As everybody knows, the Tigers are a very loyal organization and like to keep tabs on guys that they would label their own. That loyalty isn’t limited to players in the system, it also applies to coaches throughout the organization. Look at the minor league coaching staffs at basically any level and you will see it littered with guys that took the field in Detroit and are now in a position to teach younger players what it is and what it means to be a Tiger. West Michigan pitching coach Mike Henneman is one of those guys.
Henneman was a fourth round selection of the Tigers in 1984 and made his Major League debut with the organization in 1987. He spent a majority of his career in Detroit as the closer of the Tigers and compiled 154 saves in that time. His Tigers career ultimately ended with a trade to Houston in 1995. Interestingly enough, the guy that Mike Henneman was traded for was Phil Nevin, which as we all know has served as manager of the Toledo Mud Hens the last few seasons.
I recently caught up with Mike to talk about his young arms in West Michigan, and here is what he had to say.
TPR: Mike, this is obviously your first year back with the Tigers. Can you talk a little bit about how your return the organization has been so far?
MH: I’m very happy to be back with the Tigers. I was looking into coming back and Boston had offered me a job, but I felt that wasn’t a good fit for me, being that I was a Tiger basically my whole career. I gave Dave Dombrowski a call and everything worked out, and here I am.
TPR: You ever miss getting on the mound? Is it harder to be on this side of the fence? You know the Tigers at times have looked like a team that could use some back end of the bullpen help.
MH: No, no,no, no. Throwing BP is enough for me. I don’t miss that and I couldn’t do it anymore.
TPR: Onto your staff Mike, could you talk a little bit about Endrys Briceno? His numbers have been pretty decent and he has a lively fastball, but how has the development of his secondary offerings been coming along?
MH: That’s one thing that we have been working with him on. His fastball is up around 96-97, and he sits about 94-95 throughout the game. The curveball and the change up is really what we have been working on with him and he has made really good strides and I’m very happy with where he is right now. In fact, we threw a side yesterday and we worked on that for about 15 minutes. He’s improving, he’s learning and he’s just going to get better.
TPR: Jeff Thompson and Jordan John are two guys that have been piggybacking as of late. Thompson obviously is coming off a college season, is that something you guys have done to keep their innings in control so they are able to complete the season?
MH: Yes, that is what the Tigers wanted. (Jordan John) has been throwing all year and hurt his hamstring and he has thrown about 100 innings already, so it’s time for him and Jeff to piggyback and make their appearances. Like you said, we’re just limiting their innings so that they will last the whole year. It’s what the organization has decided and it’s a great idea. It gets them on the bump and they compete.
TPR: Can you talk a little bit about Montreal Robertson? I saw him throw the other night and he has a really good mid-90’s fastball, but his command of it was sketchy and his breaking pitches seemed to be inconsistent.
MH: Montreal is having a tough time being consistent with his pitches and with his release point. He knows it, and I know it and we’ve been working on it. We did some drills today and we’re going to do it again tomorrow. It’s a matter of getting his release point down and working on the breaking pitch and the change up. It’s just getting a feel for all of those pitches. We’re trying to get him to the point where it all comes first nature to him and he doesn’t have to worry about it, but right now he is struggling with it. It will come around. He’s going to get there and Montreal wants it as much as anybody. It’s going to happen.
TPR: Can you talk about Corey Knebel? I haven’t seen him throw yet, but the numbers have just been outstanding.
MH: You mean bird brain?
TPR: Ha ha. Is that your nickname for him?
MH: Well, he’s got bird dog on his glove, so I just call him bird brain. Corey is pretty dang good. He’s got a mid-90’s fastball and a hell of a curveball and he has a slider and changeup in his repertoire, but he’s closing out games and has pretty much been going fastball, curveball. You know, he’s 13 for 13 in saves since he came here. We moved our other closer up, Jose Valdez. At this stage of the game though, Corey is pretty dang good and doing alright.
TPR: How does he compare to what you saw from Valdez when he was here? Are they pretty similar guys?
MH: They’re pretty similar in a lot of aspects. They both have electric fastballs. Valdez has the slider that is really nasty and he has been working on his changeup. We started on his changeup here and worked on his slider here. He got accomplished what he wanted to with the slider and then we started working on the changeup and I guess he is doing that in Lakeland too. Corey is different in that he has a mid-90’s fastball and a good hammer. Corey has the right make up, he’s a knuckle head and that is what you have to be when you are closing out games, especially as you move up.
TPR: Jake Thompson has really been putting up some nice numbers this year. What sort of adjustments have you seen him make over the course of the season?
MH: Jake is having a really good year. He’s a guy that I have actually known since he was 12 years old. I coached him with my son, so we have history together. He stayed in extended spring at the beginning of April to work on his curveball. He’s got command of it now his slider has always been really good. He has a really nasty slider. We just have to get him throwing the fastball and locating it better. He tends to fall in love with his breaking stuff.
TPR: One other guy I want to ask about is Edgar De La Rosa. He is a big tall kid that again has a good fastball, but the one thing I noticed about him when I saw him earlier this season is that he looked lost out of the stretch. He committed quite a few balks early on in the season and I timed him at 1.6 to 1.7 to the plate which is slower than I’m sure you want him to be at. Can you talk about his development?
MH: Edgar has been working hard. The balks are gone and he is now picking guys off of first. It’s a matter of keeping him calm. He tended to get excited out there and really get going. My job is to keep him cool and keep him calm and all of that. Last night, he pitched 5.0 innings, struck out seven, walked one which is a really great outing and that is what Edgar has been doing lately. We’ve got his arm slot down, we have his breaking ball working and his changeup. He’s only going to get better. He’s got a lot of stuff and he’s a big kid.