Hawkins ready to slide into new role

Hawkins ready to slide into new role

ARLINGTON -- Being the Rangers pitching coach through the years has been a daunting task.

There have been seven in the past nine years alone, as the Rangers developed the reputation for being an offense-loaded, pitching-deprived organization. It's not a job for the faint-of-heart, not with the injuries, the rotations in constant flux and the bullpens worn by excessive workloads. There is the heat of Texas, the nature of Rangers Ballpark in Arlington and just the general reputation and history of the organization's pitching.

Being the Rangers pitching coach would hardly seem to a highly-desirable job, but Andy Hawkins certainly didn't turn it down when it was offered to him early Saturday morning.

"I think little by little, this organization is starting to realize the importance of pitching," Hawkins said on Saturday. "Statistics have shown the lack of it -- they've always had a good offense -- but it all comes back to pitching. But they're making strides and making moves in the right direction.

"I've got a lot of faith in these guys. There is a lot of talent in this clubhouse and a lot more in the Minor Leagues. I think we're headed in the right direction."

This is hardly the way he expected to get his first job as a Major League pitching coach. He admitted that he envisioned starting off the job by addressing a pitching staff for the first time in Spring Training. Instead, he had to do it three hours before game time on Saturday after the Rangers hired him to replace Mark Connor as their pitching coach.

The first thing he told his pitchers was, "I'm nervous."

But Hawkins, a Texas native who lives on a ranch in Bruceville, also told his staff they needed to take, "the bull by the horns."

Hawkins spoke of his respect for Connor, who was his pitching coach long ago with the Yankees. He also recognized there was some surprise and disappointment among the pitching staff over the decision to replace Connor and bullpen coach Dom Chiti.

"I'm replacing a fine man," Hawkins said. "I have a lot of respect for him. But we've got to go on. This is not the last time a lot of these guys will see changes made in the middle of the season. But whether you agree or disagree, we've got a ballgame tonight, and we've got to finish the season. We're 4 1/2 games out of the Wild Card and in the middle of a pennant race. It's exciting."

Connor and Chiti were dismissed after Friday's 9-8 victory over the Blue Jays. The organization had been internally discussing a change since the All-Star break and the decision finally came down on Friday. The Rangers, with a pitching staff that has been racked by injuries and is increasingly relying on young, unproven talent, had a 5.27 ERA, the highest in the Major Leagues.

Hawkins was promoted from Triple-A Oklahoma, where he has been the RedHawks pitching coach for the past 2 1/2 years. He has spent seven of the past eight seasons in the Rangers Minor League system and is familiar with all their young pitchers. That was the primary reason why he was chosen for the job.

"He's got his work cut out for him," manager Ron Washington said. "It's not going to be easy. He's not a miracle worker. We just want him to piece some stuff together and see of we can get better."

Hawkins possibly offers a new voice, a new perspective and some fresh ideas. There will be no radical approaches. Much of what Rangers pitchers hear from Hawkins is what they also heard from Connor. The two worked closely together in Spring Training and stayed in touch during the regular season. One emphasis remains the same.

"I always stress throwing strikes and attacking the zone," Hawkins said. "I don't like walks. I learned that from [Hall of Fame manager] Dick Williams. That was always his philosophy. You can't defense hitters. You have to go after these hitters, attack them aggressively and challenge them. These guys have big league stuff, and big league stuff gets big league hitters out if used right."

Hawkins pitched for Williams while with the Padres. Overall, he spent 10 seasons in the Major Leagues from 1982-91 and finished with a career record of 84-91 with a 4.22 ERA. This is his first job at the Major League level since his playing career ended in 1991.

He will be assisted by Jim Colborn, the Rangers' director of Pacific Rim scouting, who was pitching coach with the Dodgers in 2001-05 and the Pirates in 2006-07. Both have the job until the end of the season, at which time the Rangers will re-evaluate the situation.

"These two guys are going to get the same level of respect Dom and [Mark] got from everybody here," pitcher Kevin Millwood said. "We're definitely going to listen to them and try to learn from them. I know Hawk from Spring Training and being around here and having talked to him. He was a Major League pitcher, so it's good from that perspective. I know he's a good guy.

"We have a game to play tonight. Definitely we'll try to get to know these guys as well as possible as quick as possibly. But we've got games to play, and we've got to try to go out and win tonight."

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.