Even as the Red Sox announced most of their coaching staff for 2018 last week, a sizeable hole still existed. There was no pitching coach.
The Red Sox had either interviewed or showed an interest in a number of the high-profile pitching coaches who were on the move after the season ended, including Jim Hickey (who went from Tampa Bay to the Chicago Cubs), but somewhat handicapped by the fact the new manager Alex Cora had limited time during the World Series to talk to candidates, lost out.
On Wednesday, the Red Sox finally filled their vacancy from within, promoting former bullpen coach Dana LeVangie to pitching coach.
LeVangie may lack the star quality and name recognition that Hickey or Mike Maddux might have. But he has what they lack: a deep knowledge and familiarity with the organization’s current pitching staff, having served as the team’s bullpen coach for the past five seasons.
LeVangie has had a 27-year relationship with the Red Sox as a minor league catcher, advance scout and, since 2013, the bullpen coach and catching instructor. He also served as Torey Lovullo's bench coach for six weeks when Lovullo was the team's interim manager in 2015 during while John Farrell stepped down to battle cancer.
“I’ve been very impressed with Dana since when I played here,’’ said Cora. “He understands the game, and it seems like we talk the same language as far as the game goes. Whenever started talking about me being a manager, he was a guy that I was always going to consider being part of my staff. He was always well prepared and versatile enough that he could work with catchers and be a pitching coach.
“I’m very comfortable with Dana being in this role. He knows the guys from being part of this process the last few years and he’s someone I can really rely on and I’m going to trust.’’
Said LeVangie, 48: “My love for the game, my love for the Boston Red Sox has kind of taken the whole process to another level for me and I’m just thankful for the opportunity. I guess being a local kid (LeVangie grew up in Whitman, Ma.), being a Red Sox fan, getting drafted by the Red Sox, playing six years in the minor leagues…it’s been an incredible ride.
“I’ve done a lot of things for the team and I’ve enjoyed every role that I’ve served in. This is something I didn’t envision myself doing, but I think as my experience throughout the game and dealing with the players has grown, (I’ll be comfortable doing it).’’
LeVangie is renowned for his preparation, which he said Wednesday “puts me in my comfort zone. It’s not for me, but I want to be able to have the ability to communicate with our players and put them in position to succeed for our team and themselves.’’
It’s somewhat rare for a catcher to become a become a successful pitching coach in the big leagues, though Dave Duncan (Tony La Russa’s long-time pitching coach) and Rhode Island native Mike Roarke (credited with helping develop Hall of Fame closer Bruce Sutter) are notable exceptions to the rule.
“My truest learning experience stems from when I was the bullpen catcher with the Red Sox,’’ said LeVangie. “It allowed me to really watch mechanics, movement of the baseball, identifying specifics of a pitcher’s strengths and weaknesses and trying to identify what makes a pitcher has a success.
“I’ve learned a lot from Jason (Varitek), but I think as baseball coaches, we use our eyes and the eyes tell us a lot of what we want to know. I don’t think it’s going to be a big adjustment, but I’ve worked hard to identify things and I think this will be an easier adjustment for me.’’
The Red Sox also named Ramon Vazquez as their quality control coach and announced that Steve Langone will travel with the team in his capacity as manager/advance scouting.
Vazquez, who played with Cora two decades ago in winter league ball and was one of the players sent to Cleveland in 2005 in the trade that brought Cora to Boston, will act as a liaison between the players and staff and the team’s analytics department. It’s a position that a number of different teams have added in recent years.
Meanwhile, the Sox now must find a replacement for LeVangie as the team’s bullpen coach. Cora said there were a number of candidates – both internal and external – under consideration.