Q&A: R.A. Dickey talks mentoring young Braves, retirement decision

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JULY 30: Starting pitcher R.A. Dickey #19 of the Atlanta Braves attempts to make a throw to first base after fielding a ground ball in the fourth inning during a game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on July 30, 2017 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - JULY 30: Starting pitcher R.A. Dickey #19 of the Atlanta Braves attempts to make a throw to first base after fielding a ground ball in the fourth inning during a game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on July 30, 2017 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images)

Credit: Hunter Martin

Credit: Hunter Martin

Braves pitcher R.A. Dickey has perhaps been the team’s best starter in 2017. The 42-year-old has a 2.74 ERA over his past 12 starts entering Wednesday’s scheduled outing in the first game of a doubleheader against the Phillies.

On a staff becoming more youthful, Dickey has adopted a dual coach-player role.

Dickey spoke with reporters at his locker Sunday. He analyzed his role in the Braves’ rebuild, the excitement of watching prospects develop and his looming retirement decision.

Q: It’s benefited the young guys having watched you. But what’s it been like watching them?

A: Oh yeah, man. Nothing excites me more than seeing young guys start to realize some of their potential. And part of my job, this year, my job description has always been how can I help them to do that. How can I help them to realize their full potential. Now they've got a lot of tools up here anyway, so it's not like there's a lot of hard work for me. I just kind of look for the finer things that may need some tuning. They've got all the pieces.

Newcomb’s been a real treat to watch with how much poise he’s had for such a young guy in his first year up here. I’m starting to get to know Lucas (Sims) a little more, and Folty (Mike Foltynewicz) of course has taken some big steps this year I think. If he keeps making starts he’ll get close to 200 innings and stayed healthy and learned that part of the game. So there’s a lot to be excited about for sure.

Q: You’re seeing a lot of growth lately in these guys?

A: That's the thing. There's a great quote I once heard that says 'I don't lose, I either win or I learn.' And so that's kind of the mentality that we've had to These guys are always looking for opportunities to grow, whether it's with (pitching coach) Chuck (Hernandez) or in the video room or picking my brain about something or asking questions or trying something new and taking a risk in the bullpen. All of those things are necessary for guys to have long sustaining careers. And those guys possess all that, which is a great sign for the organization.

Q: Dansby Swanson and Ozzie Albies got off to slow starts, but they’re turning it around. How nice is it to see that?

A: Our problem has never been lack of effort. We've made some mistakes this year that've cost us a bunch of games, but it hasn't been because guys don't take it seriously or haven't worked hard. A lot of it has been youth and just baseball games that are baseball games, you know. But it's encouraging to see the work ethic of the collective body of this room. Because your Dansbys, your Ozzies, your Newcombs, your Sims; you've got guys in here that'll be contributors for hopefully 10 years in this organization. And if they foundationally have the tools to be able to grow, to work hard, to be teachable, then you've got a good package working.

Q: Freddie Freeman moving to third, Brandon Phillips moving to third; the veterans have been willing to adjust on this team. Has that sent a positive message?

A: Certainly. That's been one of my favorite things about this year for me is watching Brandon Phillips, who's a four-time gold glover at second base and who's played his whole career over there, move positions and play it just incredibly. That's been one of my favorite things to see all year is how he's been able to do that so seamlessly. You know, it wouldn't be a bad idea for them to consider bringing him back to play third base next year because of what he has to offer, both in terms of leadership and he still can hit – and I think he would admit he's lost a couple steps of range from when he was 10 years ago, but at third you have to have a couple steps. Either direction, he's been really incredible over there.

And Freddie, I don’t even have to say anything about that. That’s just who he is. That’s why you build a franchise around a guy like that. So there’s so many pieces in here, Nick Markakis and others, that have really rubbed off on some of the younger guys and have been a great professional example.

Q: Durability has always been a big thing to you. Have these young starters come to you asking how they can pitch into their 40s, how they can throw 200 innings?

A: Well, maybe not into their 40s (laughs). There's been a couple discussions about longevity, sure. I always tell them the same thing: You have to take care of your body. It's all right to have a good time off the field, but you have to know your limitations and you have to really take care of your body. I always encourage Folty, during the game, I always tell him to get something to eat. I say 'hey man, go get some calories in you. I don't want you wasting away. In start No. 25, you're getting down into a low weight and you can't hold up. Let's keep eating.' And he always asks me if he's had a sandwich. He loves to eat dry, dry sandwiches in the fifth inning, so I make sure he has a sandwich. But you know, the guys up here, they know what it takes.

My best sermon to them is my own behavior. So if I can be a pro, and continue what I’ve always done, I think they pay attention. Because anybody up here who wants to be good looks at other people who’ve been good for a long time. And I know that. That’s what I did. So if I behave in a professional way, I think they’ll follow suit.

Q: This recent run of success for you, is that going to influence a decision (retirement) on next year?

A: There's no doubt in my mind that I physically can pitch longer. No doubt in my mind. For me it's other things that aren't necessarily 'can I do it physically?' It's much more about my family. We all have a say in what I do from here on out. It'll be a good conversation to have at the end of the year with my wife and four kids. See how they feel about it still and then we'll make a collective decision. But thankfully, for me it hasn't been about my body as much as about just my heart, where my head is. When that goes away, it's time to walk away.

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