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03/01/10 5:23 PM EST
Koufax tutors pitchers at Dodgers camp
Hall of Fame southpaw visits, tutors Los Angeles arms
By Ken Gurnick / MLB.com
PHOENIX -- Preparing for a Tuesday B game start, Eric Stults went to the bullpen Monday morning to work on his delivery and ran into somebody with a few pointers. Sandy Koufax. Koufax, who flew back with Dodgers manager Joe Torre after their Saturday night conversation for Torre's Safe at Home charity at the Nokia Theater in Los Angeles, spent the morning working with Stults, Chad Billingsley, Josh Lindblom, Scott Elbert, Ramon Troncoso and Jon Link, and spoke to the entire pitching staff in a morning meeting. "What I've told players in the past, when somebody like Whitey Ford and past stars would come by, you guys are crazy if you don't take advantage of this opportunity that doesn't come your way often," Torre said. Stults has been working with a sports psychologist. He took advantage of the rare opportunity. "I had a few conversations with him in Vero Beach, but I don't know if he remembered me," said Stults of the Dodgers' former Spring Training home in Flordia. "I just picked his brain. He was one of the greatest pitchers of all time. I asked a lot of questions. For me, it's mainly about his mind-set when he threw the ball. "We got into the mechanics, staying on the back leg, things like that. He said the foot is one of the most important parts of throwing the baseball. I have a tendency to spin off and I fly open. We talked about how to keep myself from flying open." Not only players took Torre's advice. There were as many pitching coaches as pitchers listening to the 74-year-old Koufax as he stood on the bullpen mound. "I think, collectively, we don't want to miss the chance to make ourselves better," said bullpen coach Ken Howell. "I was fortunate, I got to work with him when I pitched and he helped me so much. The biggest thing Sandy gives you as a coach is relief in the thought process. Sometimes, you overthink, and to have a person with all his success without a lot of interference, sometimes we may overprocess and he makes things sound easy. So, why should I complicate it? "I'm still learning from him. And the way he delivers things, he's real subtle in his voice and you have to be real quiet and pay attention and lock in so you don't miss anything." Billingsley said Koufax reinforced mechanical corrections he has been working on since the January minicamp. Lindblom was impressed with the simplicity of Koufax's message and how that message was essentially the same as he remembers reading in the Jane Leavy biography of Koufax, "A Lefty's Legacy." "Just to speak with him was an honor," said Lindblom, who said his father taught him to respect the greats of the game. Stults said what the Hall of Famer told him is essentially what he's been taught by instructors at every level of his climb through the organization since he was drafted. "You can tell Sandy has had a big impact on all the coaches here," Stults said. Pitching coach "Rick Honeycutt and Kenny Howell worked with him when they played. They have the same philosophy. And at one point he said he had the mind-set to try to make everybody up there look like a fool. And a lot of times he did. "I came away from it thinking that I just talked to one of the greatest pitchers of all time and hopefully it will help. I think I'm starting to understand. I need to be aggressive, and stop nibbling. He was a power guy and he could throw it by people, but the philosophy should be the same for me. He said the best place to pitch is down and away. That's how he worked hitters and how I should."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.