OKLAHOMA CITY — For most baseball coaches, going to the bullpen can be an arduous chore. It usually means the game is not going well and the pitcher on the mound is in trouble.
For WVU head coach Randy Mazey, that is no longer the case.
In the span of one week, the veteran skipper has turned what had been an unreliable pitching rotation into a formidable weapon he now calls, “The Firemen.”
“We have the firemen down in the pen ready to help someone get through their inning,” Mazey said. “If they don’t get through their innings the firemen will be ready again. I think the pitchers have bought into this and are taking pride in it and it’s working.”
After struggling the entire season with his pitching staff, Mazey knew he needed to do something.
With an ERA hovering around 5.00, the unit had been battered and beat up.
While Mazey knew he had talent on his staff, they weren’t producing in the way he thought they could.
That is when great managers do what they do best, listen to their assistant coaches.
Mazey said he was approached by assistant coach Steve Sabins and pitching coach Dave Serrano about dividing up the nine innings among his staff.
Instead of hoping a starter can give them five to seven innings, the outing would be capped at three.
Then, the procession of relievers would be rolled into the game knowing exactly how long they would be out there.
“They presented it to me, because they know I like to think outside the box, so to speak,” Mazey said. “I take whatever opinions my assistants have very seriously, because sometimes they see things a little bit differently than I do.”
The Mountaineers were also in a situation that they were willing to try anything at that point. They were sitting at 26-25 with just three games left in the regular season.
“If we’re 50 games into it and it hadn’t really happened yet, we’ve got to change something, because what we’re doing isn’t working,” Mazey said. ” We all talked about it and got together and divided it up the best we could as far as how many guys we’re going to throw, how many innings, on which days, and how much rest they needed based on their arms. Kind of came up with a system where the guys that are throwing today know they’re throwing. They know how many they’re throwing.”
The meeting took place right before the final series of the regular season against Baylor. WVU won the first game, 2-1, before dropping the final two games.
While they didn’t win the series, what Mazey and his staff saw let them know they were onto something and they stayed with it heading into the Big 12 Championships.
“Old school is old school. Old school doesn’t work,” Mazey said. “This is new school and it’s all about science, and technology, and data, and scouting reports, and numbers, and spin rates. You got to keep up with the times. If you don’t think outside the box and keep up with the times these days, you’ll get left behind so fast it’d make your head spin. We’ve just tried to stay current with what’s happening and adapt your team to your personality. I think that’s what we’re right in the middle of right now.”
According to Mazey, he and his coaches didn’t reinvent the wheel with their revamped strategy. However, what it special is their ability to stick to the schedule. No matter what.
Mazey showed that discipline in the first game of the Big 12 Championship. Facing No. 2 Oklahoma State Wednesday, pitcher BJ Myers was having one of his better outings of the season.
After three innings, WVU led 3-0 and Myers had allowed just three hits and no runs. Under normal circumstances, he would have trotted out for the fourth inning.
Instead, it was Alek Manoah’s turn to take the ball.
“People have done this before. But the hardest part is when BJ, for instance, is still throwing really well, taking him out,” Mazey said. “Anybody can change pitchers after the damage has occurred, that’s easy. But trying to get guys out of there before hitters are getting a good look at them, that’s the trick.”
The Mountaineers went on to use six different pitchers in the 8-5 victory over the Cowboys. Aside from Myers, none pitched more than two innings.
For players who are used to getting the ball and going as long as possible, making this transition could have ruffled some feathers. But Mazey said his “Firemen” have grown into their new roles.
“That was coach Sabins’s idea. Let’s call them the firemen and give them identity down there in the bullpen,” Mazey said. “When we told them what we were going to do, one of them went up to the Firehouse Subs there on University Hill and got fireman hats for all of them. So that day in the bullpen, all the firemen were wearing fireman’s hats. If people believe in your system, then that you’ve got half the battle licked right out the gate.”