Parra benefits from Peterson's guidance

Parra benefits from Peterson's guidance

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- When the Brewers hired their new pitching coach in October, they must have been reading Manny Parra's mind.

Last summer, Parra considered reaching out to then-free agent Rick Peterson for private help while so publicly struggling. The left-hander was demoted to the Minors in June, and by early August his ERA had settled not so comfortably into the sixes. That's when Parra was turned on to Peterson, the former A's and Mets pitching coach whose somewhat unconventional approach has helped pitchers stay healthy and get the most from their arms.

"I forget who actually told me about Rick, but they said he had a place down south where they were studying biomechanics and helping guys out," Parra said. "I knew I wasn't using my body correctly. I was having too much difficulty getting my body to go toward the plate and it was making it very hard for me to command the ball.

"I told my agent [Joe Urbon] that it might be something I want to look at trying in the offseason. But that's as far as it went, because I heard that we were talking to Rick. Then all of a sudden, we hired him. It was kind of crazy."

By Saturday, when Parra started the Brewers' split-squad 7-6 win over the Rockies at Maryvale Baseball Park, he's had a good month to work with his new pitching coach. Parra, like so many other pitchers in camp, has been working on the positioning and movement of his hands during his delivery, a tweak designed to improve his rhythm and find the most natural throwing motion.

He was sharp against Colorado. Parra worked four innings and limited the damage to one run on two hits with three strikeouts and two walks. Parra is one of four pitchers vying for two open spots in the starting rotation and one of his competitors, Dave Bush, limited the White Sox to one run on three hits in four innings of the other split-squad game, a 7-2 win. They key to his work with Peterson, Parra said, is that he's keeping an open mind.

"I could understand if somebody has a good year and they're worried about somebody coming in and changing them," Parra said. "For me, if somebody can tell me something that's been proven to help, then I'm all for it. I have open ears."

Even if it's something a bit unconventional.

In one drill, Peterson had Parra pitch with his eyes closed.

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"The amazing thing about that is that I threw two out of three [pitches for] strikes with my eyes closed," Parra told reporters at Maryvale Baseball Park after his outing against the Rockies. "When you can do that with your eyes closed, you should be able to do it quite a bit with your eyes open. It builds a lot of confidence."

The Brewers have been engaged in the science of biomechanics for at least the last five years under head team physician William Raasch, but with Peterson on board those efforts are more evident with the Major League squad. Early in camp, every pitcher on Milwaukee's Spring Training roster underwent a biomechanical analysis in which sensors were strapped to various parts of their body for a throwing session.

That data was fed into a computer, and club officials are awaiting the results. With it, Peterson & Co. can help pitchers identify and eliminate stresses that could hinder performance and/or lead to injury.

Brewers manager Ken Macha, who worked with Peterson in Oakland in the early 2000s, was happy to hear that so many of his pitchers have been embracing Peterson's philosophy. The Brewers finished 16th of the 16 National League teams last season with a 5.37 starters' ERA. Their team ERA was 4.83, 15th in the league.

"If I was a pitcher and we were last in the league in starting pitching and next to last in [overall] ERA, I would listen to someone with a track record such as Rick's," Macha said.

Peterson cornered Parra for a brief chat during the team's "On Deck" event in Milwaukee on Jan. 31, and Parra said that chat centered on another aspect of Peterson's teachings.

"He told me how he understands the psychology of baseball," Parra said. "He told me he wants you to prepare to the point where you're pitching in a game and not thinking about anything but the next pitch. It was a very good first impression. I think everybody who talked to him in Milwaukee was impressed."

Parra, Bush, Jeff Suppan and Chris Narveson are the competitors for the two open spots behind Yovani Gallardo, Randy Wolf and Doug Davis. Macha watched Bush pitch on Saturday and said those decisions are "up in the air."

Parra and Bush will continue to pitch on the same date through March 18, when the Brewers have an afternoon "B" game scheduled with the Rangers before an "A" game between the same two teams in Surprise, Ariz. It's the only night game on the Arizona portion of Milwaukee's spring slate.

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.