A change of scenery can sometimes help a player. The new surroundings, new teammates and the opportunity to start somewhere fresh can make a difference. The Pirates new faces in Chad Qualls, Gaby Sanchez and Travis Snider have come into a new clubhouse and have fit in with Pittsburgh.
“The change of scenery, if you take it in a positive way, which you should always do, there’s an opportunity,” hitting coach Gregg Ritchie said. “There’s an opportunity to be a part of something bigger than yourself, something of greatness and something of excellence. That’s what they’re showing me.”
While Qualls has seen his share of different teams — the Pirates were his third club just this season, and sixth in parts of 10 seasons in the Majors — the 33-year-old reliever has the experience needed to help shutdown the innings and get the ball to closer Joel Hanrahan. Qualls, too, notched saves for Houston picking up 24 during the 2009 season.
“He gives us versatility in different roles out there because of the experience factor that he’s had in the past,” Pirates’ manager Clint Hurdle said. “From closing games, from pitching the eighth inning, from pitching the seventh inning. He’s had his challenges this year…There’s not many relievers that pitch great every year. More often than not, it’s good year, bad year for the relievers. This guy’s had a very good run for a very long time.”
“He did some nice work with [New York pitching coach Larry Rothschild], which we’ve put in play with [Pirates pitching coach] Ray [Searage]. [We’re] finding some stables that he’s gotten away from without him being aware of. So, we’ll see where it goes, but he’s definitely a guy that you’ve got to love the experience factor, somebody that’s been out there and done it.”
While with Philadelphia and New York earlier this season, things went a little sideways for him, Hurdle said. When traded to Pittsburgh, Qualls came out of New York in a pretty good place after making some adjustments with the Yankees. The right-hander said that over the course of the year, he started opening up his front hip a little bit, which didn’t allow him to stay closed when he was throwing the ball to the plate.
“We were working on just getting back to just saying closed because when you do something over and over again, your muscles kind of remember how to do it the wrong way. I was trying to just stay closed a little bit longer and also just be a little bit more quiet with my hands. When I lift my hands up when I deliver to the plate, I was moving them quite a bit, so I was just trying to keep those on the quieter side so you’re delivery is a little bit more repeatable. And that way, you can continually throw the pitches where you want to. Just kind of minor things like that.”
Qualls has made four appearances in the back end of the ‘pen with the Pirates since coming over and has allowed one run over four frames. He continues to carry those adjustments over with Searage and the club is reaping the benefits.
“When I play catch everyday and during batting practice I’ll work on those keys and stuff like that,” Qualls said. “Just try and get your muscles to train yourself to throw that type of way, rather than what you’re doing in the past. It’s more or less just repeatedly doing the right thing, rather than the wrong thing.”
While getting to know both Sanchez and Snider, Ritchie said that he hasn’t been trying to adjust anything with either of them really since they were acquired by the trade deadline, that it’s more about getting them comfortable with where they are at and with the squad.
“They fit in well already,” Ritchie said. “Their personalities are such, that they kind of mold with these guys. They’re hard workers…It’s more about to know who they are. What makes them click, what makes them think good, what makes them think positively, get them in the best mental approach they can possible go to and play. Just bringing them up to speed on some of the pitchers they may not have faced. Both of them have done some very basic things and they do good work. They’re very ritualistic with their routines. They’re just here trying to make things better for us.”
Sanchez struggled in the first two months of the season while with Miami, hitting just .205 and .184 before the club demoted him to Triple-A to get back on track. The first baseman, however, had back-to-back seasons with the Marlins in 2010 and 2011 where he connected for 19 long balls.
Since coming over to Pittsburgh, Sanchez has been working with Ritchie. The transition to a new organization for the first time in his professional career can be tough, but Sanchez said he felt like a part of the family on day one and that it was an easy switch.
“With Sanchez, he’s just trying to really just get into a comfortable position, see the ball, stay flat through it,” Ritchie said. “Just execute what’s in front of him. He’s not afraid to go the other way. He’s not afraid to shorten his stroke and do some things.”
“It’s just continually doing what I know I can do and try and help out the team in any type of way,” Sanchez said, who’s gone 7-for-18 (.389) since coming over.
Since being acquired from Toronto, Snider, too said the transition with the Pirates has been a comfortable one. The outfielder has been the club’s primary right fielder, and has contributed on offense as well. That’s something that Snider will continue to get in Pittsburgh that he didn’t get much of in Toronto — consistency. The most games he’s played in the big leagues since making his Major League debut in 2008 has been 82 games in 2010. The outfielder has shuffled from Triple-A to the big leagues over parts of five seasons.
“It’s something that I learned early on in my career,” Snider said of adjusting to the lack of playing time. “When you’re not playing everyday, you’ve got to find ways to stay in the game. I didn’t do a very good job of that my first couple years. I allowed things to distract me, things that I couldn’t control.”
“Coming into here if I play everyday, that’s great. If I play once every seven days, that’s great. Whatever they ask me to do, whatever I can do to help this team win is what I’m here for. I’m really not reading into if I’m in the lineup every single day or if I’m not playing against a right-hander, or left-hander. We’re here to win ballgames and this staff has done a good job all year of putting together a winning formula.”
Snider hit for a .325/.409/.567 line over 61 games at Triple-A this season with the Blue Jays. He appeared in just 15 games with the big league club this season where he belted three long balls and hit for a .235 clip. At just 24 years-old and less than 300 games in the Majors under his belt, Snider has flashed some power and potential that caught the club’s eye before the trade deadline. He’s hit 31 homers in his professional career with Toronto, including a 14 homer season in 2010.
“He’s been striking the ball pretty well,” Hurdle said. “That’s one of the craziest things that happens when you go to another place…I think with him, with Gaby, with [Qualls], the transition has been easy and as seamless as you could hope for. I think a lot of that has to do with the environment, and the clubhouse with our guys. The way they’ve brought them in and had conversations with them.”
Since joining the club, Snider said he’s been working with hitting coach Gregg Ritchie on some adjustments at the plate. He’s gone 12-for-36 (.333 avg) with a double, home run and drove in five.
“Just getting good pitches to hit and keeping better posture at the plate,” Snider said. “I hit a lot of ground balls the first four games. I’m just looking to get back to more of me being a line drive hitter, staying through the middle of the field.”
“Snides made some adjustments before he came here,” Ritchie said. “He dropped his hands down. I feel like it’s gotten his barrel to the ball better…He has made a slight adjustment, just being a little more vertical with his upper body, so he’s not tilted forward. It’s shown up a little bit in the last three or four games. He’s being behind the ball more, instead of rolling over some balls. He’s hit a lot more balls up the middle.”