Rick Honeycutt played 21 seasons in the Major Leagues. His career spanned three decades, starting in 1977 with the Seattle Mariners and coming to an end in with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1997; he was the oldest player in the Majors for the ’96 and ’97 seasons.
He was a two-time All-Star and led the league in ERA in 1983 (2.42), but one thing that stood out in Honeycutt’s lengthy career was when he was famously caught doctoring the ball.
In 1980, while pitching for the Seattle Mariners, he was suspended for 10 games for his actions. He taped a thumbtack to his hand and would scratch the ball from time-to-time to scuff it up to create more movement on his pitches.
The problem was that he made the genius move of cutting his forehead while trying to wipe sweat from his brow. Honeycutt went on to lose 17 games that season as a starting pitcher.
Thumbtacks aside, Honeycutt was a prized reliever for the Oakland Athletics during the late-80’s success they enjoyed. He was the setup man for Dennis Eckersley and notched a victory in Game Three against the Dodgers in the 1988 World Series.
Honeycutt is a proud holder of a ’89 World Series Championship ring and maintained a 3-0 career record in the postseason.
Rick displayed a calm and controlled approach on the mound that transfers well into his instruction.
Honeycutt clearly knows how to develop talent. He worked as the minor league pitching coordinator for the Dodgers from 2002-’05. Along with Mariano Duncan, Honeycutt stayed on staff when Joe Torre took over for Grady Little in ’08.
In his four years as the Dodgers pitching coach the team has had one of the best staff’s in the Majors. They led the Majors in staff ERA in ’08 (3.68) and rank second in the Majors this season (3.60).
However, something is awry because arms in the Dodgers organization seem to become vastly overworked in a hurry. He has seen Hong-Chi Kuo, Cory Wade, and Ronald Belisario all wear out their arms in a short amount of time over the past two seasons.
Something has to be wrong with either the strengthening of the staff's arms or the mechanics Honeycutt encourages.
He has, however, helped to groom young pitchers such as Chad Billingsley, Jonathan Broxton, and Kuo during their early development in the Dodgers organization.
What I am arguing has nothing to do with Rick’s knowledge of the game or ability to usher talent along.
My complaint is that Honeycutt does a poor job of making day-to-day adjustments with his pitchers.
For example, Chad Billingsley has been relying far too much on his two-seam fastball lately. On Friday night against the Astros, Billingsley threw a two-seamer to Miguel Tejada. The pitch started towards the outside of the plate but since it had to two-seam movement, it drifted right back over the heart of the plate. Tejada blasted it for a home run.
Billingsley needed to place a hard four-seamer on the outside corner as to not allow Tejada to put good wood on the ball. He needs to make the batter work a little harder and show the discipline to let the ball get deep and go the other way with it.
Lately he has been laying too many balls in the middle of the dish for easy access. That is one of the reasons he hasn’t won a game since Jun. 14 at Texas, and is winless in his past six outings.
Over that span he is 0-2 with a 6.55 ERA and the Dodgers are just 2-4 in those starts.
Chad had retired the first two batters of the inning on just five pitches, but the homer by Tejada started a string of six consecutive hits and four runs with two outs. Honeycutt never moved in the dugout and never came out to address the young right-hander.
One reason could be that Honeycutt wanted Billingsley to work out of the jam and learn from his mistakes, but I don’t think that’s a viable way to handle the situation.
After a few of the hits Honeycutt needed to make a trip to the mound and calm down Chad. Maybe Chad wouldn’t have liked it, but I don’t think he is that kind of player. Billingsley never argues with the umpire and never shows disrespect to his coaches.
It is Honeycutt’s job to go and talk with Billingsley to avoid the inning getting out of control, and he didn’t do anything but sit on his hands and watch.
Billingsley recorded just one out in the second inning before being removed. He allowed six runs on nine hits in the third shortest outing of his career.
Honeycutt has made no visible adjustments to Billingsley’s delivery or approach on the mound during his recent swoon.
Considering the Dodgers pitching staff is littered with young arms, it also comes with the territory that they need a lot of instruction as the season progresses.
Billingsley, Jonathan Broxton, Clayton Kershaw, Cory Wade, James McDonald, Scott Elbert, Ramon Troncoso, and Ronal Belisario are all 26 years or younger. These pitchers look to be the pieces to an already dominant staff but they still have a lot to learn.
When players have a tough stretch, which happens to everyone at some point, Honeycutt needs to step in and do something to help them out. There is clearly something going wrong with Chad and nothing has been done to remedy the issue.
Honeycutt is content being a “yes-man” to the highly experienced Joe Torre. Rick needs to be more assertive and develop a mentality of making corrections rather than letting situations resolve themselves.
If he can’t change the way he conducts business it will spell trouble during the stretch run for the Major League-leading Dodgers
PJ Ross is a Featured Columnist for the Los Angeles Dodgers