D-Backs’ Brent Strom Dishes on Arm Injuries, Pitching Philosophies

Arizona Diamondbacks pitching coach Brent Strom shares his insights on the injuries in the game and on his philosophy towards pitching.

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA - OCTOBER 24: Brandon Pfaadt #32 of the Arizona Diamondbacks reacts as pitching coach Brent Strom #72 talks with him against the Philadelphia Phillies during the fourth inning in Game Seven of the Championship Series at Citizens Bank Park on October 24, 2023 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

DENVER — Arizona Diamondbacks pitching coach Brent Strom walked up the steps to the visitor’s dugout as his team prepared for their first visit to the Mile High City of the 2024 season.

“Back at Coors Field,” Strom said, thinking the thoughts that likely haunt every MLB pitching coach that accompanies his team to Denver.

However, on this sunny, crisp day at altitude, solving the puzzle that is Coors Field is on his list of things to do, but perhaps not at the top. After all, the defending National League champions came to Denver on the heels of a four-game losing streak, including enduring a three-game sweep in Atlanta at the hands of the Braves.

“Atlanta is a special ball club and offensively very difficult. I thought our starting pitchers did well against them,” Strom said, as evidenced by Arizona’s starters posting a combined 3.77 ERA in the five starts before taking the field in Denver on Monday.

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“We had a couple of lapses defensively in one game and a couple of mistakes pitching-wise in the other game. It’s difficult to sleep at night when that happens.

“I have a tendency to sometimes micro these little things and get upset about it, but we’ll be okay.”

At the age of 75, Strom is still invested in every pitch as much as ever.

A career that began as the third overall pick of the 1970 MLB draft by the New York Mets and has wound through the Kansas City Royals and Houston Astros as a Major League pitching coach (and applauded guru by many for the work he has done with pitchers including Zack Greinke, Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Zac Gallen and so many others), Strom will have a new addition to the rotation soon in heralded free agent signing Jordan Montgomery.

“We defer to what he brings to the table,” Strom said of how he will work with Montgomery. “He’s been around a little while. I remember seeing him as a young pitcher with the (New York) Yankees. I remember the good curveball. He’s changed his game a little bit now. He still has the curveball but he’s developed a really good changeup.”

Montgomery will become another weapon alongside fellow newcomer Eduardo Rodriguez, Gallen, Merrill Kelly, Brandon Pfaadt and others in a rotation that came together at the right time in 2023 and is hoping to lead the Diamondbacks back to the postseason in 2024.

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Strom, however, knows that anything can happen over the course of a 162-game schedule.

“Quite frankly, we were very lucky to get in and I’m fully aware of that,” Strom said of last season’s race to grab a Wild Card spot in the NL. “Thank you St. Louis. If they don’t beat Cincinnati, we are basically the Diamondbacks and a nice team instead of being National League champions.

“Once we got in, we became very dangerous. I think a lot of teams in baseball saw what happened and realize that in a short series, anything can happen.”

But getting to that point is the key, and often health will play a big role in a team’s success (or lack thereof) during the course of a baseball season. With pitching injuries in the spotlight right now, Strom has his own feelings on pitching and if recent changes have made an impact on elbows throughout MLB.

“I personally don’t think that the two seconds has made a difference,” Strom said of the pitch clock rule changes that occurred this offseason. “I think the Players Association is barking up the wrong tree in terms of injuries based on the drop from 20 to 18 seconds. The fatigue issue is not a thing there, I don’t think. I think it goes to our training and the fact that we’re starting younger and younger, trying to throw harder and harder. We’re bigger, stronger, and faster, but the body can only take so much.

“I think we have to get back to the art form a little bit. I never had any children, but people often ask me, if I did, what would have been the first pitch I would have taught them. It would have been a changeup because I have no idea how hard they’ll throw. If that kid has a really good changeup, he might be Kyle Hendricks.”

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Another rule change that Strom wonders about its effect on today’s MLB pitchers is the crackdown that has happened on foreign substances (sometimes known as “sticky stuff”) that has forced pitchers to look for different ways to get a grip on the baseball.

“I have a theory that what happens when there isn’t the sticky stuff that pitchers have a tendency to grip the ball a little tighter,” Strom said. “I think that could possibly create some issues.

“I don’t think we’ll ever get back to what was going on before and I was in the middle of it with these guys. It just dominated the game so much, but the spin rates and everything we’re doing right now are crazy. What we’re trying to do, and doing it without the spider tack or pine tar, you start gripping it tighter and you’re trying to force it, and that puts some tension in.

“The looser this thing can be (referring to the elbow) and the deceleration and everything going correctly, I think injuries will go down but we definitely have a spike going right now.”

In the end, Strom knows that he may only be able to control so much when it comes to his pitchers. However, he knows he can still make an impact when it comes to game planning and helping his hurlers become the best they can be.

“I hate to be overbearing on these guys,” Strom said. “I’ll give them suggestions and things but, in the end, it’s up to them and what they what they want to take from it. Do I get frustrated at times? Very much so. It happened (in Atlanta). It’s happened countless times already this season in terms of pitch selection and things like that. But you grit your teeth and you go back and talk to them and give them objective reasons why this might be a better way to go about things.

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“It’s like this idea of pitching inside. I’ve been railing about that for a long time, and Ryne Nelson did it well (on Sunday). He pitched five solid innings against the Braves where against the Yankees he never really got his offspeed over and lasted an inning and two-thirds. It was a good day for Ryne Nelson and it was a good day for me as a coach and a teacher.”

There have been and will be plenty of those good days ahead for Strom, even with the challenges of Coors Field and defending an NL title waiting.