Mariners Hot Stove: A close look at Justus Sheffield’s relationship with pitching coach Pete Woodworth
The Hot Stove fired up Tuesday evening on 710 ESPN Seattle, with Aaron Goldsmith and Gary Hill talking Mariners baseball for two hours with an assortment of esteemed guests. If you missed a minute of the broadcast, never fear, we have a podcast.
Hour 1 kicked off with an interesting conversation with both a pitcher and his pitching coach. Justus Sheffield joined the show from his home in Tennessee, where he has been sticking to the local COVID-19 lockdown rules – “laying low, chillin’ with the fam” – and getting his workouts in. Mariners pitching coach Pete Woodworth was also in on the conversation, calling in from his home in Florida where he has been enjoying his down time with his wife and daughter who just turned 1 year old.
Coach and student stuck with the show for two segments and shed some light on their relationship, which developed during a tough time for Sheffield when he was demoted in 2019 from Triple-A Tacoma to Double-A Arkansas, where Woodworth was coach.
“We hit it off together pretty quick and easily,” said Sheffield, who noted that a quick meeting upon arrival gave him confidence that he would find help in Arkansas. “I knew he was going to be a guy I was going to be able to trust because of the type of person he was, a real people person. He felt like one of the guys, like a teammate. I knew he was going to be there for me.”
Woodworth, who at 32 is only eight years Sheffield’s senior, was more than one of the guys, however. He was responsible for not just helping get Sheffield back on track but bringing along a number of pitchers who the Mariners hoped would be ready to compete at the big league level sooner rather than later. That Arkansas staff led the Texas League in most categories in 2019, and when the pitchers graduated to the big leagues, their pitching coach got the call, as well.
“It was really cool,” Woodworth remembered. “In looking back I feel like Sheff and I have been together for four or five years. Guys like Miz (Anthony Misiewicz), Justin Dunn, Art Warren, Joey Gerber – I imagine it’s similar for them when they look around the clubhouse and see guys they came up with just have that comfortability. Like Shef said, you’ve got your boys with you. It makes it fun to come to the park.”
The two hit on numerous topics both on and off the field with both expressing their enthusiasm for what they see ahead.
“Seeing the changes, the differences in guys who get to the big leagues that I have played with, how quickly they’re being able to adjust to the league, it’s crazy,” said Sheffield. “The amount of guys what we still have coming up, I know that those guys are going to come in and give it their all and want the best for the team and I feel like that’s what it is going to take. We’re going to have to not have any big egos, guys are going to have to fit into line with us, that’s what we have always said the last couple of years. That works, guys come in and give it their all, unselfishly do what they need to do on their own. That will turn into team wins, team celebrations and things like that.”
“The flood is coming,” said Woodworth. “We’ve kind of been building the foundation in the player development arena in the minors the last four to five years. Now we are starting to see the players we have drafted taking over that mold and building on top of it. There’s a ton more to come. From the pitching side, (Mariners pitching coordinator) Max Weiner and (new bullpen coach) Trent Blank have developed a program that is just developing arms. It’s not just the George Kirbys, Logan Gilberts and Emerson Hancocks, there’s a whole tribe-full that continue to get better. It’s going to get interesting these next couple of years because the competition is only going to get higher.”
Another one of Woodworth’s charges was up next on the show as the always entertaining Joey Gerber checked in from a Starbucks parking lot in Peoria, Ariz., which he was using for WiFi access.
“Just to be clear, you are a young man with big league service time bumming WiFi from a coffee shop?” Goldsmith incredulously asked the relief pitcher.
“Yep, you couldn’t have put it any better,” said Gerber with a laugh. “That’s what’s going on here.”
Gerber set out this offseason to regain the velocity he lost during the 2020 shutdown between spring training and the start of the season. At home in Minnesota with the gyms closed he was limited to working out in his basement.
“I didn’t really have weights, it was tough to maintain my explosiveness, which is what I rely on,” he said. “I didn’t have a solid catch partner, a lot of times I was just throwing against a tree in the backyard or a shed. That’s not a good way to maintain your baseball-playing abilities, I don’t recommend that but that’s what happened. It’s 2020, you got to do what you got to do.”
Gerber recounted better memories from 2020 including his debut, wanting to and then getting to face Mike Trout, and just playing baseball in general.
“Dude, I was just grateful for every time I got out there,” he said. “It was kind of weird with all the protocols but once you got on the mound it felt like a game. I was just having fun competing every time. It was just fun to be playing baseball. I know a lot of people weren’t getting the opportunity.”
What was scheduled to be a one-segment interview turned into two with Gerber explaining the difference between Minnesota baseball and Texas baseball and how it relates to velocity, being a late bloomer who was thankful for the only college that offered him (the University of Illinois, which took him because they had graduated a bullpen and he had a solid GPA), and how he developed velocity.
Last but not least, there were some Tweets to address.
Melons are another highly overrated food
— Joey Gerber (@gerb_nation) December 10, 2020
I think hitters should take 3-0 when their team is ahead by a lot. They should also take 0-2 on BP fastballs when their team is down by a lot. Hitters on the opposing team should never swing the bat at a hittable pitch.
— Joey Gerber (@gerb_nation) August 18, 2020
Makes perfect sense.
Anthony Castrovince, senior writer for MLB.com, was the last guest of the showm and while there were no debates over fruit, Castrovince provided what is likely to be the only reference to the Cleveland Naps in Hot Stove history.
In late November, Castrovince came out with his Way Too Early Predictions column on MLB.com and, spoiler alert, the Mariners fared well (as they also did in his more recent Bold 2021 Predictions column). Two months later he more or less is standing by his prediction but would like to see the Mariners “get frisky in free agency” to better their chances.
The final segment with Castrovince focused on his book “A Fans Guide to Baseball Analytics,” with Goldsmith interested in what stats he wouldn’t mind seeing disappear. A good numbers chat to end the show.
The Mariners Hot Stove Report can be heard on Tuesdays from 7-9 p.m. on 710 ESPN Seattle.
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