Fine mess: Miller to dock sloppy pitchers

Sidelight

Flaws in fundamentals leave manager fuming

June 03, 1999|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

SEATTLE -- Saying "I can't look at it anymore," Orioles manager Ray Miller yesterday implemented a structure of fines to address what he considers to be his pitching staff's lax attention to fundamentals.

Miller became enraged by Tuesday night's 14-11 win over the Seattle Mariners and the sloppy performances of starting pitcher Juan Guzman and exiled closer Mike Timlin.

Guzman caused concern because of his inability to cover first base on a second-inning grounder and by forgetting the out count during the fourth inning. With the Orioles leading 12-5, Miller was forced to use four pitchers to secure the game's final six outs.

Miller was especially incensed because his pitching staff had spent about an hour Tuesday afternoon working on fundamentals such as pickoffs, bunt plays and covering bases. Yesterday's response was a clubhouse meeting with pitchers, catchers and pitching coach Bruce Kison to emphasize that slack performance will no longer be accepted. Miller referred to "blatant fines" that will now be routinely handed out to transgressors.

Of Guzman's four-inning, 97-pitch start, Miller said, "That's not pitching like our starter when you're 3-1 [in the count] on everybody, then don't cover the base. That's not major-league pitching. It'll be the last time it happens on this club or somebody will spend a lot of money."

Referring to Guzman's reputation as a gifted pitcher who does little to help his own cause, Miller said, "That's been his whole history. He works hard on it in spring training, but I don't know "

The lapse occurred one start after Guzman failed to back up the plate against the Anaheim Angels. Worse, Tuesday's mistake was compounded when Guzman was apparently unaware of the out count in the fourth inning. After striking out Edgar Martinez for the third out, Guzman remained on the mound. Miller lifted him for Doug Johns to start the fifth.

"He just didn't cover first base. It happens to everybody once in their life but it shouldn't happen with any consistency. It's just a mess-up," said Miller, able to take little satisfaction from his team's reversal of an early 4-1 deficit.

"He threw 90 pitches in four innings. He strikes out a guy swinging to end the [fourth] inning and he doesn't know how many outs there are. That's enough for me. Juan's a good kid. He's not a bad kid. But if your focus isn't right, it makes your pitching coach look terrible. It makes the club look terrible. Nobody works harder than we [coaches] do, so I'm not going to tolerate it."

The Orioles began last night's series finale against the Mariners next-to-last in the American League with a 5.78 ERA, 224 walks and having allowed 70 home runs, including eight in the previous two games. Timlin's ERA jumped to 6.52 with Tuesday's one-third-of-an-inning appearance.

And two months into the season, Guzman and Scott Erickson have won three of 22 combined starts.

"I'm tired of looking at it," Miller said. "It's an embarrassment to my staff -- you just can't excuse mental mistakes. It's a tough year to be a pitcher right now. If you're having trouble throwing strikes, you're getting hit. That's one thing, but you have to execute basic, fundamental things. That's intolerable and that's not going to happen anymore -- ever."

Rather than argue, Guzman said that his focus on throwing strikes leaves him so single-minded that he often forgets to field his position.

"My last two games I've had trouble covering bases. What's been the problem? I've been wild," Guzman said. "As soon as I get good rhythm with my mechanics, everything will take care of itself. It's nothing new. As soon as I throw strikes, it's going to be different."

Miller did not specify the amount of fines to be levied. However, he said his patience is exhausted from watching an inordinate number of walks, inconsistent starting pitching and poor execution.

Timlin's May 22 gaffe against the Texas Rangers remains fresh in Miller's mind. With runners at first and second base and none out in a 6-4 game, Timlin retrieved a one-hop grounder and threw wildly to third base when the proper play would have been to initiate a double play by throwing to second base. Timlin's admitted "brain lock" contributed to a four-run inning and an 8-7 loss.

Timlin has since been demoted to co-closer with Arthur Rhodes, who had gained two saves and finished a third game on the nine-game trip. Timlin picked up a two-inning save May 27 in Anaheim.

Signed for $16 million over four years, Timlin's standing with the manager may have further eroded Tuesday. Summoned to finish a 14-6 game, he surrendered five earned runs on four extra-base hits, including home runs by Russ Davis and Dan Wilson, while getting only one out in the ninth. Rhodes finally got the three-hour, 48-minute game's final two outs.

"You'd have to ask him, but I didn't like what I saw," Miller said of Timlin. "I didn't see good velocity and everything was letter-high."

Timlin said, "I don't feel bad about how I threw. It doesn't bother me because I threw the ball well. Russ Davis' pitch was up and that's going to happen. I'm not down. I'm not mad. I'm not anything."

Pub Date: 6/03/99

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