Miller gets power, not pink slip

O's manager appears to gain Angelos' OK to overhaul pitching

GM Wren not consulted

Kamieniecki or Fetters to go

Johnson to arrive

May 18, 1999|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

Ray Miller survived another off day as Orioles manager yesterday, and may have even strengthened his position with majority owner Peter Angelos, who apparently endorsed Miller's suggestion to revamp his veteran pitching staff without input from general manager Frank Wren.

Angelos and Miller spoke at length yesterday after the team's return from a sloppily played, 3-7 road trip that resurrected speculation about Miller's job security. In contrast to Saturday, when he sounded almost resigned to becoming the first manager fired in midseason by Angelos, Miller said yesterday he will confront those who feel a change necessary.

"I can deal with it," Miller said yesterday. "Just pick up the stat sheet and look at the club. How many runs did we score on the road trip?"

The Orioles scored 65 runs but allowed 69. Miller said Sunday that even a mediocre performance by his pitchers would have the team around .500 instead of buried in the American League East cellar.

"I bust my butt and try to stay optimistic," Miller said Sunday. "It's very hard to do. I meet with the coaches every day to see if there's something we can do."

Miller and Angelos spoke often during the road trip, which included a six-game losing streak against division leaders Cleveland and Texas. Miller's message remains simple: Whatever problems exist can be addressed with improved pitching.

Angelos apparently remains sup portive, but could not be reached to comment. In keeping with Miller's wishes, the 13-24 Orioles apparently will continue renovating their struggling pitching staff this afternoon with the release of oft-injured starter Scott Kamieniecki or reliever Mike Fetters.

Both moves have been discussed internally, but the Orioles would have to eat Kamieniecki's remaining contract -- more than $2 million -- if they decide to release him. Jason Johnson will likely be promoted from Triple-A Rochester to start Thursday's game against the Anaheim Angels, meaning Kamieniecki will at least be shuttled to the bullpen.

Miller twice postponed meeting with Kamieniecki in Texas after his 3 1/3-inning, eight-run start against the Rangers.

The Orioles rank next-to-last in the American League with a 6.04 ERA while walking 173 -- an average of 4.68 per game -- fewer than only the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. The bullpen has a league-low five saves and a 5.55 ERA.

While Miller may be advocating changes, Wren is urging a more conservative tack. The club already has jettisoned Heathcliff Slocumb, a move Wren did not endorse.

"I don't think that's the right thing to do," Wren said of turning out more experienced arms. "We have veteran guys who have had success before and have the ability to do it again. These things tend to sort themselves out.

"If you make a move now, there's a good chance they'll be pitching somewhere else when they get sorted out. It's not like you can go out and find replacements just like that. If you [make sweeping changes], the odds are good that you make things worse instead of better."

Wren said he did not speak with Angelos yesterday, when the general manager participated in the first of two days of hearings on Xavier Hernandez's grievance against the club.

Club sources say Wren is now receiving scrutiny at least equal to Miller's. The free-agent acquisitions of second baseman Delino DeShields and closer Mike Timlin were not popular with ownership, according to a club source, and Angelos is becoming increasingly impatient with the performance of several of last winter's imports. Wren already has experienced an erosion of influence.

Told when hired last October that he was empowered to make all decisions regarding the manager, Wren has found out differently. He pressed for Miller's ouster after the team's disastrous first road trip, according to club sources, and his stance briefly gained support after Miller blasted his players for lacking courage after an April 25 loss to Oakland.

At one point, Angelos decided to make a change. However, the looming exhibition against a Cuban all-star team and the advice of several within his inner circle changed the owner's mind, sources say.

Angelos has told confidants he does not relish firing his handpicked successor to Davey Johnson, the man who enjoyed managerial success in Baltimore but who also seemed to prick the owner at every turn.

Whereas Johnson's golf game often meant he arrived at the ballpark more than an hour after his players, Miller, the son of a Maryland carpenter, follows a more blue-collar philosophy. He typically arrives with his coaches at least six hours before night games, sometimes earlier, and the lack of reward for their long hours tops his frustrations.

"We're all supposed to get some kind of reward sometime," Miller said after Friday's 7-6 loss. "I don't know what else to say, guys."

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