Hentgen brings credibility as bullpen coach
Relationship with Walker, Gibbons made it easy for Cy Young winner to return
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Pat Hentgen has always maintained close ties with the Blue Jays organization, but when he stepped aside as their bullpen coach two years ago, there was some debate about whether he'd ever be back.
The former American League Cy Young Award winner resigned from his position because of a desire to spend more time with his family. The everyday duties at the Major League level were gone, but his standing within the organization never changed.
Hentgen opted for a return to his coaching roots as a roving instructor and special assistant to the organization. The desire to be back in the big leagues seemed to disappear, but all of that changed this offseason when Toronto hired John Gibbons as manager and former teammate Pete Walker as pitching coach.
"You guys know I'm a baseball junkie," Hentgen said. "I was involved last year in a small roving role. I was up in Toronto for some of the homestands, so I still had my foot in the door.
"But at that time, when Gibby got announced as the manager, quickly after that Pete was named the pitching coach and I got a call from Pete. Until that point, I have to say I was not thinking about it."
Once the possibility of a return as bullpen coach was presented to Hentgen, it didn't take a lot of convincing to close the deal. If anything, it would have been incredibly hard for him to say no to Walker -- who had become one of his good friends -- and a manager he always had a good rapport with.
Hentgen and Walker first crossed paths in 2004 when they were teammates in Toronto. Their working relationship was then built over a period of time while Hentgen was a roving Minor League instructor and Walker served as a rehab coordinator and eventually the pitching coach for Double-A New Hampshire.
It was Walker who took over for Hentgen when he decided to step aside after just one year as bullpen coach, but now they have been reunited. On some teams, the bullpen coach doesn't play that active of a role, but that won't be the case in Toronto. In many ways, the two are a team.
"Our philosophy is very similar," Hentgen said. "Pete's probably a bit more mechanical than I am, I'm probably more mental. I think we're a good fit, I think we make a good combo."
The coaching staff that Hentgen is now a part of bears little resemblance to the one he left following the 2011 season. Former manager John Farrell is in Boston and his leadership style has been replaced by the vastly different approach used by Gibbons.
Farrell, who is a former Major League pitcher, liked to have his say in virtually every aspect of the organization. He paid close attention to the roster and wanted to be involved in the work being done by Hentgen and then pitching coach Bruce Walton.
Gibbons, on the other hand, leaves the bulk of the work to his coaches. The atmosphere seems to provide Walker and Hentgen with plenty of freedom to go about their roles without any type of interference.
"I think that the atmosphere that he has created has been one that's loose, not in a bad way because I think you have to be that way to play this game," Hentgen said. "He lets his coaches do their jobs. Pete, down to me, I'm kind of like an assistant for him, and I think it has been going really well so far."
The decision to bring Hentgen back into the fold was described as a "no-brainer" by Gibbons. Walker was consulted throughout the process, but ultimately the final say went to Gibbons, and from the day he was hired, there was very little doubt about which candidate he wanted.
Hentgen not only brings his coaching resume into the mix but also the experience he gained throughout the course of a very successful career in the Major Leagues.
The native of Michigan enjoyed a 14-year career -- including 10 in Toronto -- while appearing in three All-Star Games. The highlight from his career came in 1996, when he went 20-10 with a 3.22 ERA en route to the AL Cy Young Award.
He brings instant credibility to the position and can act as a sounding board whenever pitchers go through their typical ups and downs of the 162-game grind.
"Pat's a natural pick, he's an ex-Blue Jay, he has been very successful and everyone in the game loves him," Gibbons said. "He's one of those guys that makes you feel good when he's around.
"There's something different about him. There are guys you want to be around. He'll sit down, and when he talks baseball with you, he can really pick it apart. The success he's had, that's instant credibility to the guys that he's going to be dealing with out there."