Mariners pitching coach Rick Adair follows his uncle's timeless advice
The Mariners are counting on Rick Adair to weave his magic with a staff that has two brilliant anchors in Felix Hernandez and Cliff Lee, but also nagging questions about the rotation depth.
Seattle Times baseball reporter
PEORIA, Ariz. — Art Fowler gained attention as a pitching coach of some repute in the 1970s and '80s, and also as the prime running mate of the ever-rambunctious Billy Martin.
To Mariners pitching coach Rick Adair, however, he was Uncle Art — actually his great uncle — but still a formative influence on Adair once his own career in the Mariners organization fizzled from elbow injuries.
That's when Adair realized that coaching was his path to the majors. He began studying the mechanics of the craft and picking his uncle's brain.
Both lived in Spartanburg, S.C., and even though Fowler was busy running Billy's staffs in Minnesota, Detroit, Texas, Oakland and New York, the two still found time to talk pitching. And the concepts Adair learned from Fowler are still ones he embodies today as the architect of the Mariners' pitching staff.
"A lot of things he told me have come to fruition," Adair said Wednesday. "The first thing he said was, you've got to get players to like you. I totally disagreed with that initially. I don't think he meant in terms of being friends. You have to build a relationship.
"The other thing that really made a lot of sense, he said, 'Don't pitch until you have to.' What he means by that, there's a lot of guys that go out from pitch one thinking they have to set hitters up and do this and do that. A lot of times, if you're commanding, you don't have to really set guys up. You just get them out. So he said, 'Don't pitch until you have to.' There's a lot of common sense in that."
Adair developed his own principles during a long and winding career that has seen him hold two previous stints as a major-league coach and many years toiling in the minors before Don Wakamatsu tapped him to be his pitching coach.
Adair's success last year: The Mariners went from a team earned-run average of 4.73 in 2008, 11th in the American League, to 3.87 in '09, best in the league. Adair earned the trust of the staff, from veterans like Jarrod Washburn, who credited mechanical changes encouraged by Adair with his strong season in Seattle, to Felix Hernandez, who harnessed his talent to a near Cy Young level.
Now the Mariners are counting on Adair to weave his magic again with a staff that has two brilliant anchors in Hernandez and Cliff Lee, but also nagging questions about the rotation depth.
Wakamatsu believes Adair had gone through the same sort of growth and development as his charges to reach a point where he was ready to thrive.
"The thing about Rick, and he'll be the first to admit it, he's been through so much," Wakamatsu said. "He was a young pitching coach in the majors, two different stints (Cleveland and Detroit). You talk about maturity of pitchers; I think there's a maturity of coaches, too.
"Outside of him being an extremely intelligent pitching coach mechanically, I think last year he focused just as much or more on the personality of a pitcher. A case in point would be Felix. There's a great bond there. I think the other word is trust. I think all the pitchers trust him because of his demeanor."
And Adair seems to have adopted his own version of Fowler's adage: Don't coach until you have to. Or, at least, don't beat the players over the head with your knowledge and ideas.
"When he was younger, he might have gone in guns blazing trying to change the world," Wakamatsu said. "I think there's a little more patience with him now. What I like, nothing is drastic. His style has a calmness to it, with intelligence and experience behind him. The players really gravitate toward him."
Said reliever Mark Lowe: "For me, the biggest thing is, he understands not everyone is the same. What works for (Shawn) Kelley or (Brandon) League or (David) Aardsma doesn't work for me. I think any good pitching coach is able to separate that, and remember the little things that each guy has to get in order to be successful."
Adair says his coaching style incorporates lessons not only from Fowler but other coaches and managers he has encountered along the way, including Bobby Cox during a four-year stint in the Braves organization.
"I saw how simple things were kept, and the relationships Bobby built," Adair said.
As Adair returns for a second year in Seattle, those relationships are now in place, the bonds established.
Art Fowler's great-nephew is forging his own legacy as a pitching coach.
About Larry Stone
Larry Stone gives an inside look at the national baseball scene every Sunday. Look for his weekly power rankings during the season.