By Eduardo A. Encina
The Baltimore Sun
9:23 AM EDT, October 19, 2013
Next week will be a busy one at The Warehouse as the Orioles intensify their search for a new pitching coach.
As we reported over the past few days, Rick Adair -- who took a personal leave of absence in August -- will not return as pitching coach in 2014. Currently, the Orioles’ search for a successor is focused on interviewing a crop of external candidates who all boast impressive resumes.
Among those expected to interview for the job is former Philadelphia Phillies pitching coach Rich Dubee, who is scheduled for Tuesday. Current Seattle Mariners pitching coach Carl Willis, Texas Rangers bullpen coach Andy Hawkins and Atlanta Braves minor league pitching coordinator Dave Wallace are also expected to interview.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter said Friday that Bill Castro, who took over for Adair in August, as well as Triple-A Norfolk pitching coach Mike Griffin and Scott McGregor, who filled in for Castro as bullpen coach down the stretch, will also be considered, but it’s clear the focus is currently on the external options.
It’s obviously too early to handicap the field, and Showalter put it well in saying that he believes he will get a very good pitching coach regardless of where the search leads, but given the Orioles’ penchant for taking talent from the Rangers’ organization under Showalter, one would think that trend could continue with Hawkins.
He’s the only one of the four who hasn’t been a pitching coach at the major league level, but he would offer a certain familiarity with some Orioles pitchers -- former Rangers and current Orioles clubhouse presences Darren O’Day and Tommy Hunter among them. Hawkins has been the bullpen coach in Texas for the past five seasons. Having said that, the Orioles could value the vast baseball experience that Dubee, Willis and Wallace bring even more in making a decision.
We’ll see how it plays out over the next few days. The Orioles don’t necessarily have to rush on making a decision. And since all the existing candidates -- both internal and external -- are known commodities, the timing shouldn’t affect the first days of the free-agency period, which begins after the World Series ends.
It shouldn’t affect, for example, the Orioles trying to re-sign right-hander Scott Feldman. While Feldman enjoyed working with Adair and Castro, his desire to return likely hinges more on his familiarity with the organization as a whole and playing for a competitor and not a specific pitching coach hire.
The other news of the past week was the continuing story of Orioles Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr.’s next step. He’s made it clear he has a desire to get back into the game, but he’s also made it clear that he’s not lobbying for any job, even though he’s been linked to the Washington Nationals managerial vacancy.
This postseason, Ripken has been a color analyst for TBS, most recently working with play-by-play man Ernie Johnson and analyst Ron Darling calling the National League Championship Series between the Dodgers and Cardinals.
I had the chance to speak with Ripken in a phone interview Thursday before he hopped on a plane from Los Angeles to St. Louis. During that conversation, Ripken talked about making the transition from being a studio analyst to being in the broadcast booth.
“I put it this way,” Ripken said. “I know I’m extremely inexperienced being in the booth, and I know I have a lot to learn in terms of when to talk and when not to talk, but as the game goes along I really enjoy trying to put some insight into the game the way I used to think about the game.”
Given Ripken’s status as one of the game’s greats, fans certainly want to hear what he has to say. And Ripken said Johnson and Darling have helped him find his footing in the broadcast booth.
“They’ve made it a lot easier for me,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed the team aspect of it. We get along really well. They’ve been very helpful for me. I think we have a good rapport. At times, we can inject a little humor, at the same time we are really focusing on what’s happening in the game so maybe we can help the viewer. ... I’ve enjoyed being in the ballpark and I’ve enjoyed being in the clubhouse, talking to the managers in our sessions with them.”
From hearing him talk, it sounds like he really likes being back at the ballpark. And from watching the TBS broadcasts this postseason, it definitely seems like he has a feel for bringing fans into a player’s mind set and a good way of describing the intricacies of the game.
Now, we’ll see where Ripken’s next step is and just how close he wants to be to the game.
Orioles prospect Henry Urrutia is off to a strong start in the Arizona Fall League. He is 8-for-17 (a .471 average) in six games playing for Surprise. On Friday, he had his second three-hit game of the fall, hitting a pair of doubles.
That shouldn’t surprise anyone. Urrutia’s bat should hold its own in the AFL, just as it did in Double-A and Triple-A last season. But this is an important offseason for the Cuban outfielder to not only get more games under his belt, but also polish off his defense so the Orioles have a better idea of whether he can truly be an option in left field next spring.
While we’re talking about the AFL, it’s a good time to mention that I think this will be an opportunity for Michael Ohlman. He’s 4-for-8 in the early going, but this fall will be intriguing in evaluating Ohlman’s future as a catcher or whether the Orioles should consider a position for him elsewhere. Last season, Ohlman split time between catcher and designated hitter at Single-A Frederick, hitting .313/.410/.524 with 13 homers and 53 RBIs. Of his three games in the AFL, he’s made two starts and DH and one at catcher.
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