PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Tampa Bay's pitching has long been the team's strong point. Obviously, much of the credit goes to the pitchers themselves, as the Rays have been able to put talented pitchers on the field. However, much of the credit must also head in the direction of pitching coach Jim Hickey.
Rays manager Joe Maddon called Hickey the "Pied Piper," adding: "They follow him because he's got a great way about him."
Maddon had plenty to say when asked to elaborate.
"First of all, Hickey doesn't think he knows everything, which is great," Maddon said. "He's always willing to learn and try new things -- and he's open. I think he holds [the pitchers] accountable, and I think that's a strong point.
"They can't get away with anything. They say something that he doesn't believe is accurate or true, he'll tell them it isn't accurate or true in his own way. And I think that's the first part of being a really good Major League coach is to do that."
In addition, Hickey is organized.
"He has the day planned out well in advance," Maddon said. "He knows what he wants to say in advance."
Hickey has countless other endearing qualities, too.
"He's very good at deciphering what you say is a complex situation and making it easier," said Maddon. "His pre-series preparation is outstanding. All of those things. He has a lot of really good qualities. ... and, of course, his sense of humor is pretty good. ... I think he relates to them very well. So there are a lot of different reasons why he is very good at what he does."
Ultimately, Maddon believes he has one of the top pitching coaches in Major League Baseball.
"He's among the best," Maddon said. "And I think he's youthful and he has an energy about him that they feel, too. And I think that matters, too."
Maddon paused and again harkened back to how Hickey demands accountability.
"Best quality? He calls [baloney] on them," Maddon said. "When they need to be held accountable, he calls them on it. That's his best quality."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.