DETROIT -- It's a natural progression, Orioles catcher Gregg Zaun suggested: The pitching is poor, the team is losing, and so in looking for answers, the pitch selection is questioned.
The Orioles' pitch selection has come under more scrutiny lately from manager Davey Johnson and his staff, as the team's ERA has soared to 5.50. Zaun and Chris Hoiles say they're open to constructive criticism, but neither likes being used as an excuse by a struggling pitcher -- something that has happened occasionally.
"It does bother me," said Zaun. "I'm not surprised [that the pitch selection is questioned]. I'm not going to point fingers at any pitchers, but I'm a young catcher and I have to respect the pitching staff. At the same time, if they don't show me a certain amount of respect to begin with, how can I lead them through a ballgame?
"I'm not surprised, though, because very few people in this game want to take blame upon themselves."
Hoiles said, "They [the coaches] haven't come to me with very much of it, but when they do [ask about pitch selection], I don't have a problem with that. Now, if a pitcher comes to me and says, 'Why did you call that pitch?' Well, that goes back to that if you, as a pitcher, think that what I call isn't what you want to throw, then you don't have to throw it.
"Every one of [the pitchers'] heads can shake sideways, and every one of them can change the signs. If their heart is not 100 percent set on throwing that pitch, they shouldn't throw that pitch. They shouldn't throw a pitch, and then when it gets crushed, have me be the alibi. If they throw the pitch, hey, we're both in it. . . . The alibi comes back to me, and that's when I don't like it."
The Orioles' pitchers and catchers have had problems getting ++ together at times this season. Last week, Zaun was crossed up and hit on the kneecap by a pitch. Hoiles was crossed up once in the last week and was hit on the helmet by a pitch. Those are two examples among about a half-dozen in the last week, and even Johnson mentioned after Monday night's loss that Hoiles and Wells were having trouble deciding what to throw.
Some of the trouble, Hoiles said, "is a concentration thing" with the pitchers. "Sometimes, is the man on the mound truly concentrating on what he's doing? No. There have been too many [mistakes] to say he is."
Hoiles added that even if the right pitch is called, it doesn't matter "if the pitcher doesn't execute the pitch."
Zaun said that there's a general misconception that catchers are solely responsible for the pitches being thrown. "Eighty-five to 90 percent of the time, the pitcher throws what he wants to throw," Zaun said. "The pitchers are the ones who ultimately call the game. They throw the pitch they want to throw. We're putting in suggestions.
"A lot of guys want to tell you that 'I have to do it on my terms. If I'm going to succeed, I have to do it my way.' If I was a pitcher, that would be the way I'd look at it."