It doesn’t often happen in baseball that you’re hired on merit alone, not because you know somebody.
That’s where Dave Wallace’s story starts.
Wallace, who oversaw the Red Sox’ 2004 pitching staff, was busy grooming Julio Teheran, Mike Minor, Luis Avilan, Craig Kimbrel, Jonny Venters, etc., in the Braves’ system and perfectly happy doing it. He had been replaced in Boston by John Farrell when Theo Epstein, who had hired Wallace, wanted a more youthful and modern-day pitching coach.
Wallace, who makes his home in Wrentham, was working with instructional league pitchers with Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell when he got the call from Orioles general manager Dan Duquette, who asked him if he was interested in being Baltimore’s pitching coach.
“It was a complete surprise,” the 67-year-old Wallace recalled. “It was just out of the blue. I asked Dan if it was serious or just kind of a token thing, interviewing everybody. He said it was serious, so I said OK, let me talk to my wife and see what she thinks. With her blessing I went down to talk to him.”
Her blessing meant she felt Wallace was healthy enough to take the job. Wallace spent six years on medication for salmonella poisoning he caught while undergoing hip replacement surgery. In February 2006, when Wallace was driving to spring training, with a scheduled stop at his winter home in Vero Beach, Fla., he began to feel ill in South Carolina. He pulled over and phoned Red Sox team physician Thomas Gill.
Gill called a medical facility in Spartanburg, S.C., that immediately began treating Wallace with antibiotics. But Wallace became so sick from what turned out to be an infection in his hip (which was replaced a dozen years earlier), he nearly died. He was hospitalized for weeks, and after being transferred to Massachusetts General Hospital, he suffered a setback.
There was more infection, which cost Wallace most of the season because he had to have surgery to replace the hip.
Wallace is happy to be alive as much as he’s happy to be the Orioles’ pitching coach. Wallace had no ties with Baltimore manager Buck Showalter, either.
Showalter is a demanding guy. He talked to four candidates after firing Rick Adair, who was undergoing personal issues. One candidate was Rick Peterson, a bigger name who had been hired as the Orioles’ minor league pitching director. Peterson had a résumé more in line with a modern-day pitching coach. He had a link to Dr. James Andrews and he was a disciple of Andrews’s pitching mechanics to reduce injuries.
Showalter was blown away by Wallace. He was everything he was looking for. A guy who had a track record of helping young pitchers with a straight-shooting, simplified approach.
Showalter didn’t care about new-wave stuff.
“Dave Wallace is an outstanding pitching coach,” Showalter said. “What he’s done with our group of guys has been tremendous.”
Wallace told Bud Norris he needed to develop a changeup because he needed another speed to become a more effective pitcher. Done. And when Norris bought into Wallace, the rest fell into place. He got Chris Tillman to take his game to ace status. In the offseason he recognized that Zach Britton had good stuff, but that his best role might be in relief. Britton became one of the top closers in baseball.
Wei-Yin Chen won 16 games. Miguel Gonzalez turned into a dependable fifth starter with 10 wins. Norris won 15. The only failure was Ubaldo Jimenez, the Orioles’ highly priced free agent signing, who went 6-9 with a 4.81 ERA and was left off the playoff roster.
In 109 games since May 31, Orioles starters won 51 games and lost 25 with a 3.17 ERA. Those numbers ranked first in the American League. Their 68 starter wins tied the Tigers and Angels for the most.
“This situation is great,” said Wallace, who has committed for at least one more season. “It’s close to home. I love working for Buck. I never knew him personally except for across the field. I knew of him. I knew of his reputation. I spoke to a lot of people about Buck and he did about me.
“When you get down to it, he’s a true baseball guy. You embrace all of the sabermetrics and stuff, but he knows the game. And then when you get to experience it firsthand, the way he runs it and the pitching staff is second to nobody.”
And so, how have the Orioles’ pitchers come to embrace Wallace’s methods?
