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Andrews a natural fit with Bucs pitchers

Andrews a natural fit with Bucs pitchers

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LAKELAND, Fla. -- As Jeff Andrews remembers it, when he walked out of the office at PNC Park, he was kicking himself for not making the impression that he had intended.

It was mid-November, and Andrews had just met with general manager Neal Huntington and new manager John Russell to interview for the vacant pitching coach position.

"I thought I had a crappy interview when I walked out," Andrews later said.

Obviously, some other people thought differently.

Not only was Andrews hired days after (in fact, he found out the news while at Tom Gorzelanny's wedding), but his hiring was immediately met with raving endorsements.

A number of players were eager to work with someone who they had had success under before. And fans who blamed former pitching coach Jim Colborn for not maximizing the potential of the organization's young starters were relieved just by the fact that a change had been made.

"I was excited because he knows what we do," said staff ace Gorzelanny. "You don't have to adjust to him, he's going to adjust to you. He's such a good baseball mind, such a good pitching mind. Bringing that to this team and this staff, it's a major step forward for this staff."

So immediately after being hired in November, Andrews took on the job of studying.

He's still studying. And his task is a challenging one. He inherited much of the same pitching staff that was with Pittsburgh last year, a pitching staff that finished 14th in the league in team ERA (4.93), 13th in the league in starters ERA (5.02) and last in the league in batting average against (.288).

Fortunately, for him, he didn't have to look hard for much of that information. Having coached 11 of the 24 pitchers on the team's current 40-man roster, including four of the team's five projected starters, Andrews has a familiarity with the products of the system. So far, that has made the transition from a Triple-A pitching coach to one in the big leagues that much more seamless.

"I am not coming into a position where I don't know anybody," said Andrews, who now enters his sixth year in the Pirates organization.

"I can see if their eyes are glazed over or if they are bored with what I'm saying. It's nice that that relationship exists. We can hack through those first two, three days and it's not going to be invasive. It's not going to be accusatory. An extra set of good eyes that knows you well helps, and that's what I'm here for."

As a result, much of the normal transition period that players undergo in learning the style of a new pitching coach -- and that the pitching coach undergoes in learning the mechanics of his pitchers -- was eliminated early on. That familiarity with many of the team's pitchers allowed Andrews to step in from Day 1 ready to work rather than simply ready to observe.

And with that, Andrews transferred from a student into the teacher. In fact, some say he even has the aura of a professor, magnified by the glasses he wears and because of the prudent manner in which he formulates his thoughts before answering questions.

There's an evident attentiveness when Andrews speaks, and the pitchers have been quick to point out that that initial level of comfort has made this first month of Spring Training that much more productive.

"It's great," left-hander Zach Duke said. "He knows what to expect from me, and I know what to expect from him. That's the comfort at this point. It's going to be a good relationship, that's for sure."

Added John Van Benschoten: "With Andy, I've definitely known him forever, and that's a very positive feeling. There is a trust, obviously. He knows basically every pitcher here. I think the trust factor kind of multiplied by three."

In the eyes of other pitching coaches, Andrews' job is an enviable one. He has the ability to shape four young starters still in the formative stages of their big league career, and his approach in doing so is different than his predecessor's.

Rather than taking a cookie-cutter mold to develop his pitchers, Andrews said he identifies the unique strengths of each one and then individually devises a plan to maximize those strengths. The idea of molding pitchers into what he wants them to be is not Andrews' style. He'd rather mold them into what they can be with the strengths they already have.

He's also taken an approach in which he spends more time listening than speaking.

"The biggest thing is the support, to be there when they want to talk, to know that I'm there, to know that I watch and know that I care," Andrews said. "It's a pat on the back and a kick in the rear at the same time. I may say things that you don't want to hear, but they're going to be heartfelt. They're not just going to be window dressing."

That approach has been immediately noticed and noted by Andrews' students, especially those who had not worked with Andrews in years past.

"He doesn't have to say much -- just a few words," said first-round pick Daniel Moskos, who first worked with Andrews in the fall instructional league. "He's definitely the best pitching coach I've ever had in helping me out. Just his knowledge of the game and the way he breaks it down to you is easy to follow."

Whatever Andrews may or may not have said in his interview three months ago was simply an attachment on the resume he's been building for years. With 22 years of coaching experience in the Minor Leagues, Andrews has prepared himself for this job for nearly half his life.

But that doesn't mean there haven't been nerves to work out. Being a pitching coach on the main stage is still something that Andrews continues to adapt to. And just as much as his pitchers are encouraged to have an old friend and mentor next to them again, Andrews is leaning on his pitchers to help him get through the transition as well.

"I'm going to be overwhelmed; I've prepared for that," the 49-year-old Andrews said. "It's like telling the pitchers when you go out there, 'You're going to be nervous. It's going to happen. Don't fight it. Don't try to suppress it. Don't try to make it worse by fighting it. You're going to be nervous, now deal with it.'

"It's still baseball," he continued. "The lifestyle and the travel are certainly upgrades. But as far as when the umpire says, 'Play ball', it's still baseball."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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{"content":["spring_training" ] }
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