FORT MYERS, Fla. When Juan Nieves joined the Red Sox this offseason he became their fifth pitching coach in the last four seasons. Going back to 2010, the last year of John Farrells four-year stint before he left to manage the Blue Jays for two seasons, the Sox have had Curt Young, Bob McClure and Randy Niemann. Now Nieves in the job.
Weve had almost a revolving door there. Its been tough at times. But I think Juans going to be a good fit for us, Jon Lester said. Hes hands-on. He wants to get involved.
For Nieves, 48, this is his first stint as a big league pitching coach. He spent the past five seasons as a bullpen coach for the White Sox, with whom he was more of an assistant pitching coach to the highly-regarded Don Cooper.
Nieves knows his new job has its challenges, but hes excited for those challenges. One of the top priorities is getting to a know a new coaching staff as well as all his pitchers.
I know a lot of the guys from before, Nieves said. Third base coach Brian Butterfield. Of course, I knew assistant hitting coach Victor Rodriguez. We actually coached against bench coach Torey Lovullo when he was a manager in the minor leagues. And I heard about hitting coach Greg Colbrunn. I met bullpen coach Dana Levangie. So its almost like a continuation.
And Ive known Farrell, of course, for years. But its been very interesting. The welcoming has been great. It helps that theres a rapport from John, a connection with this team. I think thats one of the biggest reasons why, you think about coming to Boston with a person that already has a base with them, a history, and great history. It actually makes things a little easier transition-wise for them to welcome you, to embrace you in the culture. And its been so far a very comfortable ride, and hopefully it stays that way and continues growing.
Nieves has been driving his philosophy of first-pitch strikes since he got the job. To emphasize that, and to get his point across in a fun way, he has devised a spring training competition for his pitchers. Whoever throws the most cumulative strikes in the workouts will win a gift certificate, but perhaps more importantly, bragging rights.
Were focusing on strike one, he said. Whatever the sign is, its strike one. From the wind up, from the stretch whatever it is, if its a changeup, breaking ball, fastball, wherever its at, its strike one the whole time.
Youre hitting the strike zone and youre pounding the strike zone from day one. And were practicing sides. if youre going to miss, miss glove or lower. We can find a vendor in the stands to throw balls up high. But the glove better move down. Batting practice will be strictly strike one. So itll be fun but at the same time Im challenging them. What we expect, and if you want to impress us, thats the way to impress us.
Nieves knows his staff, especially the starters, has its work cut out for them. Starting pitchers combined ERA of 5.19 was better than all but three teams in the majors last season. It surpassed the previous team-record high of 5.16, set in 1932.
I know theyve gone through some tough times but we dont talk about that, Nieves said. We just talk about the task at hand. Its coming together.