To work with pitchers at the Double-A level in minor-league baseball, one has to be as much a psychologist as a baseball mentor. For the Aeros, that dual role falls to Aeros pitching coach Greg Hibbard.
“I’m not a psychiatrist and I don’t want to be,” Hibbard said. “But it does help to kind of know some things about how the brain works, what makes the brain board, what kind of players can’t focus on something that other players can.”
With Double-A being such a major proving ground for professional baseball players, Hibbard is a lot like many college students’ favorite professor. He’s the guy who went out of his way to help, took an interest when no one else did and whom they remember long after they’ve graduated.
Now in his 11th season as a minor-league pitching coach for the Indians, Hibbard has filled that role for many young pitchers over the last decade. That includes three stints in Akron.
Already this season, Hibbard, who pitched for six seasons in the major leagues for three different teams, has proven to be worth his weight in gold to Aeros left-hander Matt Packer.
Packer struggled to start the season, then began to settle in about a month ago after Hibbard worked with him on getting more push off his back leg. The adjustment resulted in a couple more miles-per-hour to Packer’s fastball.
“As coaches we just try to log information that we compile on each guy,” Hibbard said. “It’s just like your children. When people ask you something about your children, you know the answer right off the top of your head. Ask me about any pitcher and I don’t have it written down, I know exactly what they’re working on.”
A little over two weeks ago when Packer began to falter again, Hibbard suggested a simple mental adjustment to go along with the physical one they’d already made. Once again, it paid immediate dividends.
Following Packer’s rough start May 13 at Binghamton in which he gave up five runs on 11 hits in 5? innings, Hibbard had a pretty good idea what was wrong.
“He kind of zombies out,” Hibbard said. “[Packer] tunnel visions so hard, he clutters his mind. He’s trying to think of a good delivery and trying to locate his fastball. When you’re going through some mechanical changes, you can’t have your mind on two things at once.”
Hibbard remembered a similar situation with former Aeros pitcher Jensen Lewis, who like Packer, was a “big-time thinker” on the mound. So he suggested the same technique he used to help Lewis make his way to the major leagues with the Indians.
“It was as simple as looking at the target [catcher’s glove] too long,” Packer said. “I’m staring for so long I start thinking about something else. So Hibby had me start my windup, move my head then pick up the target later. It’s something little and so simple, but it works. ”
Yet it wasn’t something Packer, the Indians’ third-round pick in 2009, would have ever come up with on his own.
“It was just that minor adjustment, but it has completely changed his stuff,” Hibbard said. “His last two outings have been with the new approach and it’s like it’s taken a leash off his hands.”
In Packer’s last two starts, he combined to limit the opposition to one run while striking out. When Packer realized how well Hibbard’s latest trick worked with his delivery out of the windup, he asked how to tweak it to be able to use it out of the stretch as well.
“We worked on it during a bullpen and it’s been great ever since,” Packer said. “So much of my recent success belongs to Hibby.”
Stephanie Storm can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Aeros blog at https://ohio.com/aeros. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/SStormABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/sports.abj.