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Miller will return, only if Mazzilli does


ATLANTA - If the Orioles want Ray Miller back as pitching coach next season, they'll probably need to include manager Lee Mazzilli in the deal.

Miller indicated yesterday that he would most likely return in 2006 only if Mazzilli remains in charge. Mazzilli and his coaches are signed through this season.

"I'd like to see Maz get a long-term contract and be set here for a while, and I'll stay and help him as long as I can," Miller said before yesterday's game against the Atlanta Braves. "I think he's going to be a good one. I think he's got the right makeup, knowledge. One-on-one, he's great. Patience with kids and he knows how to handle veterans.

"I'd like to see that happen, see some stability in Baltimore. And that will kind of dictate everything else."

Asked whether he would be more inclined to leave after the season if Mazzilli does, Miller said, "Probably."

The two men have developed a strong bond since last June, conversing in Mazzilli's office and dining together.

"I'm very close with Ray," Mazzilli said. "And I can yell at him instead of my players, so it works good."

"Because I've managed," Miller said, "I've been through the wars and been through all this [stuff]. It's been good for him to sound some things off me and they don't go anywhere because I know what it's like sitting in there [manager's office]. It's probably the loneliest job in baseball. People don't realize it.

"Every day you get yourself all pumped up, and then the trainer walks through the door and knocks your feet right out from under you, tells you somebody can't play and you've got a big series coming up. You don't want to risk injury to somebody for the sake of one game, but you keep looking at the standings saying, 'Well, every game's important.'"

Yesterday marked the one-year anniversary of Miller's hiring as pitching coach after the team reassigned Mark Wiley to a scouting position. Before yesterday's 8-1 loss, the Orioles were 90-77 with a 4.24 team ERA under Miller - the third-lowest ERA and sixth-best AL record during that span.

Ten pitchers have an ERA under 4.00 since Miller's return to the organization, including B.J. Ryan (2.11), Todd Williams (3.29), Bruce Chen (3.37) and Erik Bedard (3.70).

"It seems like five years ago," Miller said, grinning. "It's been good. I've enjoyed it. I've seen a lot of progress. If it wasn't for interleague play, I'd be happy as hell."

A call last year from Mike Flanagan, vice president of baseball operations and former Miller pupil, led to their reunion. Miller intended to stay through the end of the season before slipping quietly into retirement again, retreating to his New Athens, Ohio, home. But the chance to win, an idea born from a stirring September series in Boston, enticed him to return.

"Maz wanted me to come in and help get a program started, along with Flanny and [Peter] Angelos, to get the young guys headed in the right direction," Miller said. "That's what I planned to do, but I really got caught up with the young guys. And we're not that far away [from winning]. We've got a real good team. So I decided to come back, and I've been real happy with it so far this year. I just wish you could explain the injuries we've had.

"I think it's really a credit to Maz keeping this team afloat. ... I think we've done well, and I think we're going to come back fresh."

Marrero's back improves

Eli Marrero struck out as a pinch hitter yesterday after missing Saturday's game with lower-back stiffness.

Marrero took batting practice Saturday and said he felt fine until bending down. "Then I couldn't get back up," he said.

The injury might have been caused by the artificial surface in Toronto. Marrero said his back was aggravated from the four-game series that ended Thursday.

"That usually happens when I play on turf. My back kind of gives out on me. It lasts two or three days and then it goes away," he said. "Probably by tomorrow I'll be about 90 percent. I'll be ready to go."

Meanwhile, the Orioles still aren't certain whether Bruce Chen will make his next start after spraining the big toe on his left foot Saturday. James Baldwin could replace him.

"We have five days to find out what's going on," Mazzilli said.

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