Twins arms have Anderson to thank
Minnesota pitching coach undertakes new projects in '07
MINNEAPOLIS -- Ramon Ortiz is about as energetic a pitcher as you can find in the Major Leagues. And since his arrival with the Twins, the right-hander has done nothing but laud the team with praise.But it's his enthusiasm for one aspect of the Twins organization that seems to ring through every one of his postgame interviews. "It's like I tell you guys, the pitching coach, he works with me a lot," Ortiz said after throwing eight strong innings against the Yankees this past week. "He teaches me a lot of positive things. And look at the way I'm pitching right now." Ortiz is just the latest in what is becoming a long line of pitchers to credit pitching coach Rick Anderson with their success. Anderson's praises have been sung by the team's big pitching acquisitions this offseason, Ortiz and Sidney Ponson, both of whom came with their share of question marks. The club's management hoped that turnarounds would be in the cards for both pitchers -- in part, due to Anderson. "He has a knack for working with pitchers, there's no doubt about that," Twins general manager Terry Ryan said. "He has the knowledge to take a guy and work with what he's got. He doesn't cookie-cut pitchers. He does things a little bit different with every guy, not only physically but mentally. And that's why we bring in a reclamation project on occasion to see if he can get lucky with him." The Twins organization has often credited Anderson with the success of the team's pitching staff. But it seems that the recent success stories of pitchers who have been under his tutelage has drawn the attention of others within the league. "He does a great job and he should get a lot more credit than he does," backup catcher Mike Redmond said. "I know he doesn't care about that. But in all the years I've been in baseball, he is the best pitching coach I think I've ever had and worked with." To see Anderson's impact, people need to look no further than left-hander Dennys Reyes. The big lumbering lefty signed with the Twins a little over a year ago, having spent the previous five seasons with six different clubs. In that time, Reyes had not recorded an ERA under 4.00 and often saw his struggles force him to be shipped out to other clubs or the Minors. But with a defined role and some help from Anderson, Reyes developed a newfound comfort level with the Twins. And what that equaled was success. In '06, Reyes threw 50 2/3 innings while amassing a 0.89 ERA, the best ERA by any reliever who threw at least 50 innings in the Majors last season. "Reyes is about as good as you could ever hope to have a guy respond," Ryan said. "And Andy was a big part of that." Anderson's work isn't just noticed by the pitchers he's worked with on an everyday basis. Ponson came into camp admitting that he had work to do to get back to the form he had in '03, the most successful year of his career. Right away, Ponson acknowledged that Anderson was a big part of why he felt he might get there. "This pitching staff has been one of the best in the league for years and years and years," Ponson said upon his arrival in Twins camp. "So he must be doing something real good with it." The results can be seen by looking at the numbers. Before Anderson's arrival as the pitching coach in Minnesota, the Twins' pitching staff had finished ranked in the top six of American League only once in the previous 10 years. Now, the club has done so in four of the past five seasons. Anderson often proclaims that he's lucky to work with some of the best pitchers in the game. Sure, it may seem easier to work with the likes of two-time Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana or All-Star closer Joe Nathan. Still, Anderson treats these pitchers just like everyone else. "When things aren't going as I planned, he's good at stepping in and just giving you something simple to go off of mechanically," Nathan said. "He's able to simplify the game and simplify what you're doing wrong. That's huge for us, because you try to turn it around as quick as you can." Yet when it comes to the credit for the group's success, Anderson is the first to deflect it. "People have said stuff about my part in it, but I don't do it, they do it," Anderson said. "You're there to help in any way you can and to try and help them get better. I just give them the opportunity and try to give them confidence." Confidence is something that is not always the easiest of things to convey to baseball players. A bad outing or a one costly mistake in an outing can shatter an already fragile frame of mind. Just ask Carlos Silva, who struggled to find that level of confidence throughout the '06 season, the worst of his career. "For me, I have so much respect for him and Gardy," Silva said. "You have like a friend and a father in there with them. Last year was very hard for me, and I never remember those guys turning on me, not even once. I know how bad I was pitching and how much they were expecting from me and they never turned on me, especially Andy. Day by day, he was there with me, every time I had to throw my bullpen [session] ,and he had the same positive attitude. It's not everywhere you find a guy like that. That's special." Anderson has experienced firsthand the struggles of trying to make it as a pitcher in the Majors, so understanding the struggles of some of his protégées isn't that difficult for him. Anderson pitched only 96-plus innings in the Majors and said that he quickly learned his own limitations in the game, and it was that understanding which ultimately led him to coaching. Yet it's pushing the limitations of others that will be Anderson's legacy. "I don't know if things are going to work out with every guy, because that's not realistic." Ryan said. "But for the most part, we have a pitching coach here that has been quite successful, so I'll keep challenging him with guys that have been a little bit down on their luck for some reason."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.