By Jorge Arangure Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 23, 2006
NEW YORK, April 22 -- A weathered white canvas sack, edged in dark red leather and darkened by at least 15 years of wear, is almost always at Leo Mazzone's side. He politely declines to reveal its contents but the Baltimore Orioles pitching coach implies that his success springs in part from this bag, which appears to be full of charts, handwritten statistics and pitching theories.
In time perhaps the sack will make a difference for the Orioles. After Daniel Cabrera's failed outing in Saturday's 6-1 loss to the New York Yankees, the Orioles' starting staff is 8-7 with a 5.47 ERA. It is unrealistic to expect Mazzone to have an immediate effect, but no one expected the starters, considered the team's strength, to struggle so badly.
"We need to be more consistent with our location," Mazzone said. "We've got to locate a little better. Get a little more consistent. Locate the fastball a little bit."
Cabrera has the best fastball of any Orioles starter, but it failed Cabrera in his matchup with Hideki Matsui in the Yankees' four-run sixth, which broke the game open. Matsui, with the bases loaded, sent Cabrera's fastball to left-center, driving in two runs. Cabrera, who allowed six runs in five-plus innings, said he had hoped to use his curveball more often, but the harsh weather conditions -- the game-time temperature was 48 degrees -- made it difficult to get a feel for the ball.
"In the first two innings I couldn't feel the ball," Cabrera said. "After that, I started feeling it and started to throw it."
It was yet another bout with control that doomed Cabrera. The 24-year-old walked five batters on Saturday, pushing his season total to 22 in 18 1/3 innings.
"People talk about the walks, but I've walked people my whole life," Cabrera said. "I don't feel frustration about it."
Excellent location helped Yankees starter Shawn Chacon, with pitches most consider average, shut down an Orioles offense ranked first in runs in the American League. Chacon allowed just one run and four hits in seven innings.
"He was coming right at us," said right fielder Jay Gibbons, who stranded seven runners. "He gave us plenty of pitches to hit but it didn't happen. We let him off the hook."
All along Orioles Manager Sam Perlozzo has tried to temper people's expectations about Mazzone. He wouldn't work miracles right away, warned Perlozzo, who believes that by June people will see tangible evidence of why Mazzone is considered the best pitching coach in baseball.
"I don't think that's unreasonable," Perlozzo said. "Right now with many of the guys being away at the [World Baseball] Classic they're learning on the job right now. You have certain habits you're used to. And it takes practice. I think you'll see [Mazzone's effect] later on."
Mazzone said he has been impressed with the talent on the starting staff. But there has been some inconsistency. Orioles starters have pitched six innings or more in only nine of the first 19 games of the year, and Erik Bedard has done it three times. Though Perlozzo has focused on June as a time when results will come, Mazzone doesn't predict a thing.
"I don't put a number on it," Mazzone said. "Hopefully it will be sooner than that."
It's fair to say that Mazzone has had a positive effect on the staff already. He has helped Bedard to a 4-0 start. He helped Cabrera improve upon his dreadful opening start in which he walked seven in 1 1/3 innings. He helped Kris Benson develop a change-up that makes him a dangerous pitcher when he locates.
Perhaps soon he will pull more tricks out of his sack.