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April 14, 2010

On the Beat

Wednesday Update

by John Perrotto

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Dave Trembley, when asked the difference in expectations between 2010 season and his other 2 1/2 seasons as the Orioles' manager, gave a very succinct answer: "It's about winning now."

The Orioles have gone an awfully long time without winning. Since losing to the Indians in the 1997 American League Championship Series, the Orioles have had 12 consecutive sub-.500 seasons. Of course, the objective for the other 29 major-league clubs is also to win. Just 10 days into the season, no one has surrendered yet, not even the Orioles, despite their 1-7 record being the worst in the AL.

However, Trembley admits that recent seasons haven't been completely about winning. In fact, he says the Orioles lost some games during the final two months of last year that they might have won if he would have managed differently. Of course, that isn't to suggest that Trembley was intentionally trying to lose games. The 2009 Orioles weren't the 1919 White Sox. However, the final two months of last season were about developing an impressive corps of talented young pitchers.

"There were decisions I made during the course of some games that put our pitchers' development ahead of the team's success," Trembley said. "I left pitchers in a little longer than I normally would at times, so they could experience what it was like to try to pitch out of trouble at the major-league level. Other times, I took guys out a little sooner than I might a veteran pitcher because I wasn't going to run up their pitch counts and put them at risk for injury.

"Is it the ideal to manage a major-league club? Of course, not, but we decided to bring most of our young pitchers up at the end of last season so they could get acclimated to the major leagues. It was done with this year in mind and the seasons beyond this. It should shorten the learning curve. These guys know what the major leagues are like, they know what is expected. They shouldn't be surprised by anything."

While the Orioles traded for right-hander Kevin Millwood to serve as a veteran anchor to the rotation, the franchise is pinning its hope for this season and the future on their young starters. Left-hander Brian Matusz and right-handers Brad Bergesen and David Hernandez are in the major-league rotation now, and right-hander Chris Tillman will be back at some point after finishing last season with the Orioles. Right-hander Jake Arrieta should reach the major leagues sometime in 2010, and left-hander Zach Britton might also be at Camden Yards by September, though next season seems to be a more likely estimated time of arrival.

Orioles president Andy MacPhail is an old-school executive a third-generation baseball man, and doesn't have all the sabermetric acronyms memorized. However, he has a crew of stat-savvy assistants in his front office and, after having been in the game for 34 years, knows that pitching plays a major part in building championship teams. Orioles' history suggests as much as the World Series-winning teams of 1966, 1970, and 1983 included such notable starting pitchers as Hall of Famer Jim Palmer, Dave McNally, Mike Cuellar, Mike Flanagan, Scott McGregor, and Mike Boddicker.

Thus, MacPhail went back to the Orioles' roots when he took over prior to the 2007 season and started stocking the organization with as many live arms as possible. The Orioles' starters seem to have learned the lessons from the latter portion of 2009, as they have an aggregate 4.04 ERA this season. However, the Orioles are an AL-worst 1-7 record primarily because of an offense that is generating just 3.25 runs a game.

Catcher Matt Wieters certainly isn't to blame for the offensive woes, as he is off to a .345/.424/.448 start and looking like he is ready to live up to the projections of superstardom in his second major-league season. However, despite all the hitting prowess the switch-hitting Wieters possesses, he knows his handling of the Orioles' young starters will ultimately play a large role in the hopes of an Orioles' turnaround.

"These guys all have great arms and know how to pitch," Wieters said. "There is no doubt in my mind that they can all be very effective pitchers in the major leagues. Not only do they have talent, but they are good people and they have a great desire to be successful pitchers. We all played together in the minor leagues and it's neat that we've all come up to the big leagues together. Our goal is to continue to grow as players and into a team that contends and eventually wins championships."

It has been a long time since the Orioles have won a championship, and the hold they once had on the city of Baltimore has waned in recent years. They drew just 9,129 for Monday night's loss to the Rays, the smallest crowd at Oriole Park since it opened in 1992.

"Baltimore is a great baseball city, and I've talked to a lot of people about what it was like when the Orioles were winning," Wieters said. "I know people will go crazy when we start to win again. It gives us a lot of incentive to keep working hard and getting this franchise back to where it used to be."

---

The Yankees say they officially put their World Series championship season of 2009 behind them Tuesday with their home opener at Yankee Stadium. It was quite a farewell to last season, as the Yankees received their World Series rings from Hall of Famers Yogi Berra and Whitey Ford in a stirring pre-game ceremony.

"We've talked about all the things we need to talk about, the importance of 2010 and that 2009 is behind us," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "To me, it'll be the last time, in a sense, that we'll think about it. The message the players should take from it is how great is it to get a ring again, and for some of them, the first time. That message can speak volumes."

Girardi won three World Series rings as a catcher with the Yankees, but this was his first as a manager. He guided them  to their 27th championship and first since 2000 after a tumultuous first season as manager in 2008 that included the Yankees missing the postseason for the first time in 14 years.

"The true enjoyment for me came from handing out the rings to the guys, not actually receiving one," Girardi said. "Being able to hand out the rings with Yogi and Whitey, who know everything there is to know about a championship ring, that's when the true emotions set in."

Ironically, the Angels were the opposition on Tuesday just as they were in last year's American League Championship Series. They sat in the dugout and watched the ring ceremony.

"That's what all of us are playing for," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "I guess we're a little jealous. Yeah, we wanted to take a look. We want to see what (the rings) looked like. It was bittersweet. We had a chance to do it, and those guys beat us."

---

The Twins' amazing turnaround as a franchise was never more evident than on Monday when they opened Target Field with a victory over the Red Sox. Less than 10 years earlier, the Twins were on the verge of disappearing from the sport's landscape when Major League Baseball owners voted 28-2 to buy the franchise for $150 million and disband it.

Now, the Twins have one of the most vibrant franchises in the game, led by hometown hero and catcher Joe Mauer, who signed an eight-year, $184-million contract extension last month. While Commissioner Bud Selig spearheaded the contraction movement, he told reporters while attending the Target Field opening that he never believed the Twins would be dissolved.

"I consider the Pohlad family the same as us in Milwaukee," said Selig, formerly owner of the Brewers. "Somehow, some way, you knew in your heart and mind you couldn't let that team go, and they didn't and we didn't. That's the way it worked."

There is still a strong perception in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, though, that the late Carl Pohland wanted to sell the team. Selig insisted that was not the case.

"History has a way of letting myths get in the way of what really happened," Selig said. "Never did the Pohlad family ever waver from wanting the Twins to stay here, despite a lot of difficulties."

---

MLB Rumors and Rumblings: Giants outfielder Fred Lewis' injury rehabilitation assignment at Triple-A Fresno is as much an audition for other teams, as the Padres and Athletics have some interest in trading for him. … Look for the Pirates to actively shop switch-hitting catcher Ryan Doumit this summer, have Jason Jaramillo serve as the starter for the remainder of the season, and then hand the job to prospect Tony Sanchez in 2011. … Rookie Neftali Feliz's stint as the Rangers' closer may indeed be temporary. Manager Ron Washington threw Frank Francisco into a tie game in the ninth inning in his first game after being dethroned from the closer's role. … Trembley wants to give Mike Gonzalez, signed to a two-year, $12-million contract as a free agent in the offseason, a chance to get his mechanics straightened out in a few non-pressure situations, but is not saying who might be the Orioles' temporary closer.

John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see John's other articles. You can contact John by clicking here

Related Content:  Orioles,  A's,  Major Leagues,  The Who,  Year Of The Injury

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