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East Carolina Hall of Fame member
and former baseball coach Keith
LeClair.  (Photo: ECU Media Relations)

Message from
Keith LeClair

After being sidelined with Lou Gehrigís disease the past two years, it feels great to be able to finally get online and talk baseball with fans. I do not claim to be an expert, but baseball has been part of my life for a long time. Hopefully, we can make this a learning experience, as well as have some fun. I am really looking forward to working with Denny as he and the fans put me on the hot seat. But I can tell you from experience, the seat is a lot hotter in the dugout when the decisions count. Thanks, and I will be talking to you all soon. ó Keith LeClair

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From The Dugout

[Editor's note: Introduction and questions by Denny O'Brien]

The appearance of the fall foliage, with its effervescent colors and picturesque backdrop, means two things for sports enthusiasts in the southeast:  College football is in full swing and baseball's Fall Classic is quickly approaching.

There isn't a better time of year, especially when East Carolina and the Atlanta Braves are performing at their best.  Though the football Pirates are struggling a bit right now, optimism abounds that things will turn around soon.

That said, there has always been somewhat of a void on, which is the lack of a resident baseball expert.  It seems that every major online media outlet has a baseball braintrust, so why shouldn't we?

And who more perfectly fits the role than Pirate Hall-of-Fame baseball coach Keith LeClair?

Sure, ESPN has Peter Gammons, but he's never guided a program to three-consecutive NCAA No. 1 seeds.

Starting today, Coach LeClair will drop in on a weekly basis for a little lively baseball banter.  He'll provide perspective on the pennant races, intermixed with player analysis, coaching philosophies, and a little humor, too.

So, if you think you can get Coach in a pickle, he more than welcomes the challenge.  Feel free to fire an e-mail to and he'll select a couple of questions each week to dissect.

From The Dugout with Coach LeClair [09.18.03]

Denny:  I'm trying to sort out this Wild Card mess.  Who do you like, assuming Houston takes the Central crown?

Coach LeClair: After looking at all three teamsí schedules down the stretch, I donít see an advantage for either club in that department. The Marlins have six with Philly, three with the Braves and three with the Mets. The Phillies have six with the Marlins, three with the Braves and three with Cincy. The Dodgers have six with the Giants, three with the Diamondbacks and four with the Padres.

I personally like the Marlins down the stretch because they have nothing to lose. Regardless, everyone will consider this a great year. I do think the loss of Brad Penny hurts down the stretch, but I could see Jack McKeon throwing Dontrelle Willis on three days rest if needed. Huge series with the Phillies this weekend could determine their fate.

I donít like the Phillies for one of a couple of reasons. One, they are one-dimensional offensively. And if you control Thome, it really diminishes their chance of scoring. Two, I donít like their bullpen of Williams and Mesa to close out tight games.

My dark horse, of course, is the Dodgers. They are probably playing as well as anybody down the stretch. If they continue to get hot offensively, they have the starting pitching and closer to win this race. Any lead after eight with Gagne is near automatic.

Denny:  A big Dontrelle Willis fan?  What is it about him... that herky-jerky motion?  I remember Hideo Nomo was tough to handle when he came up, but hitters adjusted after a year or two. 

Coach LeClair:  I think Dontrelle Willis is having a great year for two reasons. One, guys havenít seen that much of him and therefore are feeling their way around each at-bat. Two, he is left-handed and has a lot of deception in his delivery. He will continue to win in the future if he stays healthy and keeps working hard. This kid is legit.

Denny:  The Braves' blueprint in the past has been pitching.  This year, it is hitting.  How do you like their makeup for an October run?

Coach LeClair:  The Braves are a totally different team than the past few years, both offensively and on the mound, which I believe is good from the mental aspect because I thought, as a team, they just couldnít get over the hump in the playoffs. In the past, I think the pitching staff felt like if they gave up three or more runs, they couldnít win. Now, the staff knows with their offensive club they are in every game no matter if they give up some runs in early innings.

Offensively, this may be the best club in baseball next to the Red Sox. They have no easy outs and have power potential throughout the lineup. Itís not like in Philly where you can pitch around Thome. That is why Sheffield is having such a tremendous year.  And when you have guys behind you like Chipper and Andrew JonesÖ watch out.  

I like this team to play in the World Series, but only time will tell. The big key will be the health of John Smoltz.  With an already suspect bullpen, the Braves wonít ever make it to the Series without John Smoltz.  This bullpen is by far Bobby Coxís biggest concern, especially without Smoltz. The Braves needed to make a trade to shore up the pen but never did. 

Denny:  It's been well-documented that Javy Lopez shed some pounds in the offseason.  However, that can't be the only thing that has propelled his turnaround.  Have you noticed anything different with his swing fundamentally?

Coach LeClair:  Javy Lopez definitely came back this year in tremendous shape and with something to prove. A lot of folks had been getting down on him over last seasonsí performance. He came back and made a couple of changes to his swing that has made a world of difference. 

One, he moved his hands back a little and began to hold his bat more upright. This allowed him to be a little quicker and shortened his swing. Javy has always been known to be a great breaking ball hitter, but now with these changes, he is handling the fastball much better on the inner half. A lot of credit goes to his hitting coach, Terry Pendleton, and his ability to get Lopez to be more patient at the plate and trust his swing. 

Denny:  Is it just me, or has Randy Johnson fallen off a bit since he cut his hair?  Seriously, though, what has happened to the Big Unit?

Coach LeClair:  The Big Unit is trying to overcome a difficult year-full of injuries. He is still feared as one of the toughest pitchers in the league. This situation with Johnson reminds me a lot like Clemmons a few years ago when people thought he was washed up and came back to win a Cy Young award. I expect Randy Johnson to have a couple more big years. I would love to see Johnson become a closer much like Smoltz has to lengthen his career, but that wonít happen. If it did, he would be awesome in that role. 

Denny:  Here's a situation for you, Coach.  It's the bottom of the ninth in game seven of the World Series.  The Yankees have 1st and 3rd with one out and Jorge Posada at the plate.  Do you pitch to him?

Coach LeClair:  Without a doubt, you pitch to Posada and try to get a ground ball. You tell your pitcher not to give in and make quality pitches. Itís your closer in the game and thatís what he gets paid to do. I dont like walking the bases loaded, because it puts a lot of pressure on pitcher and causes him to use too much of the plate.  

In a first-and-third situation, your middle guys have to make sure they play shallow enough to turn a double play. What also comes into a managerís mind is how Pasada is swinging the bat and what the guy behind him as done, as well as what pinch hitters are still on the bench.  That goes against many expert opinions, but I would say all great managers make a decision based on how the flow of the game is going and how their personnel matches up against the opponents.

See, wouldnít you like to be a coach? People may have forgotten, but if Jeter doesnít have to play in against the D-Backs in World Series, Gonzalezís ball never drops in.

Denny:  What if you're Joe Torre in this situation?

Coach LeClair:  You donít squeeze with Pasada at the plate in that situation.  I think Torre would let Pasada win the game by swinging the bat.  You donít send the runner because you would like to keep the hole on the right side open with the first basemen holding the runner on and second baseman playing double-play depth.  Some managers would load the bases by walking Posada and creating a force at every base.  But again, I think that makes your pitcher become tentative and puts tremendous pressure on him to use more of the plate.

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02.23.07 10:27 AM


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