MLB.com Columnist

Tracy Ringolsby

Honeycutt a big part of Kershaw's success

Three-time NL Cy Young Award winner raves about only pitching coach he has had

Honeycutt a big part of Kershaw's success

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Once the offseason shakeup of the Dodgers' on-field staff came to an end, pitching coach Rick Honeycutt was the one surviving member from the Don Mattingly era.

It wasn't by chance. It was by choice.

Honeycutt had overtures from elsewhere, including the opportunity to join Mattingly in Miami, but when decision time came, Honeycutt saw no reason to leave the Dodgers after 10 years as the team's pitching coach.

And left-hander Clayton Kershaw is thankful.

Honeycutt is the only pitching coach Kershaw has had in a big league career that dates back to mid-May 2008 and has seen him claim National League Cy Young Awards in 2011, '13 and '14 and earn All-Star selections each of the past five seasons.

The success is because of Kershaw's ability and makeup, but Kershaw is the first to say it is the guiding hands of Honeycutt that has allowed him to turn potential into results.

"I trust him a lot," said Kershaw.

He should. Kershaw's career has been pretty good, and given the fact he turns 28 on Saturday, it figures to get better.

Kershaw is headed into Year 3 of a seven-year, $215 million contract, which was the biggest ever given a pitcher until David Price signed a seven-year, $217 million free-agent deal with the Red Sox this past offseason.

Honeycutt has been there when Kershaw has needed him along the way. And what gets lost in all the attention Kershaw has earned is that Honeycutt is not a one-trick pony.

During the 10 years Honeycutt has been the Dodgers' pitching coach, they have compiled the lowest ERA (3.65) and WHIP (1.27) in the Major Leagues. Their pitchers have led the Majors in strikeouts (12,605) and strikeout-to-walks ratio (2.55) during that span.

Honeycutt has played a key part in revitalizing veteran pitchers for a late surge like Brad Penny, Derek Lowe, Dan Haren, Randy Wolf and Ted Lilly, who have helped the Dodgers win more games in the past 10 years (875) than any NL team other than the Cardinals (889).

It's not by chance, said Kershaw.

"He doesn't micromanage," Kershaw said. "He sees something and points it out. It's not like every moment he is telling you something is wrong. He knows the mechanics really well, but he works on being competitive and mental focus. He isn't one of those guys who the first day he sees you wants to change everything."

But when he sees a need, Honeycutt isn't shy.

That was evident in 2009, Kershaw's first full season in the Majors. After struggling in a loss at Philadelphia on May 12 that season, Kershaw was not only 1-3 for the season, but combined with his partial 2008 season, he was 6-8 with a 5.01 ERA in 35 starts.

It was, Honeycutt said, time for a heart-to-heart conversation.

"We sat down, and I showed him where his pitch pattern had been and talked about the fact he needed to come up with another secondary pitch," said Honeycutt. "The next bullpen [session], we worked on a slider, and that gave him a third weapon to go with the fastball and curveball."

Next game out? Well, Kershaw not only introduced that slider to hitters, but also suddenly decided to rely heavily on a changeup he had used only sporadically.

"He had Florida no-hit through seven innings, and he threw 17 changeups that day, probably the most he ever used it," said Honeycutt. "Joe [Torre, the Dodgers' manager at the time] and I are looking at the pitching count, which we were trying to keep down because he was so young [21]. We're wondering, 'What are we going to do?'"

The answer came in the eighth. Cody Ross led off the inning with a double, and Guillermo Mota was waved in from the bullpen. Kershaw departed, having thrown 112 pitches.

It was the beginning of what has become one of the more dominating stretches any pitcher has had.

Since that start in Florida, Kershaw leads all pitchers making at least 50 starts in the past six-plus seasons in wins (101), winning percentage (101-43, .701), complete games (21), strikeouts (1,461), ERA (2.24), batting average allowed (.203) and just about any other stat of value.

Advantage, Kershaw. Thanks to Honeycutt.

"Your job as a coach is not making up something," said Honeycutt. "There has to be substance in what you tell them. There is so much video now that you can sit and dissect.

"When I came up, you didn't have all the technical tools. You had to learn from someone verbally telling you things. We still talk about situations, but now we can show a player what we are talking about so they can visualize."

It is a picture Kershaw has seen clearly.

Tracy Ringolsby is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.