“I think in some cases it’s natural maturity,” Wallace said. “They’ve gained experience by going through things and now they seem to be ready to take the next step. These guys have accepted the challenges. As other pitching staffs are touted for how good they are, our guys say, ‘Hey, let’s use it as a challenge, let’s take it on.’ They’ve been real good.”
Wallace said Tillman is now an ace.
“His makeup is right there,” Wallace said. “He had all the things you want in a guy who takes on the role of a No. 1. He’s had a heck of a year. Two years in a row now with 200 innings. He’s not intimidated by anything. Likes the challenges. As you saw, he doesn’t give in.”
As for Britton, “I think Zach Britton has finally found a role. We had discussions about possibly trying him as a closer over the winter. I don’t think anyone knew what he was going to do. But we felt he was a bullpen piece and it really worked out.
“We got him in spring training and we had indications what we wanted. You look at guys in the past like Jason Isringhausen, Eric Gagne, John Wetteland. They are guys you see with great stuff who can’t seem to get beyond five or six innings. He had that kind of demeanor.”
Wallace said this experience is far different than the 2004 staff in Boston.
“We had Pedro [Martinez], Curt Schilling, Derek Lowe, Tim Wakefield — all established guys who were at the top of their game,” Wallace said. “It’s a different animal. Much more teaching here. Almost every start you talk to the guys and let them dissect their own start, what they did and what we need to work on. From a teaching viewpoint, it’s been a lot of fun.”
LET’S MOVE THINGS ALONG
Arizona League offers change of pace delivery
We’ll be watching the Arizona Fall League intently in October and November because it will be the testing ground for new rules regarding the pace of games.
There are easy ones, such as the no-pitch intentional walk, in which the manager holds up four fingers and the umpire awards the batter first base. That will save a couple of minutes. Of course, this takes away the potential of an errant pitch, etc., but those are few and far between.
The more interesting ones include the batter having to keep one foot in the box throughout his at-bat, unless one of a series of exceptions occurs, in which case the batter may leave the box but not the dirt area surrounding home plate. Exceptions include a foul ball, a pitch forcing the batter out of the box, time out being requested and granted, a wild pitch or a passed ball, among others.
There’s also a 20-second rule, a modified version of Rule 8.04, which discourages unnecessary delays by the pitcher. The rule will make the pitcher deliver the pitch within 12 seconds after he receives the ball with the bases unoccupied. If longer, the umpire may call a ball.
There’ll be a 20-second clock on display at AFL games in Salt River. The clock starts when the pitcher is in possession of the ball.
There’s a 2:05 break between innings and hitters have to be in the batter’s box at the 1:45 mark. If hitters violate this, umpires can call a strike. Also, only 2:30 is allowed for a pitching change. The clock starts when the new pitcher enters the playing field. Violation of this will result in a ball being called.
Then there’s the three-time limit. This includes player conferences, pitching coach-pitcher conferences, and coach-hitter conferences. This one seems long overdue. There simply isn’t a need for this in baseball, where coaches and players have so much time in the dugout to discuss things.
These all seem like reasonable changes. The one that may get some pushback is a reliever coming into a game having only 2:30 to be in position to pitch. This will require hustle to the mound and quick warm-up tosses. Wonder if this could cause potential injury.
It’s interesting the changes are being tested in the AFL, where the game’s top young prospects are on display. All of these rules will likely have to be tweaked before making it to the majors.
Apropos of nothing
1. What is grass for? To be stepped on? Not at Camden Yards. You get yelled at for doing it. Must be some groundskeeper inferiority complex. It just reinforces how good Dave Mellor’s Fenway lawn is compared with others.
2. Tim Hyers, Boston’s minor league hitting coordinator, seems to be a good fit to replace Gregg Colbrunn as Red Sox hitting coach since he’s taught many of the team’s young hitters in the minors. But there are other interesting candidates. The Dodgers’ John Valentin has done a nice job as an assistant batting coach and probably wouldn’t mind a trip back to Boston. There’s also Twins hitting coach Tom Brunansky, who spent 3½ years in two stints with the Red Sox. He’s loyal to the Twins but they’re undergoing a managerial change. Brunansky and Valentin both preach a grinding, see-a-lot-of-pitches approach in keeping with Boston’s philosophy.
