SARASOTA, Fla.—Doug Brocail wants his pitchers to know he cares. He cares not only about their work on the field, but what’s going on in their lives.
“I believe in hyper-communication to the point of, if your dog lost a toenail that day, don’t be afraid to come in and tell me,” Brocail, the Orioles’ new pitching coach, said.
He may be exaggerating a bit, but he’s intensely involved in his pitching staff.
“I want to know everything that’s going on,” Brocail said.
“I need to know if it’s a good day, a bad day, if you have a sick grandparent. I want to know that stuff because my expectations may change that day.
“If you’re having a rough one, your pressure is not on the field tonight. That big sigh of relief can get a guy through a game, letting me know so that I can turn around and say, ‘Let’s get this game over quick so you can call your granddad.’”
Brocail, who joined Brandon Hyde’s staff in January, was the pitching coach for Texas the last two seasons. Before that, he worked with general manager Mike Elias in Houston.
He pitched 15 seasons in the major leagues and threw his last major league pitch in 2009—at 42.
At 51, he sees things differently than his pitchers.
“I’ve been told many times that I shouldn’t call these guys kids,” Brocail said.
“It’s an age thing, I guess. Most of my players are my kids’ ages. I should say, ‘This young man.’ We’re here for the kids. This is what we do. This is a job that chose me. I love it. I love it.”
His manner with pitchers may seem gruff from the outside — and he can be tough — but that’s not the full Brocail.
“I have five daughters. There’s a lot of compassion there,” he said.
Brocail’s work in camp has been praised by the pitchers. One who endorses him is Andrew Cashner, who had perhaps his best season in the majors under Brocail with the Rangers in 2017 before signing with the Orioles.
Another fan is former manager Buck Showalter, who had him as a player with the Rangers in 2004 and 2005.
Brocail recognizes the importance to the staff of starters Dylan Bundy, Alex Cobb and Cashner.
“With [Dylan], Cobber and Cash, getting those guys to buy in have helped us communicate with the young guys,” Brocail said.
Brocail is working with bullpen coach John Wasdin, an old teammate with the Rangers, and he’s relying on his extensive baseball network for help.
Take Bundy, for example. In his first 97 games, the 26-year-old has already had three major league pitching coaches: Rick Adair, Dave Wallace and Roger McDowell — and a number of minor league coaches.
“A guy like Dylan, who’s had umpteen pitching coaches here, the easiest thing for me is, I know [former Orioles bullpen coach] Dom Chiti,” Brocail said.
“I had good conversations with Dom, saying, ‘Hey, Dylan Bundy, talk to me about him,’ and just build off what he heard and what I’m hearing. It matches up.”
Brocail likes to talk and teach.
“These guys are probably sick and tired of me talking to them,” Brocail said.
“I talk to them every day. They get tired of hearing me asking. how they feel, how did your workout go? Anything else? You want to sit down, look at video. I guarantee all of them want to say, ‘Broke, leave me alone.’”
Brocail has spent time with Bundy and all of his pitchers.
“I’m a big believer in non-cross-communication,” he said “When I listen to what Dylan has to say, I try to take that into account, and say, ‘OK, here’s what you’re saying.’ Usually I repeat it back. I have to know what he wants and what he feels because if he doesn’t trust the information we’re giving him, it’s not going to work.
“There are also days I know when to stay away from Dylan. You read it on his face. ‘Hey, how you feeling? Good, all right,’ I’ll see you out there. You probably won’t see me the rest of the day. It’s one of those things, you’ve got to feel them out.”
Brocail watches video and watches his pitchers. He has learned to avoid one word.
“Try is the worst word from a pitching coach,” Brocail said.
“It shows we don’t know what we’re after. ‘What are you looking for?’ If they have to ask what I’m looking for, and I can’t explain it, there’s no trust there.
“I’d rather say, ‘Dylan, what are you going to work on today? OK, do me a favor, this is what I would like to see here. Because with your delivery — and let’s say we’re talking about the slider ,and I want more sweep on the slider — if you can give me just a little more finish across the face, and give me a bigger x than a shorter x.’ And explain to him why I’m after it and what the data says, it gives him, the idea of, ‘Oh yeah, when my slider does have bigger sweep to a righty, it is better.’
“I’m not asking him to do something he’s never done before. I’m asking him to find it and then be able to repeat.”
Brocail knows that turning around a pitching staff on a 115-loss team won’t be easy.
“The one thing that I’ve talked about all spring — you’ve got to see if your stuff is good enough to pitch here, and by saying that, all I had to do was look at 3-1 counts,” Brocail said.
“That’s the first thing I looked at when I turned on my video this winter. I went and looked at the 3-1 counts and the 2-0 counts. You cannot live in the big leagues pitching behind in the count, and we did that a lot. We pitched behind in the count. From top to bottom, we pitched behind in the count. You’re not going to survive in the big leagues doing that.
“Number 1 thing I’ve asked these guys to do is pound the zone, and see if it’s good enough to play at the big league level, whether you’ve been here or you’re coming here. You’ve got to know if your stuff is good enough because if you don’t think it’s good enough, there’s no trust in your stuff, you can’t go out and attack.”
Brocail can be blunt.
“You’ve got to let them know that, ‘Hey, that doesn’t work.’ We don’t bs with a guy…Why are you utilizing this pitch the way you’re using it? This is not a pitch to use here. Can it.”
If need be, Brocail will call a pitcher’s game for him. If he thinks a pitcher is tipping his pitches, he will help with that.
“I’m trying to do what’s best for our pitcher, what’s best for our team so that we have a chance of…getting a ‘W’ at the end of the night.”
In Brocail’s eyes, the 115 losses are forgotten.
“I think a lot of the stench is going away because of the communication we have with these guys,” he said.
“That’s not saying there wasn’t communication here before. That way, they know that we care. This isn’t about Doug Brocail. Doug Brocail’s retired. It’s about these guys…I work for them. They work for the Orioles, but I work for 13 or 14 or 12 guys…They don’t work for me. This isn’t about me. This is about them. Baseball’s hard enough, anyway. I’m just trying to alleviate the stress so that they can go out and perform.”