Angelos `not pleased' with Orioles

`The talent's there,' owner says of club's poor 1st half, challenging Mazzilli, staff

July 01, 2004|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Orioles owner Peter Angelos spent $123 million on free agents last winter and went into the season expecting substantial improvement.

Instead, his ballclub has actually regressed in the standings, and with the Orioles sitting in last place again yesterday, Angelos didn't sugarcoat his feelings.

"I'm not pleased with the season," Angelos said in a telephone interview from his Baltimore law office, "but I think there should be significant improvement in the second half. The talent's there. We made a commitment to bringing these fans a winner, and the responsibility for making it come true rests with the professionals in charge."

Angelos didn't mention anyone by name, but his comments were directed at first-year manager Lee Mazzilli and his coaches.

Mazzilli signed a two-year contract with two option years in November, but industry sources said the owner has made it known he'd be willing to change managers again after the season if the disappointment lingers.

Angelos has never fired a manager in the middle of a season.

"I think we're headed in the right direction," Mazzilli said. "We've had a lot of injuries, but the guys are playing hard. I think we're looking at a lot better things in the second half."

The Orioles entered yesterday 16 1/2 games behind the New York Yankees in the American League East, the largest deficit of any team in baseball. At 31-42, the Orioles had the worst record through 73 games since they were 30-43 in 2000.

The pitching staff ranked last in the league with a 5.24 ERA, and the hitting ranked sixth with a .279 average.

Already, there have been changes. The Orioles fired pitching coach Mark Wiley on Saturday and replaced him with Ray Miller.

The team started the season with a starting rotation that included Sidney Ponson and four pitchers - Kurt Ainsworth, Eric DuBose, Matt Riley and Erik Bedard - who had combined for 10 career major league victories.

Ainsworth and DuBose are both on the disabled list with elbow injuries. Ponson, who returned to the club in January with a three-year, $22.5 million contract, leads the major leagues with 11 losses.

Angelos said the most frustrating aspect of the team's performance has been the pitching.

"But I think that's moving in the right direction with the presence of Ray Miller," he said. "The other [big frustration] is the lack of clutch hitting with men on base. That is not only grossly unexpected but totally demoralizing for the team in general. These are proven hitters, and it's not happening."

The Orioles entered yesterday with the league's worst batting average with runners in scoring position at .249. And the Big Three of Javy Lopez (.188), Rafael Palmeiro (.267) and Miguel Tejada (.250) have not excelled in those situations.

Injuries haven't helped, either. David Segui, Jerry Hairston, B.J. Surhoff and Jay Gibbons have all had stints on the disabled list, and Melvin Mora has been hobbled with a foot injury for the past two weeks.

The Orioles have been through six consecutive losing seasons, and just before this one started, Angelos said, "I don't want to talk about [.500]. This is not a .500 team. It's not an under .500 team, or a team that's going to win one game over 50 percent."

At the time, Angelos said when he factored in the unknowns surrounding the young pitching staff, he couldn't rule out the possibility of this team overcoming the Yankees and Boston Red Sox in the standings.

For six weeks, the Orioles played like that was possible. They were 20-16 on May 19, but entering last night, they had 26 losses in their past 37 games.

Like Mazzilli, Angelos said he's trying to stay positive.

"I think we're going to be substantially better in the second half," Angelos said. "We made the commitment, and we expect the results that we anticipated."

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