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October 6, 2015

Joe Maddon

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: Workout Day

An interview with:


Q. What is the difference between the Jake that you see now and the Jake that you saw when you were in Tampa and he was in Baltimore earlier in his career?
JOE MADDON: I've been asked that a lot. The main difference for me is his fastball command. He knows where his fastball is going. He always had exceptional velocity and really good other pitches, but, if you just battle him enough, you'll probably get his pitch count up by the fourth or fifth inning back when he was with Baltimore.

Now you just can't do that. He's a strike thrower. I think the true definition of a really good Major League starting pitcher is the fact he can throw a strike with his fastball when he wants to, and he's arrived at that point.

I thought the same thing with David Price, once David got to the point where he was able to throw the strike with his fastball when he wanted to. There are times when he doesn't want to. So a really good Major League starting pitcher can throw a strike when he wants to.

And I think Jake's at that point, obviously. And everything plays off that. If you can't throw your fastball for a strike, then all this other stuff doesn't work. So I think that's the main difference.

Q. You've been known to go to some lengths to keep teams loose. In a game like this, is there some point in this -- is there some carry over? Does the looser team win in your view?
JOE MADDON: I think Jake just hit on it. The team that executes better wins. The biggest thing is that you don't want to -- for me, it's to not get your group to overthink it. It's not try to become a better team all of a sudden or try new things and become this great, creative force.

Just go out and play. Go out and play, man. You've been playing all year. We won 97, they won 98. Neither one of us can believe we're in the Wild Card game. So that's how it's formed.

Regarding keeping guys loose, I've learned a lot from a lot of coaches I'd never want to be like, you know? And that's what it really comes down to. When you were growing up, whether it's in little league baseball, Major League football, summer baseball, all the way through college, whatever, and pro ball. I mean, seriously, the guys that you never want to be like who you learn most from. And a lot of that had to do with tightness or trying to do things differently or getting angry and becoming punitive when things weren't working well. I don't understand that method of thinking.

For me, I've been very fortunate. I've had a lot of coaches that taught me that. And I've had a lot of great coaches too and I've learned a lot from that group. But to not enjoy this moment, to want to be uptight about it or overthink it, it's kind of counter productive, I think.

Q. As Jake referenced and you just referenced, Joe, the one-and-done for two of the best teams in baseball, there is nothing you can do about it now. It's your lot, the dye has been cast. Would you prefer to see Major League Baseball make concessions in the regular seasons in years moving forward so good teams such as yourself and the Pirates would rather have a two out of three as opposed to the one-and-done?
JOE MADDON: The only time you want a one-and-done is when you win that first game, that's when you love it. When this conversation came on board, I remember talking to Tom Verducci, and at that time Tom was talking about one-and-done because of the drama involved.

I always liked the idea of best out of three. I thought that would be the appropriate way to do it after a long season. So my stance has not changed on that. I've been involved in the one-and-done in Cleveland a couple years ago. We had the one-and-done in Toronto and had to go to Texas and had to do it in Cleveland. So it's the most fun and no fun at the same time. Of Course, you have got to win it. But I just think over the course of 162, a long season, to really make it fair to everybody, I'd like the concept of best out of three. I know the season is long enough the way it is now, and there probably would have to be some kind of concessions made or creative thinking involved. But I just think at the end of the year, at the end of the day, basically to permit at least the best out of three would be the fairest thing to do.

Q. Can you give us your thought process on Gerrit Cole and also your lineup, what your lineup's going to be?
JOE MADDON: I won't give the lineup because I don't want to create an unfair advantage for the other side.

Gerrit Cole is one of the best athletes I've seen pitch all year. Everybody talks about his physical ability, but athletically this guy's outstanding. That is the one thing I've noticed. First of all, the way he delivers the baseball is very fluid, obviously. And beyond that, if you watch him field his position and swing the bat and run, he's a great athlete. I'm not going to accuse other pitchers of being athletic, that's not my point. But he is a very athletic pitcher and that's very good.

Q. We talk about the one-and-done situation, does that mean your approach as manager is different in this game? We saw what happened with Kershaw going through a lineup three or four times, playing small ball, doing different types of things?
JOE MADDON: You know, I think I really believe we've been playing that form of a game since the middle of August. I think for us the seminal moment was our series against the Giants earlier this year. I think we played that series in a playoff manner.

You probably are less tolerant, but I've been less tolerant since the middle of August regarding trying to win games. And you're not worried so much about hurting someone's feelings. It's not necessarily about building confidence right now. It's about winning the game.

So going into tomorrow night's game, our pitcher, it's hard to beat our pitcher, our starting pitcher unless you were to get into a lot of trouble, why would you take him out? So there is a different kind of mindset regarding that game in progress. So I just think you're less tolerant. You are going to make adjustments sooner if it's necessary.

But, again, we've been doing that for a while. I think our guys have gotten used to it. I know some of our players may have -- first of all, our players have been on board. Our players have bought in. They may not have understood some of the things I've done. But it's primarily been based on winning games. We have such a variety of skill sets within our group. We've done relatively well recently also, and we've been playing almost entirely different lineups on a daily basis. It's been like instruction league. I've absolutely loved it. So we have all these different skill sets.

