Throughout his minor and major league coaching career, Dave Trembley has been known as a stickler for the little things. He wants the game played right, and he knows his future as Orioles manager depends on this year's team taking a significant developmental step forward over the next three months.
So it has to be frustrating for him to watch his club reduced to one of the worst base-running teams in baseball at this critical juncture in the organization's rebuilding process.
He took the job intent on putting the "fun" back in fundamentals, and now a long series of fundamental lapses is threatening to be his undoing.
"The decisions that have been made have not been good decisions," Trembley said Tuesday. "When you make bad decisions, they stand out a whole lot more than when you do well."
Of course, if he can see that and you can see that, it's probably easy enough to see it from the Warehouse, where president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail has kept a fairly low public profile on the subject but does not take this kind of thing lightly either.
"We've already had that discussion," MacPhail said Tuesday. "I definitely think there is room for improvement. It's something that needs our focus and attention."
MacPhail isn't throwing down the gauntlet, but he didn't volunteer a vote of confidence either. He knows there are things a manager and his coaches can control and things that they can't. It's not as if first base coach John Shelby could have reached out and grabbed Ty Wigginton and Aubrey Huff as they motored mindlessly around first base in a couple of crucial game situations recently.
"We do more of that [fundamental drills] than do most," MacPhail said. "He [Trembley] continues that over the course of the season to a much larger extent than most clubs, but some of it is not a function of putting in the time. It's more a function of bad decision making.
"If you round the base and see the ball in front of you, you either make the right decision or you don't."
The strange irony of this particular situation is that this is a developing team that is assimilating a number of young players, but many of the most glaring mental mistakes have come out of the veteran nucleus of the club. Wigginton and Huff are just the most recent examples, but you can throw Brian Roberts and Melvin Mora into the mix, too. In a weird sort of way, the veteran blunders are a positive, because they indicate that the problem doesn't stem from some flaw in the player-development pipeline.
"I think that's progress on one level," MacPhail said. "What I would say is, that's one of the separators you have to determine. If it's an organizational issue, it would manifest itself in the younger guys and not the guys who have been in the big leagues for eight years."
Even so, that does not take Trembley off the hook, and he knows it. The club's focus on fundamentals was one of the subjects of a team meeting before Monday's series opener against the Boston Red Sox, and don't think it wasn't the subject of a lot of behind-the-scenes discussion in the front office.
"I understand about responsibility," Trembley said. "When the players do what they should do, all the credit should go to them. When they don't, the responsibility and accountability goes elsewhere."
Trembley addressed the series of key base-running mistakes during his pre-game media briefing Monday, though he didn't really outline any solution to what has become a chronic problem. The Orioles, according to club officials, easily lead the major leagues in making outs on the base paths.
"It's certainly not something you want to put on a highlight film or use as an instructional video," Trembley said Monday. "What you learn from it is, that decision that was made wasn't the right one. They were aggressive mistakes, but they were out-of-control base-running decisions. I don't like to give away outs."
The challenge for Trembley is to create an environment in which that doesn't happen in the second half of the season. It will certainly help if the Orioles become more competitive, because it's easier to keep the focus on situational baseball when the games mean something, but it is the responsibility of the manager to instill a team ethic and demand that it be honored.
Trembley said Tuesday that he does not feel pressure to correct the problem to protect his job security.
"No, I don't," he said. "If I'm going to be evaluated on one particular element, I don't think that's particularly pertinent."
Just in case, the next time he holds a team meeting, he might want to leave the players with this thought:
The job you save might be mine.
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