One constant, though, has been Ausmus's impressive work handling a pitching staff. As a former catcher, Ausmus seems pre-wired to know just what to say and just what to do to keep a pitcher's confidence high, even despite notable struggles during games, off-days and bullpen sessions.
The Tigers' job this season has featured its share of challenges from the mound. Take the confusion of Justin Verlander, the periodic lapses of Max Scherzer, the bad luck of Drew Smyly and the early inability of Joe Nathan to close a game. Between that, there's enough worry for an entire season. Add in Phil Coke and two season's worth of trouble has consumed the first half.
However, Ausmus, like he has throughout, remains on an even keel. After Verlander's start against Oakland teetered on the brink of collapse, Ausmus reminded everyone that rediscovering mechanics is a process. Wednesday, he sounded just as upbeat about Joe Nathan's subtle changes.
"He dropped his arm slot is what it is," Ausmus said of the manipulations Nathan has made. "It probably wouldn't be noticeable to the naked eye, it's more of something that was seen on video." Working with Jeff Jones and company, Nathan has identified problems and taken steps to solve them.
"We really saw a difference in the crispness of his fastball immediately after he made the change," Ausmus admitted. "There's been times when his command hasn't been as good as it was a year ago, but there's also been times when it's been outstanding."
"(The change) seems to have given him a couple extra miles an hour, as well, which gives you a little bit more margin for error." Who else could possibly know this innate fact but a former major league catcher; someone who made a living of receiving plenty of different pitches.
As a catcher, Ausmus also knows that confidence is everything to a pitcher. If a manager acts like the sun won't come up after every bad performance, that can lead to additional tinkering and more mental fatigue. How nice for pitchers like Verlander, Coke and Nathan that their manager has been patient, and also involved in trying to find solutions to the issues that plague them.
Having that security blanket makes for a nice working environment, and allows a pitcher to work through their problems confidently, knowing they have a full support system to rely on and time to fix what ails them, even as the community at large howls about how bad someone has been.
Ausmus has made a few mistakes in his first year on the job, but overall, the returns are good, especially as it relates to his handling of a pitching staff which has had some very complicated problems.
Just like a perfectly timed visit to the mound from his playing days, Ausmus has continued to handle his pitchers well in his new role, helping prove why the saying "catchers make excellent managers" is more than just a simple cliche.
Max DeMara is the editor of @tigers_101. Follow the site there on Twitter, or like it on Facebook to connect with him.Tags: Baseball, Brad Ausmus, Detroit, Detroit Tigers, Drew Smyly, Joe Nathan, Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, MLB, Phil Coke
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