After three years under pitching coach Dave Wallace and bullpen coach Dom Chiti, the Orioles pitching staff must get acclimated to another duo in 2017.
New pitching coach Roger McDowell, who spent the past 11 years in the same role with the Atlanta Braves, was hired Nov. 22 as the Orioles’ sixth pitching coach during the Buck Showalter era. He’s joined by longtime O’s reliever Alan Mills, who will serve as the bullpen coach in his first major league coaching role.
At FanFest on Saturday, both expressed their excitement about their partnership for the 2017 season.
“Obviously, we go back, 20 years ago [in 1996] we were teammates here in Baltimore out of the same bullpen,” McDowell said. “Even though we’ve seen each other maybe a handful of times over 20 years, when we sat down in the locker room in Sarasota when we had minicamp a couple weeks ago, it was like time really hadn’t passed. It was like we knew the ins and outs of each other and what we like about each other and how we move as pitching coach and bullpen coach to help players, to help our pitchers be successful.
“So, his knowledge of the system, his knowledge of the players, the kids that he’s had that have come up and contributed to the Orioles, it’s going to be huge. And, so, I’m looking forward to leaning on him as well.”
Mills has spent the past five years as a pitching coach in the Orioles’ system, progressing from Single-A Aberdeen (2012-2013) to Single-A Delmarva (2014) to Double-A Bowie (2015-2016).
“Baseball’s fun,” Mills said. “I’ve coached from Little League up until Double-A and at the big league level this year. I enjoy all levels. It’s a matter of just teaching, and both my parents are teachers. I don’t know if it’s something I inherited from them, but I do enjoy it.”
Mills coached several current O’s pitchers while in the minors, including relievers Mychal Givens and Donnie Hart. McDowell will be starting fresh with a group of pitchers he’s never worked with. He said he’s ready for the challenge at spring training.
“From the standpoint of getting to know the players, them getting to know me, that becomes my job,” McDowell said. “When I look back over the past spring trainings, I think last year we had 40 or 42 pitchers in camp with the Atlanta Braves, and 22 I’d never laid eyes on. So, getting to know players as quickly as I can is not unfamiliar. I’m looking forward to that, and it is a process of building relationships with each pitcher and treating them as individuals. And, collectively, it’s how do we get 12 or 13 guys to compete and have successful seasons?”
Mills echoed the sentiment.
“[I’m] just looking forward to working with the guys and basically just trying not to get in their way,” he said. “Dave and Dom did a great job with them for three years. Just trying to build on the things that they’ve built on over those years and try to keep it going and be there at the end and win the last game of the year.”
Though Wallace and Chiti are gone from the Orioles’ organization — with the two joining the Braves this offseason as a roving pitching instructor and senior director of pitching, respectively — their influence isn’t forgotten. McDowell has frequently remained in touch with Wallace, his longtime friend and mentor.
“Wally and I have had conversations even before I got the job,” McDowell said. “We have always stayed in contact with each other. For that matter, Dominic Chiti, we’ve always had conversation. Dom came over to the Braves as a special assistant five or six years ago, and I got the opportunity to meet and know him and learn from him. Obviously, Dave Wallace and myself go back to when I was a player with the Dodgers in ’91 and he was the pitching coordinator with the Dodgers. We’ve had a long relationship and a relationship that I value tremendously because of the respect I have for both of those guys.”
Because of the close relationship among McDowell, Wallace, and Chiti, Orioles pitchers don’t foresee a dramatic adjustment in philosophy under their new coaches in 2017.
“I talked to (McDowell) on the phone for about 15 minutes and then at the minicamp,” veteran starter Chris Tillman said. “It seems to me he’s kind of the same as Dave and Dom. I think they know each other pretty well. They work together well. They learn from each other, and I think they’re very similar.”
That’s been the common refrain so far this offseason.
“I’ve heard nothing but good things about (McDowell),” right-hander Kevin Gausman said. “Coming from Dave Wallace, he’s one of the best pitching coaches in the game, and Roger’s very respected, too. And I know that Wally kind of took him under his wing. So, just looking forward to getting to know him, and from there we’ll see kind of what he’s able to help me with. I know he’s done a lot of good things with Atlanta with a lot of young pitchers, so just looking forward to getting to know him and working together.”
McDowell and Mills will aim to improve an O’s staff whose 4.22 ERA ranked 10th in the AL last season. For Mills, the philosophy is simple — fix what’s broken and don’t fix what isn’t.
“Coaching, it’s a funny animal,” Mills said. “Sometimes when people think you’re doing well as a coach, usually it’s the players. Usually those guys are talented and, for me, I try to stay out of their way and just try to help them in any way I can. When I do the most coaching, it’s usually with a guy that’s struggling. It’s with a guy that’s not having a lot of success, and then you kind of strap your boots on, you go back to the drawing board, and you start over. But the guys that are doing well, usually you just try to sit back and just try not to get in their way.”