Makeover The Phillies' pitching staff, mediocre last year, is this year's strength

July 27, 2003

During his hiatus from coaching last year Joe Kerrigan worked as
a Phillies postgame television analyst, getting what amounted to
about 15 minutes of airtime per week. Even in that limited role,
however, he developed the same reputation that he had as pitching
coach for 10 years with the Expos and the Red Sox: one of the
best prepared in his business. He arrived at the ballpark two to
three hours before games, watched video and then kept his own
pitching charts during the game.

"It's quite a different view from the press box," says Kerrigan,
who was hired as Philadelphia's pitching coach last October,
seven months after his 43-game stint as Boston manager ended with
his firing. "Last season I watched [Philadelphia] pitchers'
mechanics and got a real sense of their strengths and
weaknesses."

Under the direction of Kerrigan, the Phillies' staff has become
the team's strength this season. The club's ERA has dropped from
4.17 last year to 3.48, second in the NL, through Sunday. That's
the main reason Philadelphia held a two-game lead over the
Diamondbacks in the National League wild-card race despite a
lineup that ranked 13th in the league in hitting. "Before the
season all everyone talked about was how great the offense would
be [with new first baseman Jim Thome and third baseman David
Bell]," says catcher Mike Lieberthal, "but look at how we've been
winning."

Indeed, this season the Phillies were 41-2 when leading after six
innings and 7-1 in extra-inning games, thanks to a bullpen whose
ERA has dropped from 3.96 last year to 2.99, third best in the
majors. But it's the young rotation--righthander Kevin Millwood,
28, acquired from the Braves in a December trade, is the team's
oldest starter--that has benefited the most from Kerrigan's
hands-on instruction. Over the winter he invited pitchers for
one-on-one lessons at a facility set up with a pitcher's mound in
a warehouse in South Philly.

Watching from the booth last year, Kerrigan noticed that
22-year-old Brett Myers's delivery, which was rushed, jerky and
included a wicked leg kick, was affecting his control. This
winter Kerrigan revamped the righthander's technique by getting
rid of the leg whip and adding a deliberate, hands-over-head
windup. "Those two changes have made a huge difference," says
Myers, a starter who was 10-6 with a 3.55 ERA and who, Lieberthal
says, "has the best stuff on the staff."

Another Philadelphia pitcher who has vastly improved this year is
All-Star Randy Wolf (10-5, 3.29 ERA), who since last year's
midseason break had the second-lowest ERA (2.73) among major
league lefthanded starters. In spring training Kerrigan worked
with Wolf on compacting his delivery and straightening his back
leg. "I'm throwing easier, which has calmed me mentally too,"
says Wolf, who along with Millwood and Myers made up the
winningest threesome (30 victories combined) in the league.

Kerrigan has also helped lefthander Rheal Cormier, who had the
second-lowest ERA (1.43) among NL relievers, become a dominant
setup man. Working with his coach three days a week during the
off-season, Cormier began throwing out of a windup for the first
time since he became a full-time reliever four years ago.
Kerrigan believed Cormier was tipping his pitches last year with
the arc of his arm at the start of his motion, and showed Cormier
how to cut down that arc during delivery, and also helped him
develop an effective slider.

While the Phillies wait for their slumbering bats to awaken,
pitching will have to keep them in the playoff picture. "You have
to think the offense is going to turn it around," says Wolf, "but
as a pitcher you can't count on that. [The pitchers] need to keep
doing what we've been doing."

TWO COLOR PHOTOS: AL TIELEMANS (2) Millwood is one of three 10-game winners in a rotation that has been fine-tuned by new coach Kerrigan (inset).

Blocking the Plate
Despite ranking ninth in the National League in runs scored at
week's end, the Phillies were a wild-card contender in part
because they were tied with the Braves for the best run
differential (runs scored minus runs allowed). Here are the NL
leaders in that category.

Team Runs Scored Runs Allowed Differential

Phillies 451 359 +92
Braves 538 446 +92
Astros 498 421 +77
Giants 474 411 +63
Cardinals 554 495 +59

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)