You may remember back in January, when the Dodgers signed Brad Ausmus to a one-year deal to be the backup catcher, I was less than impressed:
He’ll get $1m for one year. Not to be outdone, the Padres then turned right around and signed Henry Blanco – who, as you’ll see below, is superior to Ausmus both at bat and defensively – for $250,000 less. Just in case you need to be bludgeoned over the head with it, the Dodgers just paid more for an older catcher who can’t hit or throw than the Padres did for a guy who can do a bit of both. Because, that makes sense. I strongly look forward to Vin Scully explaining that Ausmus went to an Ivy League school 50 times this year.
To no one’s surprise, Ausmus has been about as punchless as expected – his .666 OPS is slightly under his career average, even. To be fair, Blanco’s not doing a whole lot better in San Diego, but Ausmus has provided at least one piece of value this year; he may have saved Guillermo Mota’s career.
Mota, as you may remember, woke up on the morning of May 18 with a solid 9.00 ERA after allowing 4 runs in 1.2 innings against the Marlins, prompting me to inquire about his job status:
there’s one thing I’d like to touch upon: the continued employment of Guillermo Mota. We’ve mentioned how horrible he is before around here, and I’ve hardly been alone in that – even before Sunday’s disaster raised his ERA to 9.00, with 11 ER in his last 8.2 IP.
But whether or not Guillermo Mota is a terrible pitcher right now isn’t really the issue, nor is the thought that he hasn’t really been effective in nearly five years – or one steroid suspension ago. No, the question is, why haven’t the Dodgers done anything about it?
And you had to figure that, sooner rather than later, the axe was going to fall. But then a funny thing happened; in his next appearance, 5 days later against the Angels, Mota threw a scoreless inning. Then another, two days later, also against the Angels, and another the following day in Colorado. Before you knew it, Mota had run off 11 scoreless outings in a row – a streak which has now made it to 18 of 19. In those 19 games, Mota’s ERA is a miniscule 0.41, allowing just 10 hits and a .406 OPS in 22 innings – with a remarkable 17/4 K/BB ratio. An ERA that was 9.00 after 15 games is now 3.89 after 34.
So what the hell happened? It’s not the first time Mota has ripped off a hot streak after hitting the skids – unfortunately, the last time that happened, it was immediately followed by a 50-game steroid suspension. (Seriously, check out the timeline. It couldn’t be more incriminating if he had called a national press conference to show people exactly how he injected.) For a pitcher turning 36 this month, showing no ability to be successful whatsoever, and with his history, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to think he’d made a desperate attempt to stick in the bigs, no matter what the cost.
Fortunately for us, there’s a far less sordid answer to this turnaround – Brad Ausmus, pitching coach extraordinaire. For you see, Ausmus was the catcher on that disastrous night in Miami…
Mota said teammate Brad Ausmus told him that when Ausmus faced Mota in the past, he had trouble picking up the ball until it was almost being released. But in catching Mota this year, Ausmus said he picked up the ball sooner.
“That was a good tip right there,” said Mota, who huddled with Honeycutt and bullpen coach Ken Howell. Honeycutt went to the archives, digging up video of Mota pitching for the Dodgers in his first stint in 2004 and ’05.
Mota viewed the video at home and on the plane during the club’s recent trip and discovered that he no longer was swinging his leg or holding his left arm high.
Hard to believe that such minor changes could have such dramatic effects, but there it is. Mota wasn’t even a big-league quality pitcher beforehand, and since he’s been one of the most effective relievers in baseball.
Back to Ausmus: he’s been okay, but not great, on the field. Yet by turning around Mota, he’s made an immeasurable contribution to the Dodger season. Brad Ausmus for pitching coach? I like it.