With the baseball season heading into its final quarter, the Orioles likely will be making their pennant push without pitching coach Rick Adair, who was granted a leave of absence for personal reasons Friday and was replaced, at least temporarily, by bullpen coach Bill Castro.
Castro's spot will be filled by former Orioles left-hander Scott McGregor, who had been the pitching rehab coordinator in Sarasota for the past two seasons.
Manager Buck Showalter held a brief, closed-door meeting with his team before the clubhouse opened to the media Friday afternoon to, among other things, discuss the staffing changes. The specific reasoning for the decision — the second time in three seasons that the pitching coach has the left the team — was not detailed to the players or the media. Adair declined to comment Friday.
“When things are personal, I know everybody here knows what that means. It's not a matter of closing ranks or whatever, it's just we all have some things in our lives we need to take care of that are more important than this, believe it or not,” Showalter said. “We are just fortunate to be in an organization that's willing to do those things and we're fortunate to have people like Billy and Scott that can make it seamless. That's nothing to do with the job Rick was doing; Rick's doing a good job. There are some challenges we all have that we need to take some time and take care of.”
When asked whether Adair could return to the team in 2013, Showalter said, “Hope so. We'll see. That's up to how it goes. I'm not going to put a time frame on that.”
In 2012, the Orioles won 93 games under Adair's tutelage despite having a rotation with only one pitcher making at least 20 starts. The club's ERA was 3.90, sixth-best in the American League and 14th in the majors. Heading into Friday, the staff's ERA has jumped to 4.27, 11th of 15 teams in the AL and 25th in the big leagues. The Orioles have used 25 pitchers overall and 14 have started games compared to 26 in all of 2012 with 12 starting at least one game.
Adair, 55, joined the Orioles staff before the 2011 season as bullpen coach but took over pitching coach duties in June of that season when his good friend Mark Connor stepped down. Under contract through 2014, Adair, who has also been the pitching coach in Cleveland, Detroit and Seattle, seemingly brought some stability to a position that has changed frequently in the past — often in conjunction with the Orioles' myriad managerial switches of the past two decades.
If Adair were to hold the job until his contract expires next year, he would have the longest uninterrupted tenure as Orioles pitching coach since Mark Wiley from 2001 to 2004. At this point, however, Castro becomes the 10th person to serve as Orioles pitching coach in the past 16 seasons.
“This is not Billy's first rodeo. He's been a pitching coach in the big leagues and has been with us for two years,” Showalter said. “Billy's a very talented guy who is very adept at the job and job description. Players know him and like him and he's been part of a reason for our success, just like Rick has. And to have someone there like Scotty, who has been a jack-of-all-trades for us, he's been very instrumental last year and this year in the rehab program.”
Castro, 61, is in his second season with the Orioles and his 20th as a major league coach. A former big league pitcher, he spent most of his life in pro ball with the Milwaukee Brewers. He was their bullpen coach from 1992 to 2008 and served one season, 2009, as the Brewers' pitching coach.
“I felt uncomfortable when Buck talked to me about it. I want to be a pitching coach in the big leagues, but I don't want it to be this way,” said Castro, who was also the pitching coach for the Dominican Republic team that won the 2013 World Baseball Classic. “We'll do the best we can, and I'll hold it down until Rick gets back.”
Castro said his past experience as a big league pitching coach, and his familiarity with the staff, should ease the transition.
“It will be different because now everything's on my shoulders. But I've done this before and I'll be able to handle the guys,” Castro said. “I'm pretty comfortable with everybody here and I think the guys are comfortable with me. So I don't think it will be anything that drastic.”
Without naming specific members of the organization, Showalter said the club had internal alternatives to Castro and McGregor but that “this was the most seamless. I can give you three or four [qualified] guys but it'd be robbing from Peter to pay Paul. The priority, obviously, is the major league club and the pitching staff and we felt like, all things considered, this was the best way to go for whatever period of time it is.”
Adair and Showalter met on Thursday, but the decision was not made public until Friday. For many of the players, the news was fresh when they entered the clubhouse.
“It surprised me, just because I didn't know,” said starter Chris Tillman, who said he hopes to reach out to Adair soon. “But I think we are all on the same page here. I think we all know what we need to do and will go about our business the same way we have been.”
Tillman has now had four pitching coaches — counting Castro — in his five big league seasons with the Orioles.
“I think it's going to be easier this time because Billy has been around here for two years. He's out there for every bullpen; he knows what we're working on,” Tillman said. “He knows what makes us click.”
Castro and Adair had a strong working relationship and kept communication lines open, so Orioles reliever Tommy Hunter said he doesn't expect there to be any learning curve for the pitchers or for Castro.
“You can't really tell Rick something that Bill doesn't know and you can't tell something to Bill that Rick doesn't know about. So it's kind of like the Mom-Dad relationship growing up where you always have to ask Mom and then Mom says, ‘Go ask Dad,'” Hunter said. “It's kind of funny to think of it like that, but these guys are pretty on the ball as far as communication goes.”
Almost all of the Orioles pitchers also have worked with McGregor, who has coached at various levels in the system and been an instructor during spring training. One of the most successful and popular pitchers in club history, the 59-year-old McGregor was the Orioles' interim bullpen coach for parts of the 2011 season after Connor stepped down.
“I always told them I'd do whatever they needed me to do,” McGregor said. “And I got the call and I'm here. I'm just trying to help out however I can.”