Mazzone backs Bonds in quest for HR record

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Pitching coach worked against star for 12 years in Braves organization

May 17, 2007|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,SUN REPORTER

TORONTO -- Leo Mazzone worked 12 years under Hank Aaron in the Atlanta Braves organization. As the Braves' pitching coach, Mazzone also spent significant time trying to figure out a way to get Barry Bonds out.

As Bonds nears Aaron's all-time home run record - he is 10 behind Aaron's career mark of 755 - Mazzone said he is rooting for the San Francisco Giants slugger to break the record.

"I've had the privilege of our teams playing against a lot of Barry Bonds' teams when he was with Pittsburgh and San Francisco," Mazzone said. "We faced Bonds a lot when I was with the Braves in the pennant races and the postseason, and there was a lot of mutual respect between the Bonds teams and [Atlanta manager] Bobby Cox teams. To me, Bonds is the greatest hitter that I've ever seen. There is no question in my mind.

"When Bonds takes [batting practice], you hear the ball coming off the bat and it makes a different sound. He has such tremendous bat speed, and I think he recognizes the pitch, the spin on the ball, sooner then anybody in the history of the game, a la Ted Williams."

Mazzone also said he doesn't think Bonds' accomplishments are tainted by steroid allegations.

"I don't think about that," he said. "I look at him as the greatest hitter I've ever seen. That's the only way I look at it."

Mazzone said he and Aaron - senior vice president of the Braves - became good friends while working in Atlanta. When Mazzone was thinking about leaving Atlanta to come to the Orioles and be the pitching coach under his close friend Sam Perlozzo, Aaron called him and advised him to make the move.

"One of the nicest and classiest men I've ever been around," Mazzone said of Aaron.

Waiting on Olson

Because the club has an open date today and an exhibition game Monday, Perlozzo said he'll likely skip last night's starter Brian Burres' spot in the rotation next time around. That would mean the Orioles wouldn't need a fifth starter until May 26. It's not entirely out of the question that it would be 23-year-old left-hander Garrett Olson making that start.

Olson, a sandwich pick in the 2005 draft, has been pitching well for Triple-A Norfolk and is very much on the parent club's radar. In his past four starts spanning 28 innings, Olson, who is 1-4 with a 4.21 ERA, has allowed just eight earned runs, 21 hits and two walks, while striking out 24.

"The minor league people ... are pleased with the way he is pitching," Perlozzo said. "That's a great safety valve. We'll see how we get along here and who knows, we may need him."

One scout who has seen two of Olson's recent starts said he thinks Olson is ready to pitch in the majors.

"He's got three pitches he can command, and he really knows how to pitch," the scout said. "He pitches at 89 to 91, but his slider is outstanding. He can really eat up righties with it. He commands both sides of the plate, and he really competes. He also has tremendous composure and is not going to be intimidated."

Hall of Fame game

The Orioles will likely get a look at another one of their top pitching prospects Monday, as Single-A Frederick right-hander Brandon Erbe, 19, is expected to pitch for them in the Hall of Fame exhibition game against the Toronto Blue Jays.

Erbe, a McDonogh graduate who was the club's third-round selection in the 2005 draft, is 3-0 with a 2.78 ERA in seven starts for Single-A Frederick. Jason Berken also is scheduled to pitch in the game.

Perlozzo said the team will bring up several minor leaguers to take most of the playing time in the game.

"None of our guys are going to pitch the game," Perlozzo said. "We're getting a group of kids to play. I am not sure the total amount yet. I might try to get a few more guys if I can, otherwise some of our guys that don't play every day are going to have to play a little bit."

Pitchers take hacks

It didn't exactly resemble a round of home run derby, but several Orioles pitchers did find the seats at the Rogers Centre in batting practice. The pitchers will have to hit this weekend's series with the Washington Nationals. Erik Bedard, Jeremy Guthrie and Danys Baez all hit home runs.

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

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