Wiley, Mazzilli were rarely on same page

ORIOLES FOCUS

Baseball

A Look Inside

July 04, 2004|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

Former Orioles manager Mike Hargrove wasn't afraid to admit he didn't know a lick about pitching, because in Mark Wiley, his trusted pitching coach, he had someone who did.

Theirs was a close-knit relationship that stretched back more than a decade to their time together with the Cleveland Indians.

Together, they helped guide Cleveland to the World Series in 1995 and 1997, and while those teams were known for their offense, the Indians also posted the American League's best ERA in 1995 and 1996.

Hargrove learned a lot about handling pitchers from Wiley, and by the time Wiley rejoined his staff with the Orioles in 2001, they pretty much thought alike. Hargrove had the final call on pitching moves, but about 95 percent of the time he went with Wiley's advice.

The Orioles thought enough of Wiley to keep him on board even when they dismissed Hargrove and hired first-year manager Lee Mazzilli last November.

But the formula changed.

Mazzilli and Wiley had no history together, and by spring training, it was clear they had different philosophies. Once the season started, Wiley no longer had the influence he had under Hargrove when it came to deciding which pitchers would come into a game and when.

As he cleaned out his locker last Sunday, Wiley said, "I think Maz makes a lot of the decisions based on the way he sees things. I'd give him advice, what I thought was right in certain situations, but he's going to do the things he wants to do. And that's the manager's prerogative."

Said Mazzilli: "It's always your ultimate decision that you make. But you rely on [the coaches]. Sometimes they may point you in the right direction or give you something you might miss.

"That's why you both have to be on the same page."

Last week, several people close to the situation said Mazzilli and Wiley weren't on the same page.

"That would be unfair to say," Mazzilli said. "Mark's a good guy. We just didn't see the things that maybe we wanted to see [in the pitching staff's development]. But sometimes you make a change because you think it's going to turn the club around; that's all.

"You know, it's hard because when you've got young pitchers ... look what happens."

The Orioles started the season with a rotation of Sidney Ponson and four starters -- Eric DuBose, Kurt Ainsworth, Erik Bedard and Matt Riley -- who had never pitched a full season in the majors.

DuBose and Ainsworth went down with elbow injuries, Ponson went in the tank, and pretty soon, the team was on pace to shatter the franchise record for single-season walks.

The breaking point came June 22, when the Orioles walked 13 in a 10-4 loss to the New York Yankees.

In his 14th year as a major league pitching coach, Wiley had a huge task trying to get his young pitchers into position to succeed, mentally and mechanically. The walks and league-worst ERA suggested he had suddenly forgotten how to do his job.

To shake things up, the Orioles hired their longtime pitching guru and former manager Ray Miller. But he doesn't have any history with Mazzilli, either.

After hiring Mazzilli, the Orioles surrounded him with Hargrove's coaching staff, and with the first change, they still didn't give him a chance to hire one of his own guys.

So the process began anew last week, a rookie manager getting to know his most critical adviser, while the Orioles' starting pitchers entered Friday with a streak of eight games in nine days in which they allowed two earned runs or fewer. Maybe the Miller move was a stroke of genius. But it's worth noting that the streak started with the final three games under Wiley's watch.

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