In new Orioles pitching coach Roger McDowell and bullpen coach Alan Mills, the organization hopes the harmonious dynamic between the pitching staff and their coaches that grew under the previous regime persists.
McDowell, who spent the past 11 seasons with the Atlanta Braves and said he learned everything he knows about being a pitching coach from his predecessor with the Orioles, Dave Wallace, boiled down his philosophy to one simple phrase.
“They don't care how much you know until they know how much you care,” McDowell said. “That's one of the things that I've always tried to maintain, caring about the individual, understanding them, knowing them, getting to know them and understanding the ups and downs of a major league season and having that guy in your corner.”
Wallace bequeathed the phrase to him in the early 2000s in the Dodgers organization. McDowell brings it to Baltimore now as he hopes to continue his mentor's work with the Orioles.
“Talking to a lot of the players, they're excited about it,” manager Buck Showalter said. “Everybody felt good about Dom [Chiti] and [Wallace], and we felt like this was an opportunity to carry on smooth in some areas.”
McDowell and Mills, the former pitching coach at Double-A Bowie, were announced in their new roles Tuesday. McDowell took over in Atlanta ahead of the 2006 season, and the pitching staff was perennially ranked among the best in the National League until the Braves' rebuilding effort began.
Under his stewardship, veterans and young pitchers thrived. Veteran Tim Hudson, closer Craig Kimbrel and blossoming star Julio Teheran were just a few of the Braves pitchers who made the All-Star Game.
McDowell compiled a 3.30 ERA and 129 career saves over his big-league career, breaking into the league in 1985 with the New York Mets. The last stop on his major-league career was with the Orioles, when in 1996 McDowell had a 4.25 ERA in 591/3 innings.
Mills, who has spent five seasons coaching in the Orioles' organization and the past two at Bowie, has worked with major league pitchers Dylan Bundy, Mychal Givens and Donnie Hart, among others. He pitched parts of eight seasons for the Orioles over his 12-year major league career, and was a teammate of McDowell's with the Orioles in 1996.
McDowell, a reputed jokester as a player, said Mills was his ideal teammate, fun to be around but a fierce competitor inside the lines. Mills, who grew up using McDowell in “RBI Baseball” on Nintendo, said he learned plenty from the veteran that year.
The two replace Wallace, who retired from major league coaching, and Chiti, whose contract as bullpen coach was not renewed for 2017. Chiti will be the Braves' director of pitching, Wallace a special assistant.
While Wallace's departure was expected, the loss of both created concerns that a once-volatile position on the coaching staff could become one again.
McDowell is the sixth pitching coach under Showalter, and Wallace, who served three years, had the most tangible impact on the club's stock of young pitching. The pair's tactics were lauded by Chris Tillman and Zach Britton, among others.
Showalter doesn't believe any of that is lost with the new duo.
“They both bring a great resume, but like both of them say, it's a people game,” Showalter said. “It's a relationship. Sincerity plays out in a hurry, and I think these guys, the players will realize they've got no agenda other than making these guys as good as they can be and making the organization successful. … I think we're very fortunate to have people like this, one already on board and one out there available.”
McDowell and Mills take over a pitching staff that seems unlikely to change from 2016 to 2017. It returns six starting pitchers who ended the year in the rotation — Tillman, Kevin Gausman, Bundy, Ubaldo Jimenez, Yovani Gallardo, and Wade Miley — as well as a strong bullpen led by Britton and veteran Darren O'Day.
For McDowell, the process of becoming familiar with that staff will be two-pronged. He'll immerse himself in video of their outings, studying everything from the consistency of their mechanics and their plans of attacks for batters to the shape of their pitches. But he knows you can't learn everything from video.
“Hopefully, it'll be by spring training, having conversations, whether it's face to face or on the phone, getting to know them and getting them as comfortable as they can be,” McDowell said.
For Mills, who has also been with the major league team during recent spring trainings, the process will be to build on the relationships that already exist.
“I've worked with them before, but never in the course of a season,” Mills said. “For me, it's just something where I should get familiar with the guys as much as possible and me getting familiar with them on a daily basis. The things that they've done over the past few years speak for themselves.”
The Orioles still have to replace director of pitching development Rick Peterson and assistant hitting coach Mark Quinn, a process Showalter said was deprioritized as the team filled these two important roles. That this business is squared away, however, is something the manager was glad to accomplish.
“Obviously, it's one thing on paper,” Showalter said. “It's another thing actually in practicality in the season, but we're off to, we think, a good start in the offseason with these two additions.”