Make us your home page
Instagram

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Rays pitching coach Hickey appreciates his second chance

Under pitching coach Jim Hickey, the Rays staff has allowed two runs or fewer 18 times, 14 more than at this point last year.

JAMES BORCHUCK | Times

Under pitching coach Jim Hickey, the Rays staff has allowed two runs or fewer 18 times, 14 more than at this point last year.

ST. PETERSBURG

For a decade, his was the worst job in baseball.

So why does Jim Hickey look like the luckiest man on the field?

Watch Hickey move. He bounds around like a man trying to squeeze 70 seconds worth of work into every minute, like a preacher who is trying frantically to mention all of the commandments before the picnic starts.

One minute, Hickey is on the mound throwing batting practice. The next, he is in rightfield with his arm curled around whichever pitcher he has reached first. It is the aimless flight of a baseball coach, and it is easy not to notice. Until you pay attention to the grin.

Every moment seems golden for Hickey. His starters are young and talented, and his relievers are weathered and wise. Scott Kazmir is closing in on his rhythm. Edwin Jackson looks mentally tougher. Andy Sonnanstine looks more mature. Matt Garza looks more comfortable. James Shields is, well, James Shields. Throw in the bullpen, throw in the rising stars in the minor leagues, and there has never been a better time to be the Rays pitching coach.

Lucky man, Hickey, to have this kind of talent.

Lucky man, Hickey, to have this kind of job.

He could have lost it all. In the days following Hickey's arrest on charges of DUI and resisting arrest in October, the popular thing for the Rays front office would have been to fire him. No one would have said a word in his defense. Not even Hickey.

"I realize how fortunate I am," Hickey, 47, said. "I made a horrible mistake. The easy thing (for those in charge of the organization) to do would have been to dismiss me, to say they were moving in another direction. They deserve a lot of credit because they took the tougher road."

Who knows how close the Rays were to replacing Hickey in those four weeks when he was uncertain of his future? Who knows where he might have landed? All that is clear is that when a man has flirted with throwing away something precious, he tends to appreciate that he has it still. Understand, then, how gratifying these days have been for Hickey.

Whoever thought of praising a Rays pitching coach? For that matter, who even knew who had the job? In a seven-year span, from 2001-07, the Rays had six of them. If Hickey had been fired, it would have been seven in eight years.

For most of that time, the job was hopeless. It was an impossible knot to undo, a job of trying to convince a forgettable string of pitchers they could get out an unforgettable lineup of hitters from the AL East. It was like being a drill sergeant for the Light Brigade; no matter what you said, defeat was inevitable.

So why did the Rays keep Hickey? Perhaps they thought the constant turnover was bad for their young pitchers. Perhaps they thought of Hickey as a good guy who did a stupid thing. And perhaps they had some inkling of what was to come.

This year, the turnaround of Hickey's staff has been dazzling. Through Friday's game, the starters had given up 46 fewer earned runs than at the same point last year. The relief pitchers had given up 30 fewer. Walks are down. Opposing home runs are down. Victories are up.

Consider this: The Rays have given up two runs or fewer 18 times this season. At this point last year, that number was four.

It is not an easy job, pitching coach. It is handling young players and veterans, left-handers and righties, flamethrowers and dart tossers. It is breaking down opposing hitters, building up confidences and balancing workloads. It is being a different coach for Troy Percival than for Jackson. It is knowing what to say, when to say it and how to say it.

"I don't want to use the word 'psychiatrist' because it says something might be wrong with the guys," Hickey said. "Psychologist, maybe. You have to find a way to motivate each individual guy. The most important thing is to have the trust of the players. The moment you start to have half-truths or sugarcoat things, the trust can erode every day."

So far, it is working. Credit the pitchers. Credit the front office. Credit the defense. And, yeah, credit Hickey. As Percival says, "He's the perfect guy for our situation." Which, of course, beats people talking about his imperfections.

He knows, okay? The best thing about Hickey is that he seems fully aware of how deadly, how dangerous driving under the influence is. Praising Hickey's accomplishments doesn't excuse that.

At its core, however, pitching is about overcoming mistakes. It's about second chances and tough situations and changing perceptions. Sometimes, it's about working your way out of trouble. Hickey can tell you about all of that.

Yep, he's fortunate that he's still here.

On the other hand, keeping him around shows the Rays have some good fortune of their own.

Rays pitching coach Hickey appreciates his second chance 05/24/08 [Last modified: Friday, May 30, 2008 12:15pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Rays morning after: An up-and down day for Jose De Leon

    Blogs

    Rays RHP Jose De Leon had a busy Monday - getting called up to join the Rays for the first time and making his way from Pawtucket, R.I., to Boston and the flying to Texas, working 2 2/3 eventful innings to get the W in the 10-8 victory over the Rangers, and then getting optioned back to Triple-A.

    Jose De Leon follows through in the sixth inning against the Texas Rangers at Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas, on May 29, 2017.
  2. Tiger Woods says medication, not alcohol, led to DUI arrest in Florida

    Public Safety

    Players arriving for a tournament this week at Muirfield Village might notice a framed picture of Tiger Woods with a resplendent smile and bright red shirt. He's posed there with the trophy, an image that embodies the excitement he once brought to golf.

    This image provided by the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office on Monday, May 29, 2017, shows Tiger Woods. Police in Florida say Tiger Woods was been arrested for DUI.  [Palm Beach County Sheriff's office via AP]
  3. Four key games that could decide Bucs' success in 2017

    Blogs

    The Bucs finished so close to making the playoffs in 2016 -- literally flip-flop the last two results and have them beat the Saints and lose to the Panthers and they're in as a wild card with the same 9-7 record -- that it's difficult to say with any certainty what will happen in the 2017 season.

    Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston, shown celebrating a touchdown against the Giants in 2015, will face New York again this fall in Week 4 in Tampa.
  4. Frank Deford wrote with sincerity, giving depth to complicated sports figures

    Human Interest

    Frank Deford practically invented the notion of multimedia: He exported his voice to radio, TV and film, and if you didn't know him you might have thought he was an actor, because he wore purple suits and looked like Clark Gable. But Frank, who died Sunday at age 78, was a writer above all things, and an important …

    In a 1991 photo, Frank Deford holds a proof of The National Sports Daily, of which he was editor and publisher [Associated Press]
  5. Clarity coming this week on Florida Gators, Malik Zaire

    Blogs

    After months of speculation, we could finally get some clarity this week on the Florida Gators and graduate transfer quarterback Malik Zaire.

    SEC flags outside the hotel of last year's spring meetings in Destin. This year's meetings could have a huge impact on the Florida Gators' season.