PHOENIX — The first time Mike Harkey faced Kirk Gibson, back in 1990, Harkey got Gibson to roll over on a changeup and ground out to second base. Harkey knew it was a good pitch because Gibson cursed him out on the way to first base for not challenging him with a fastball.
“I laughed,” Harkey said
“I was facing a living legend. Gibby was a gamer and I was excited to get him out. It was a compliment to have him screaming at me, because it meant I got him out.”
Their conversations promise to be more cordial now that Harkey has gone from foe to friend. Harkey, 47, on Monday was announced as the D-backs’ pitching coach, where he will be reunited with general manager Kevin Towers and new special assistant/pitching adviser Dave Duncan. Former D-backs pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. also was added to the staff as the bullpen coach.
It seems like a solid fit. Harkey said he believes in the value of strike one, and he also is on board with Towers’ emphasis on pitching to both sides of the plate, not as a retaliatory device but as a way to keep hitters honest.
“It’s something that has kind of gotten lost in translation, the ability to pitch inside effectively,” Harkey said. “It’s two-fold. It’s being able to get outs inside by pitching inside, and being able to pitch inside to get outs away, which is 99 percent of it.
“It’s not something that I’m going to be able to change in a spring training. I think it’s something that has to go along with the trust and the ability to be able to believe that is the right philosophy, and also be able to identify the guys that need to do it and find out if they’re able to do it.”
Harkey replaced Charles Nagy, who joined Gibson’s first staff in 2011. Stottlemyre, who was the pitching coaching under A.J. Hinch and then Gibson in 2009-10, was promoted from his post of minor league pitching coordinator. He will replace Glenn Sherlock, who was named third base coach after Matt Williams was hired was Washington’s manager.
Harkey spent six years with Towers as a pitching coach at the Class A-AA levels after retiring in 1999 following a patella tendon injury the previous year. He was 36-36 with a 4.49 ERA in eight major league starts after being taken by the Chicago Cubs as the fourth player in the first round of the 1987 out of Cal State Fullerton.
Among his pitcher coaches was Duncan, when the two were in Oakland, and Harkey said that he has learned a great deal about the job from Rick Kranitz, Dave Eiland and Larry Rothschild while serving on staffs in Miami and the New York Yankees.
“My philosophy is pretty basic, but it’s something I really believe in,” Harkey said. “Strike one is super important, for all pitchers. Setting the tone. It allows you to work quickly. It allows you to follow a game plan better. It is one of my pet peeves, and something I preach.”
Unless the D-backs made a move to adjust their rotation in the offseason, they will enter spring training with returning starters Patrick Corbin, Wade Miley, Trevor Cahill, Brandon McCarthy and Randall Delgado. Tyler Skaggs and 2011 No. 1 pick Archie Bradley also could be in the mix for rotation spots, and Zeke Spruill and David Holmberg made spot starts last season.
The bullpen would benefit from a return to health of J.J. Putz, although Brad Ziegler did a good job as the closer in the second half of the season.
Harkey, who spent the last six seasons as the Yankees’ bullpen coach, got a short look at the D-backs in a three-game series in Yankee Stadium in mid-April, but said he has no preconceived notions about the staff. He plans one-on-one meetings with the pitchers in the offseason and obviously will get a fuller view during spring training.
The D-backs gave up a National League-high 176 home runs and tied for the major league-high with 29 failed save conversions..
“I’m not going to make any judgments about what kind of pitchers we had. I’m going to take it as being new,” Harkey said.
“Everybody’s going to have an explanation of why it didn’t work. The biggest thing I want to know is what kind of pitchers they thought they were. I hope we can develop a routine to where they get more confident or keep the confidence they have.”