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Rice molds young pitchers into big-leaguers

As Arkansas Traveler pitching Coach Pat Rice will attest to, being a minor league pitching coach has many responsibilities and avenues of teaching. Rice gets the chance to not only develop pitchers but also to re-invent throwers.

“My livelihood is not whether we win,” Rice said. “Of course, that is good. But our job is to develop guys and get them ready for AAA and the Big Leagues. You get guys at all different places in their careers. You have the young ones who are up and coming, and some who are bitter. Then you have the older guys, say the 35-year-olds, and they are trying to do different things.”

At Spring training, Rice tried to see every pitcher as much as he could and figure out who was who. The first thing he noticed was the quality of the infield.

“I thought we had really good arms, and some were unpolished,” Rice said. “What I noticed was our infield was incredible, and our defense was incredible. That worked well with my philosophy of putting the ball in play, and we needed to make them make plays.”

Rice works with the starters most every day and begins his day with them around 2:45 p.m. He doesn’t have the luxury of working with the bullpen every day because those guys could be called up to pitch that night. He also a big believer of letting the catcher call pitches.

“I absolutely let them do that,” he said. “They don’t learn anything if I call the pitches. My livelihood is not necessarily about winning but about developing players.”

Several Traveler pitchers have already thrown in the Big Leagues including Michael Roth. When asked how he handles someone like Roth, Rice said the goal is to make him better. He also explained why pitchers go back and forth from Double A to the Big Leagues instead of going to Triple A.

“The hitters are better in Triple A,” Rice said. “But no only do they have to deal with that but also the natural, physical factors like the high altitude. That affects the pitchers. Not only do I have to prepare the guys for the Big Leagues but also for Triple A.”

Sometimes, like this past Monday with C.J. Wilson, Rice gets to work with a Major Leaguer on rehab assignment. In those instances, he said he talks to the staff at the Big Leagues, and a plan is usually in place. For Wilson, he was only going to throw six frames. Rice’s most important job was to keep him healthy.

As the season winds down, Rice has enjoyed the Traveler staff. He also says every pitcher has gotten better.

“I’ve had a blast with this group,” he said. “They are all different but all the same. They get along great and got along as well as any pitching staff I’ve been around.”

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