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Duncan: Penny trying some new pitches

03.08.10 at 1:54 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — St. Louis pitching coach Dave Duncan has found himself linked with the Red Sox thanks to the struggles of certain pitchers while playing in the Boston uniform.

First it was Joel Pineiro who was traded from the Red Sox to the Cardinals in 2007 after being designated for assignment by the Sox. Pineiro went on to become a stalwart in the Cards’ rotation, ultimately winning 15 games on the way to signing a two-year, $16 million deal with the Angels this past offseason.

Then John Smoltz hooked on with St. Louis after being released by the Red Sox in August of last season, finishing his seven-game stint with the Cardinals carrying a much-improved 4.26 ERA.

Now it’s Brad Penny’s turn.

The former Red Sox righty signed a one-year, $7.5 million deal over the winter and is slotted into the back half of the Cardinals’ rotation. This after splitting his ’09 campaign between the Sox and Giants, having finished his six starts with San Francisco having compiled a 4-1 mark with a 2.59 ERA.

Penny ran into some difficulties in his first outing of the spring, allowing three runs on six hits over two innings, but, as was the case with his two previous former-Red Sox projects, Duncan is optimistic.

“I think he’s trying to add some things to his game,” the Cardinals pitching coach said Penny. “He’s trying to improve the quality of his split-finger so it can be a more useful pitch. He’s playing around with a two-seamer to give him a little different look to his fastball at times. We’ll see how it develops. That’s what spring is for. His approach has been very positive and he wants to bounce back and have a good year. We’ll see how it goes.

“They are two pitches that he has thrown before, but he hasn’t used them a lot. I think with a little work they can get to a quality where he can use them more, which will add another dimension to his game. He won’t be out there strictly trying to blow people away with four-seam fastballs.”

Last season, Penny threw his splitter less than five percent of the time, while relying heavily on a four-seam fastball that, while with the Red Sox, was often left up in the zone.

“I don’t think our division helps,” said Red Sox manager Terry Francona said in regards to the struggles some of the aforementioned pitchers had while playing for the Sox. “If you’re a pitcher getting out of our division is never going to hurt… Penny, I don’t think it will surprise us if he gets people out. We really liked him.”

Of course it wasn’t Duncan who was the most sought-after Cardinals coach, with hitting coach Mark McGwire signing a litany of autographs prior to the game. St. Louis manager Tony LaRussa recently said he would encourage McGwire to take batting practice to help give the Cards’ hitters more of a visual guide of how to approach BP.

When asked if he had ever contemplated such an approach, Red Sox hitting coach Dave Magadan quickly said, “Never. Not a chance.”

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