Chicago hurlers have built great trust with pitching coach who 'has their backs'
By Carrie Muskat
CHICAGO -- He's a large man who lumbers, whether it's from the dugout to the pitching mound, through the Cubs clubhouse or on the golf course. He's had his share of glory days, throwing a no-hitter for the Mariners, and winning 14 or more games three times in his 11-year playing career. And of all the pitching coaches that veteran catcher David Ross has been around, Chris Bosio may be the best friend he's ever had.
"I don't know if I've ever been around a pitching coach who has their pitchers' backs more than he does," Ross said of the Cubs' pitching coach. "He stands up for those guys. He's like the 'dad' of the pitching staff.
"You don't want to let him down, because he puts in a lot of one-on-one attention to the pitchers, which I think they like a lot," Ross said. "He knows each guy's strengths and weaknesses. And even when things go wrong, he still stands up for those guys."
Bosio's magic touch has worked and helped catapult the Cubs into the National League Championship Series, which will open Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET on TBS. The Cubs will face the winner of the Mets vs. Dodgers in their NL Division Series.
Look at the numbers. In 2014, Chicago pitchers compiled a 3.91 ERA, 13th best in the National League, and its starters had a 4.11 ERA, also 13th in the NL.
This year, the Cubs' pitching staff ranked third in the NL with a 3.36 ERA. Those stats were definitely given a boost by Jake Arrieta's stellar season -- a Major League-leading 22 wins and a stellar 1.77 ERA -- and the addition of Jon Lester (11-12, 3.34 ERA). But it's Bosio who is the force behind their success.
"Bos is one of the best ones I've had," Cubs pitcher Kyle Hendricks said. "He really knows each pitcher well and keeps each of us separate. When I go out, he knows exactly what my cues are and what I'm trying to work on. Some pitching coaches try to do the same thing. Obviously, up here, that wouldn't work.
"I think the biggest thing is he has 100 percent confidence in all his guys," said Hendricks, who went 8-7 with a 3.95 ERA in his first full season. "He's always got your back. That's one of the biggest factors -- and that gives us confidence."
Jason Hammel thrived under Bosio's tutelage last season, compiling a 2.98 ERA in 17 starts before he was dealt in July to the Athletics. A free agent heading into last offseason, Hammel told his agent he wanted to come back to the Cubs because of Bosio.
"It wasn't a fluke," Hammel said. "When you have the relationship that we have -- it's open-door policy, you can say what you feel to each person, and we always talk face-to-face about things we're concerned about.
"We have kind of the same mind. Obviously, he has a lot more baseball history than I do, but the way we click and the thought process for us -- I've talked about the golf thing. When you start getting too concerned with the small mechanics of pitching, and you can go to something [like golf] and it still relates for us, that makes it easy for me. It isn't, 'Do this, this and this.'"
Bosio and Hammel spent as many off-days as they could on the golf course, starting in Spring Training.
"I know if we were in the middle of our prime in golf, he'd kick my butt," Hammel said.
What was the key in 2014 for Hammel?
"It was the fact that I felt he backed me," Hammel said of Bosio. "I had other pitching coaches who backed me, but last year, I had not only Bos -- but an organization -- behind me and felt they wanted me to be a part of this. Confidence is everything in the big leagues. When you feel confident and you can feel other people's confidence in you, it's a different monster."
This is Lester Strode's 27th season in the Cubs organization, and ninth as the bullpen coach. He's worked with more pitching coaches than he can count. Bosio is different.
"He's very personal with them," Strode said. "He gets to know them and who they are. It's a part of them being relaxed around him and feeling he's a part of their life as opposed to just being a coach. They feel they can lean on him if they have other issues. It can affect how they perform on the mound."
The extra effort helps Bosio gain their trust, and that's more important than getting that changeup just right.
"These guys are pros, good athletes, the best in the world," Bosio said. "You've got to find the thing that clicks, the personal stuff, the golf, the thing you can relate to -- playoff talk, big-moment stuff.
"On this team, there are so many people stricken by cancer, it's a common communication point," said Bosio, who has lost family members to the disease and does fundraising in the offseason. "It's important you find out about each other. That's what makes this group so special. They get it, and they know a lot about each other's families and lives."
How dedicated are the Cubs pitchers? When the team had off-days in Detroit and in New York in June, the players could've slept in or taken advantage of a show on Broadway.
"Jon said, 'Hey, man, tomorrow's an off-day -- what do you think?' and I said, 'I think you should throw. What are you going to do?'" Bosio said. "As we pulled into the hotel [in Detroit], [Lester] said, 'We'll just play catch there.'"
So, Lester stayed on schedule by throwing at a park across the street from their hotel. In New York, he did his workout at Central Park.
"They're as regimented a group as I've ever had," Bosio said. "My feeling is the more you can get on the mound, your timing is going to be better. They all get it. They know what they need. We found some key points for these guys, and we're just trying to keep them going and keep them healthy."
Said Ross: "The most positive thing I can say about 'Bos' is that he cares about his pitchers and each individual performance. I think he genuinely cares for each pitcher. I don't think it's a business to him, I think it's personal. That's one of the highest compliments I could ever give."