Wren likes progress, not record

Responding to Miller, he says good team stats should mean more wins

Manager had knocked roster

Denying '99 headway `not valid,' O's GM says

August 30, 1999|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

DETROIT -- Orioles general manager Frank Wren took exception to manager Ray Miller's insistence Saturday that the club has made little progress in the past year and added that "I have a very difficult time justifying" the team's record with its statistical rankings.

The exchange was initiated by Miller's blunt criticism of the Orioles' "dysfunctional" clubhouse, made after Saturday's 4-3 loss to the Detroit Tigers. It came after a week in which the manager had become increasingly frustrated by the unavailability of several pitchers limited by injuries but not believed hampered enough to warrant placement on the disabled list.

"We got stuck this week in a situation where we had three pitchers that had nagging-type injuries and we had to suck it up. Unfortunately, it happened," Wren said yesterday. "When it happened, you've got to suck it up until you can get somebody else or an injury gets to the point where you don't think it's going to respond fast enough and you put them on the DL."

Added Wren: "It's nobody's fault what the circumstances are."

Fissures between Wren and Miller became increasingly apparent on the just-completed trip to Kansas City and Detroit. After Friday's trade of designated hitter Harold Baines to the Cleveland Indians, Miller worked with 13 pitchers and 12 position players the next two games. A pair of one-run losses only stoked his frustration, which boiled over Saturday night. "I've been in baseball my whole life. I'm a realist," Miller said. "I know what I've got. I know what the situation is."

Yet when Wren was asked how he could explain the Orioles' ranking fifth in the AL in hitting, sixth in pitching and first in fielding while possessing the sixth-worst record (58-72), his response was: "I have a very difficult time justifying that."

The Orioles lead the American League in complete games and have a lower staff ERA than the Texas Rangers (79-52) and the same as the Toronto Blue Jays (69-63). They've also scored more runs than the Boston Red Sox (72-58).

Miller is aware of internal momentum gathering toward his dismissal after the season. His contract includes an option for next season that must be exercised within 72 hours of the Orioles' final game Oct. 3. Though publicly noncommittal, Orioles owner Peter Angelos has told several associates that he does not plan to assume the option. Meanwhile, Angelos has been more circumspect regarding his first-year general manager, with whom he frequently clashed this spring but has since forged at least an uneasy truce.

Wren has urged Angelos to fire Miller on several occasions this season, according to club sources. Angelos has rejected Wren's advice each time and even declined Miller's repeated suggestions that he make a change if he thinks it would be in the club's best interest.

Angelos has never made a managerial change in midseason, a trend he is apparently set on extending.

Miller also criticized the Orioles' season-long need to carry at least 12 pitchers. On Friday, the Orioles added left-handed reliever B. J. Ryan, temporarily leaving them with 13 pitchers until Jim Corsi was placed on the disabled list Saturday night and replaced yesterday with outfielder Eugene Kingsale.

"It's tough to play short here," Miller complained. "And I don't think you'll ever be in a position where you can win and tear it up until you have 11 consistent pitchers, especially with an older club."

Wren conceded Miller's point about roster composition but also offered a subtle jab at his manager's tactics.

"I think you should be able to go with 11 pitchers," Wren said. "I also think in the American League there aren't that many moves you actually have to make. So it really hasn't been an issue for us."

Miller also noted his team's chronic lack of speed, as well as its lack of production at the bottom of the lineup. When asked whether he recognized the irony in criticisms he also made at the end of last season during a different front-office regime, Miller nodded yes.

"In the major leagues, we've got a ways to go," said Wren, whose $84 million clubhouse remains locked in a race with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for last place in the American League East. "At the minor-league level, we're way ahead of where we were a year ago today. We've got a club going to instructional league that I'm not sure there's another organization I would trade clubs with. That said, it's not something that happens overnight. It's something that takes a little bit of time.

"If you can be patient and we can piece it together for a year or two until our players are ready, we're going to be good. We're going to be real good."

Wren called Miller's suggestion regarding a lack of progress "not valid at all."

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