Joe Kerrigan left his middling career as a professional pitcher in 1982, taking a bum shoulder home to Philadelphia. He was 28. "My arm was dead," he says. This was before managers and pitching coaches cared much about pitch counts and how many days in a row you worked. Kerrigan took a job pouring concrete at a construction site for a waste management facility. To supplement his income he would scavenge his mother's attic and basement for knickknacks to sell at a flea market. On a good weekend he would pocket 50 bucks.
All these years later Kerrigan's labor still reflects the lessons learned from his early exit from the game. Now the pitching coach savant of the Red Sox, he not only is fanatically protective of his pitchers' health, but also continues to dabble in the consignment business—though he no longer must root around the recesses of his mother's house. Boston general manager Dan Duquette finds him plenty of second-hand merchandise from the unwanted bin. This year is no different, with the young (Paxton Crawford, Tomo Ohka), the aged ( Rolando Arrojo, David Cone, Hideo Nomo) and the infirm (Frank Castillo, Bret Saberhagen) all vying for spots in the rotation behind Pedro Martinez.
"We went to the playoffs two years ago by piecing the staff together," says Kerrigan, under whom Boston has finished second, first and first in the league in ERA, its best run in nearly a century (1902-04). "I'm as comfortable with this group as any."
The Red Sox are a contender despite what the behavioral scientists might call "issues." The middle of the order is fearsome—shortstop Nomar Garciaparra, right-fielder Manny Ramirez and centerfielder Carl Everett ranked 5-3-4 in the league in slugging against righthanders last year. Atop the order, however, there are unsettling questions. Second baseman Jose Offerman, the preferred leadoff hitter, must rebound from the worst of his five AL seasons, during which he was thrown out in all eight of his stolen base attempts. Other potential trouble spots include a shaky infield defense, a bullpen in need of a lefthander and questions about the durability of Garciaparra, who has sat out 77 games over the past four seasons and has been sidelined since Feb. 26 with a right wrist injury that may require surgery.
What's most uncertain, though, is who will follow the inimitable Martinez in the rotation. Nothing new there. In 2000 Boston starters threw the fewest innings of any rotation in the majors, and other than Martinez, the Red Sox haven't had a pitcher win as many as 11 games in either of the last two seasons. Do they have anybody who can give their ace better support? "Yes," Duquette says. "My pick would be either Nomo or Ohka." Here's the best of the bric-a-brac that the Boston G.M. has given Kerrigan.
Nomo. He still has quality stuff. "But he threw only 54% first-pitch strikes," Kerrigan points out. "After the count's 0 and 1, batters hit .192 against him. After it's 1 and 0, they hit .298."
Cone. The 38-year-old righty won four times in 29 starts last year, and hitters pounded him at a .306 clip. After 2,745 career innings he plans to empty whatever's left in his tank. "I'd rather stay around too long and suffer a little embarrassment than walk away too soon," says Cone, who is battling soreness in his pitching shoulder. Says Kerrigan, "If he can throw his fastball 86 to 88 [mph], he'll be fine."
Castillo. "He's pitched only 22 [big league] games over the last three years in the second half. Now why is that?" says Kerrigan, who has been examining Castillo's routines between starts, his conditioning and his weight training. "If he stays healthy, we've got a good pitcher."
Ohka. "He can put that cross-seam fastball on the outside corner on lefthanders any time," Kerrigan says. "We've got to get him to settle on a breaking ball [curve or slider] and go to it."
Arrojo. "Seventy-two percent of his pitches were fastballs," Kerrigan says of Arrojo, who will start the year in the bullpen. "I've never heard of a number that high. Between pitches 30 and 50 they hit .319 against him. That tells me, the second time around the order, hitters know what to expect. They're getting fastballs. We've got to get him to use his slider and changeup."