marlins . . .

Former managers Dusty Baker, Manny Acta, and Bo Porter have all attracted interest from Miami in its search for a 2016 pilot . . .

Good luck to pitchers Tim Hudson and Jeremy Affeldt, both retiring from the Giants . . .

History time: did you know that Honus Wagner had five inside-the-park grand-slams?

 

About Dan Schlossberg

Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ has produced 35 baseball books, including autobiographies of Ron Blomberg, Al Clark, and Milo Hamilton. Also a broadcaster, he is the host and executive producer of Braves Banter and Travel Itch Radio and a contributor to Sirius XM.

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