(CBS) — Pitching coaches, like players, come and go. There are exceptions to that rule, and White Sox pitching guru Don Cooper has proved over the last 12 years to be that rare coach who is a career franchise employee.
Cooper has helped develop young players and reinvent veterans who were on their way out. Before it was fashionable to throw the cut fastball, Cooper was resurrecting the career of Esteban Loaiza. Cooper helped the pitcher master the cutter, as he had his best year in the majors winning 21 games in 2003. Before hooking up with Cooper, the quirky pitcher never had a winning season, let alone 20 victories in one campaign.
The most recent success of John Danks has added another pitcher into the group of reclamation projects that have gone well for the White Sox.
“All I look at is what a guy is doing and what a guy does well,” Cooper related Thursday. “At that point we look at what we can add in or put on the back burner. We look at his strengths and what to accentuate. We are trying to fill out the pitcher’s arsenal to make him a better end product and help us win games.”
In the case of Danks, Cooper has had to change the mentality of a former power pitcher. Danks’ shoulder surgery took up to 4 mph off of his fastball. Enter Cooper and his gameplan to make the pitcher a winner with a different skill set on the bump.
“The challenge for John has been a little tougher because he never had a two-seam sinking fastball,” cooper says. “When we had Buehrle here, that was his money pitch. When he went from 90 mph to 88 and down to 85, it did not matter. Buehrle would say to himself, ‘Okay, they will still hit my sinker into the ground.’ That was why a lot of his games were under two hours-he was able to induce early contact.”
Danks, thanks to the work he has done with Cooper, Mark Salas and the two catchers, has given up just five runs in his last 30 innings. “This is a process that has just started with John,” Cooper says. “He now knows what he has to do to be good. He must eliminate the walks and keep the ball in the park better. He has done that and also cut down on hits allowed. He has been making some nice improvements, and we have to continue that.”
Cooper is one of the highest-paid pitching coaches working in the third year of a four-year contract he signed after the 2011 season. His work has been recognized and appreciated among baseball’s inner circle of scouts for over a decade.
“It is always nice to hear compliments,” he says. “For me, it is not about getting credit or praise. I have gotten the accolades enough for two lifetimes. I want to win, and that is the concentration every night we come to the park. When I wake up in the morning, my first thought is yes, we won last night.”
Now in his fifties, I believe Mother Nature and I believe Cooper thinks about White Sox victories as second thing he does when he wakes up.