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Erstwhile Brewer Juan Nieves Seems to be Again on His Enjoying Days


Junfu Han through Imagn Content material Companies, LLC

Juan Nieves had a promising profession minimize brief by a shoulder harm. A 21-year-old when he debuted with the Milwaukee Brewers in April 1986, the southpaw from Santurce, Puerto Rico pitched simply three huge league seasons earlier than a tear in his rotator cuff was found. With 490.2 innings, 32 wins, and a no-hitter already below his belt, Nieves threw his final pitch at baseball’s highest stage previous to celebrating his twenty fourth birthday.

He joined the teaching ranks not lengthy thereafter. Nieves has been tutoring hurlers since 1992, most just lately because the assistant pitching coach for the Detroit Tigers, a place he’s held since November 2020. He appeared again at his taking part in days when the Tigers visited Fenway Park earlier this season.

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David Laurila: You confronted some nice hitters throughout your comparatively brief stint within the majors. How did you view these matchups on the time?

Juan Nieves: “It’s humorous. Coming from Puerto Rico, I grew up watching the Pirates due to Roberto Clemente, and due to Turner Broadcasting we noticed a whole lot of the Braves. It was extra Nationwide League, and I ended up within the American League [the Brewers joined the senior circuit in 1998].

“I used to be really simply speaking to the children within the bullpen and talked about how I got here to the large leagues at a younger age, and the way it looks like there have been 5 – 6 Corridor of Famers on each group. Thankfully, I by no means considered it that means, as a result of they had been nonetheless taking part in. However wanting again at among the guys I had the consideration of taking part in with — Rollie Fingers, Don Sutton, Robin Yount, Paul Molitor — I recognize it extra now, after the very fact, than I did for the time being. The identical goes for among the guys that I confronted.”

Laurila: What do you keep in mind about going through Kirby Puckett and Dave Winfield?

Nieves: “Puckett was a nightmare for me. He hit me very well.”

Laurila: Each Puckett [13-for-21 with one home run] and Winfield [7-for-11, two home runs] had good numbers in opposition to you. Not that they didn’t have good numbers in opposition to a whole lot of pitchers.

Nieves: “Proper, proper. Not solely me. And so they crushed lefties. I feel I used to be a little bit bit on the uneven aspect of it — it was a little bit little bit of a mismatch — as a result of they knew that I used to be throwing fastballs. It’s not like that they had different pitches to fret about. I used to be a fastball man, as a result of I used to be so younger. I by no means actually had an opportunity to grow to be a whole pitcher; I by no means had an opportunity to groom myself into having distinctive secondary pitches. I wouldn’t say that I used to be rushed, however I received to the large leagues fast, and it was principally due to the fastball.

“Now that I can look again at what a whole pitcher is… Anyone who asks me, ‘What does it take to pitch within the huge leagues?’ — properly, it takes great things. You should have velocity and a great breaking ball. However being a whole pitcher, at any level in historical past, is the flexibility to throw any pitch in any rely. Behind within the rely, forward within the rely, wherever it’s. The lack to do this was a drawback for me. And people guys definitely hit the ball laborious in opposition to me.”

Laurila: For a very long time, folks believed that Fenway Park was an particularly troublesome venue for left-handers. You really pitched fairly properly right here, particularly in your first couple of alternatives.

Nieves: “Very properly. I beloved pitching right here. I don’t know why. I do know that I by no means appeared on the Monster, as a result of my energy was pitching inside. However once more, I beloved pitching right here at Fenway. It felt like I used to be at dwelling, I assume.”

Laurila: The Pink Sox had some nice hitters on the time. Wade Boggs, Jim Rice

Nieves: “Oh, man. Dewey Evans, Don Baylor. Loads of guys. However I felt actually, actually good right here. There was additionally realizing that you possibly can all the time match up with Roger [Clemens].”

Laurila: There was one matchup, on September 16, 1986, the place Clemens received his twenty third recreation of the season, with the Pink Sox beating you 2-1.

Nieves: “Sure. We additionally pitched properly in opposition to one another in one other recreation. It was in Milwaukee [on July 30, 1988]. I feel Joey Meyer hit a house run in opposition to him within the ninth inning to win it for us.

“Some of the fascinating video games I ever noticed was Teddy Higuera in opposition to Roger, in Boston [on April 24, 1988]. I feel they had been each ready for the opposite handy them the ball between innings. I couldn’t consider it. It was a extremely quick recreation [2:10]. You understand how good Teddy was.”

Laurila: Higuera and Clemens had been very completely different pitchers.

Nieves: “They had been, however have you learnt what? Teddy didn’t throw as laborious as Roger, however he was 93-94 [mph] and commanding it, together with an important breaking ball. He was a powerful pitcher. When he got here right here as a rookie [in 1985], he was already seasoned, having pitched within the Mexican League. It’s a disgrace he by no means performed in California.”

Laurila: Like Fernando Valenzuela

Nieves: “Oh yeah. He would have been unbelievable.”

Laurila: How laborious did you throw?

Nieves: “I’m undecided. Again then, folks weren’t actually speaking about how laborious you threw, however I’m going to say 92-94. Someplace round there. But it surely was a little bit completely different recreation. It was additionally a special clock with how they measured. Now, as quickly because the ball is out of the hand, they measure it. Again then, it was a radar gun and I feel it was when the ball was attending to the plate.”

Laurila: Going again to hitters you confronted, what do you keep in mind about Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker?

Nieves: “Oh, these Detroit groups had been a nightmare. They had been actually good. I did a little bit higher in opposition to Whitaker [3-for-18], however Tram was a tricky out [5-for-17 with a home run and six walks]. I didn’t match up very properly with him. He was a little bit extra of a high-ball hitter and I threw the ball excessive. I wasn’t actually good down within the zone. He additionally had Kirk Gibson behind him, so I didn’t thoughts navigating round Trammell to get to Kirk. Lefty-on-lefty was higher for me.”

Laurila: You solely received to face huge league hitters for 3 years.

Nieves: “Sure, and my first two years had been like a blur. It was nearly studying on the fly. It was an older league, and also you didn’t actually spend a whole lot of time speaking to the veterans. It was a special period. It’s a youthful recreation now. My third yr was in all probability essentially the most enjoyable I had. Proper earlier than I received damage, I began actually with the ability to throw secondary pitches in any rely. One factor I keep in mind about that yr was a save, after which I began and threw a whole recreation [shutout]. I used to be like, ‘Oh my god.’ And it was simple. It was, ‘Pitching is definitely simple.’ Sadly, I went again dwelling to Puerto Rico, didn’t throw in winter ball, and once I got here again I broke down.”

Laurila: As quickly because it received enjoyable, it ended?

Nieves: “It ended, sure. However I’ve been blessed. I’m very grateful that I’m nonetheless within the recreation. I’ve been teaching loads longer than I performed, and I’m very honored and grateful for this recreation. I’ve been capable of meet a whole lot of nice folks. I’ve additionally seen a whole lot of younger males grow to be not solely superb gamers, however do issues like grow to be dad and mom. I’ve seen them grow to be good human beings.”

Laurila: There may be extra to life than baseball…

Nieves: “Completely. There may be extra to life than baseball.”

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