Ex-Brave manager sees Series ... at Twins' invitation World Series notebook

October 22, 1991|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Evening Sun Staff

ATLANTA -- This is a bittersweet World Series for Russ Nixon. He managed the Atlanta Braves for a little more than two years before being replaced by Bobby Cox on June 22, 1990.

At the moment, the Braves' ex-manager stands a better chance of getting a World Series championship ring than his former team. This year Nixon managed the Twins' Triple-A farm team at Portland, where his batting coach was ex-Oriole Jim Dwyer.

If the Twins make their two-game lead hold up, Nixon, Dwyer and the rest of Minnesota's key minor-league personnel will get championship rings. Nixon admits he would've liked to stay around for the development of the Braves, but has no bitter feelings about his release. He also has a lot of praise for young pitchers Steve Avery and Tom Glavine.

"I was playing when Steve Carlton came up and Avery is a lot like him," Nixon said of the Braves' starter in Game 3 tonight. "Avery is better this year because he's put on 15 pounds and is stronger. When we brought him up last year he was a skinny kid. He can throw as hard as anybody.

"Glavine doesn't have Avery's arm, but he is a great competitor and he knows how to pitch."

Nixon, who would like to return to the big leagues as a manager, was a guest of the Twins at the first two games in Minnesota.

* JUST A "TAD" DIFFERENCE: The Twins' scouting report says that Toronto's Juan Guzman throws a "tad" harder than Avery, which is of some consolation to Minnesota manager Tom Kelly.

"Maybe that 'tad' will make a difference," said Kelly, "because Guzman got it by us. We couldn't get to him."

If the Twins get to Avery, however, the chances are it will have more to do with their predominantly righthanded hitting lineup than his speed. Kent Hrbek is the only lefthander who will face Avery, who features a biting breaking ball along with a 90-plus mph fastball.

* PAY ME NOW, PAY ME LATER: John Smoltz, the 25-year-old righthander who will pitch Game 4 tomorrow night, is one of the Braves' brightest young pitching prospects. He ranks right behind Avery in the velocity department.

It isn't generally known, but Smoltz is not one of Atlanta's home-grown prospects. He came to the Braves from the Detroit Tigers in one of those late-season ransom deals in 1987.

Doyle Alexander went to Detroit and helped the Tigers win a division title and four years later Smoltz was a key figure in the Braves' drive to the National League pennant. In 1987 he was an unknown to all but the astute minor-league observers.

It was a case of mortgaging the future for the present. The Tigers got a short-term return on their investment, although they lost the playoffs to the Twins, but the Braves are reaping the long-term benefits.

The 1987 playoffs marked the start of the AL East Division's five-year losing streak in postseason play.

* A SAIN DISCIPLE: Atlanta pitching coach Leo Mazzone credits a lot of the Braves' success to following the principles of Johnny Sain. The No. 2 man in the Boston Braves' "Spahn and Sain and pray for rain" rotation in 1948, Sain is a former Atlanta pitching coach.

Sain's methods were somewhat controversial, a la Chicago hitting guru Walt Hrniak, but he was a big believer that throwing was the best way to keep the arm in shape. Mazzone follows that belief.

"It's been proven that pitchers stay sharper in a four-man rotation, but healthier in a five-man rotation," said Mazzone. To compensate, Mazzone has his pitchers throw twice, instead of once, between starts.

"Breaking balls and changeups require more 'touch,' " he said. "What we have them do is throw more often, without as much exertion."

* SAY WHAT?: Atlanta's Brian Hunter had a novel description of his first visit to Minnesota's Metrodome, which boasts of an ultra-high decibel level.

"To me," said Hunter, who played leftfield in both games, "it was like going to a nightclub and standing in front of a speaker all night."

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