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An often unfactored loss this offseason, when contemplating the Chicago Cubs’ expected 2011 performance, is the loss of pitching coach Larry Rothschild, who headed off to join the Yankees after 10 years with the Cubs. Say what you will about the team’s performance in the last decade, but one thing has been consistent: the Cubs have had good pitching. How much of that was attributable to Rothschild, and how much was attributable to good roster decisions and the pitchers themselves, remains to be seen.

Taking Rothschild’s place is a well-traveled, and well-thought-of minor league pitching instructor, Mark Riggins. While it’s understandable to miss Rothschild at this point, Riggins is already giving at least one reason to like him.

So the first question for new Cubs pitching coach Mark Riggins was whether he used the towel drill, in which pitchers simulate their motions by snapping the white cloth (which Rothschild actually abandoned the last couple of years after criticism).

“I saw that some of our minor leaguers like to do it, so I don’t stop it, but I don’t promote it,” said Riggins, the minor league pitching co-coordinator the last three summers.

“Some guys use (rubber stretch) bands and some guys have towels, some guys have balance beams to stand on. I’m not really a gimmick guy. They’ve pitched long enough and should know their bodies well enough that gimmicks aren’t really needed at this level.” …

“Every pitching coach is pretty similar,” he said. “Mechanics, every pitching coach has his own little ideas of deliveries. There’ll be a few tweaks here and there with guys. I just need to see them in spring training. I want to get a foundation with them before I do a whole lot.”

If there is a difference in Riggins’ philosophy, it’s that he will work with catchers as much as pitchers.

“The catchers are more important, to me, than the pitchers in getting done what I need done,” said Riggins, 54. “I need a good relationship with the catchers.

“The catchers are the ones calling the signs and setting up (for location) and hopefully they’re on the same page with the pitcher. The catcher has to know what he’s doing. You have to have the right catcher out there or he will really mess up the pitcher.” Chicago Tribune.

Setting the towel drills issue aside, which is a little tongue-in-cheek, Riggins’ comments about the catcher are actually quite a bit more substantive. They suggest a much greater reliance on the catcher to call the game – you’ll recall, Rothschild, depending on the situation, often liked to call the game himself (picture Geovany Soto turning his head to the Cubs dugout between pitches – that’s because he was getting signals from Rothschild).

Given Riggins’ deferential attitude toward catchers, and his clear preference for defensive-minded catchers, you have to wonder (a) whether he had any input on Koyie Hill’s nearly inexplicable return to the team (pitchers seem to like throwing to Hill); and (b) whether we’ll see even more of Hill this year, despite his already egregious appearance total last year.

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