So at the end of the day, when you get the ability to maneuver this for one game, this roster for one game, you have a lot of different options. But at the end of the day, man, if your starting pitching is really good, that prevents you from having to do a lot of different things.

Q. Considering how many young guys you have on this club, did you think that you could get to this point as quickly as you have with 97 games and make the postseason?
JOE MADDON: I was talking 90 last year at the Cubby Bear. I thought that was aggressive, but I thought we could do it. Honestly I'd be lying if I thought 97. That's a pretty extravagant number right there.

Our guys have just responded. We just hit like this gear. I'm telling you, it was the middle of August. I think our record has been like 46-19 or something crazy like that. So that's out of the last 65 games and that's kind of crazy. But I think it kind of started around that particular moment. So our guys, regardless of young or old, whatever, I think we began to play the game the way we had envisioned in Spring Training, and we're playing well. We're catching the ball better. We still will strikeout on occasion, but we started hitting homers more.

I think the bullpen has been relatively rested coming into this moment also, which we backed off on Strop and Rondon to get them into more manageable numbers going forward, so I think those guys are in good shape.

So generally speaking, again, it started right around then, and I like the game we've been playing since then. 97 is a heavy number, but I'm really -- it's all about our guys. Our guys have really made a lot of progress in a short period of time.

Q. At what point did your message of doing simple better and not letting the pressure exceed the pleasure, when did that resonate? When did you see the light bulb go on? And how impactful is that going to be in a one-and-done situation like this?
JOE MADDON: I know from Spring Training on we really try to have them understand it's not about pressure. If you hear the word pressure, man, that's actually a good thing. That means there is something good attached to it. Expectations is also a really good word. Don't run away from it ever. I think we've been pounding that home from day one with our guys. For me, do simple better, they understand.

In today's game with all the sabre metric components attached to it, and you watch television at all and you're watching all the breakdowns and all this magnificent analysis. At the end of the day, it's about our players playing a better game of baseball than their players tomorrow. That's what I'm looking for. So I like all the information, but I also like breaking it down to the point where you just pass out nuggets and not just blocks of information.

So I think our guys understood that from my perspective maybe I've had a reputation of doing a lot of different things. But they found out how simple the day can be, because I really do stress simplicity. And I think in a more stressful environment, the more is simple you can keep it, the better chance you have of your participants doing it well.

So I think our guys understand that now. We have not taken batting practice. We've taken batting practice on the field maybe, I don't know, five or six times since the end of August, maybe. Part of that is just to keep their minds and bodies fresh. I just think that hitting on the field is the most overrated thing that we do in professional baseball. Professionally, like in the lower eight, which is more necessary. But for here and now it's keeping the mind and body fresh, keeping things simple. So I think our guys are finally understanding that. I'm trying to get them to think differently. And.

At Wrigley you play so many day games, to have them out there taking batting practice, that's what batting cages are for. So I think their guys have understood that concept now. Of Course when you win, it validates everything and makes it easier to carry the message home. So all these things are interconnected.

Q. On Friday, the last time Jake pitched, you had La Stella at third and Bryant in left. I know you're comfortable with them there. But I'm curious if the lack of games played this season at those positions are part of the equation for the lineup, or is that not even, you're fine. It's not a big deal? Is that part of your thought process?
JOE MADDON: You're attempting to get the lineup out of me. That's well done. With all of our guys, if you've seen them all play different positions during the course of the last two or three weeks, a big part of that was for me to get guys comfortable doing different things. So that when you get to this moment, you didn't know exactly how it was going to play. We didn't know. We still had a chance to catch the Cardinals. That would have presented a different concept.

Of Course we're playing Pittsburgh now, and Pittsburgh could have even been at home. So I've just been trying to get everybody familiar with different moments, different spots, different items so that in the event things had changed that we could do different things comfortably.

I love the fact that we are so versatile. I love that young players are not just stuck in one position, and if you move them, all of a sudden they freak out about it or it's going to hurt them in arbitration or whatever years from now because they don't have one position. Our guys don't think that way and I love it. All of this has been experimentation waiting to get to this moment.

I know what I want to do tomorrow. I'm not ready to announce it yet because I don't want to do that. But the guys that are going to play tomorrow have been in the positions that they're going to play tomorrow at various moments during the season.

When Jake pitches, it presents differently based on his abilities and what you think the hitters may do against him. And that's part of the equation. Again, not to get complicated, but that's something that I would look at too.

Q. Joe, given the nature of the game, what challenge does Pittsburgh's bullpen present? You've seen them enough this year to see what they do well.
JOE MADDON: They're very good. But the whole key is to get ahead, and then it doesn't matter. It books a moot point. When you're facing good bullpens and also a good starter, the whole concept would be to get ahead and to score first, to get ahead in that game is very important. So even though they're going to still utilize their A-bullpen, regardless, because it's one game, you still want to be ahead. If you get behind, it becomes obviously more difficult to catch up on these guys, which it would be for them against us also.

So really when it comes down to these particular moments, you don't want to try to beat those guys late. It doesn't happen very often, and that's why the key to these kind of games to me is to get on top early and stay there.

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