3. The mind wanders when you think that Boston’s Allen Craig and Cincinnati’s Jay Bruce had horrendous years. Boston needs a lefthanded hitter. Could you swap these guys? Bruce will be 28 by Opening Day next season, but he hit .217 with 18 homers and 66 RBIs after three 30-homer-plus seasons. Craig hit .215 between St. Louis and Boston with eight homers and 46 RBIs. Craig costs less — $5.5 million, $9 million, $11 million, and $13 million (option) over the next four years, while Bruce is at $12 million and $12.5 million over the next two. A factor for the frugal Reds.
4. The Blue Jays expect to replace the turf at Rogers Centre by 2016. By the way, is the Rogers’ ownership the cheapest in baseball? How can a major corporation with that many resources not pour resources into the Blue Jays?
5. The Cubs take Manny Ramirez’s ability as a hitting coach seriously. Deliberating whether to bring him up as a major league coach is no joke.
Updates on nine
1. Jose Iglesias, SS, Tigers — He may be back in the driver’s seat as the Tigers’ future shortstop now that Eugenio Suarez and Andrew Romine have had their runs and fizzled out. Iglesias has recovered fully from stress fractures in both shins, which were originally diagnosed as shin splints. There had been some discussion that Iglesias could become trade bait, but it’s expected he will pick up where he left off as one of the top defensive shortstops in baseball.
2. J.J. Hardy, SS, Orioles — If the Orioles lose Hardy they would have to contemplate two things: could Manny Machado move to shortstop, and if he couldn’t, who would the Orioles try to get to replace Hardy? Stephen Drew, Asdrubal Cabrera, Hanley Ramirez, and Jed Lowrie will be out there on the free agent market. Ramirez is seen more as a third baseman down the road and also appears out of Baltimore’s price range, while Lowrie is seen more as a second baseman. Ramirez was drafted by the Red Sox when Dan Duquette was Boston’s GM.
3. Alex Rodriguez, 3B, Yankees — Rodriguez will have to win his third base job after he returns from a 162-game suspension in spring training. Those who have seen A-Rod say he’s in tremendous shape and that the season off has helped his hip condition. Still, the Yankees are viewing him more as a DH until he proves otherwise. The Yankees may seek to protect themselves by re-signing Chase Headley.
4. Billy Ryan, assistant GM, Diamondbacks — Ryan is out in Arizona. He had a pretty big impact, devising the Diamondbacks’ analytics models and being a factor in player development and scouting. Ryan, who hails from Swampscott, had worked in the MLB offices before Kevin Towers hired him to become the team’s top administrator with an understanding of the Basic Agreement. It seems the Diamondbacks are void of that now. Towers also left the Padres after a meeting with new GM Dave Stewart. The old Diamondbacks regime is now gone.
5. Jim Tracy, bench coach, Reds — Tracy has managed three teams (Dodgers, Pirates, Rockies) and has always been considered a solid manager (2009 NL Manager of the Year) who runs a team well. He’s had his ups and downs for sure, but it wasn’t surprising to see he was interviewed for the Arizona managerial job (and did well) because of his strong ties with Diamondbacks CEO Derrick Hall, who worked with Tracy with the Dodgers in the early 2000s. Tracy also seems to fit Tony La Russa’s profile for a manager. He prefers someone who has experience.
6. Torey Lovullo, bench coach, Red Sox — He is earning the reputation as the guy everybody wants to interview but nobody wants to hire. Lovullo certainly projects well and has a strong résumé that has prepared him for managing, but right now he’s everybody’s bridesmaid. Lovullo isn’t alone. Dodgers bench coach Tim Wallach has run into the same roadblock. Ditto Athletics bench coach Chip Hale and Rangers bench coach Tim Bogar, who got to be interim manager in Texas after Ron Washington resigned. Some guys, such as Bo Porter, break through it eventually, but it’s a frustrating process.
7. John Jaso, C, Athletics — Billy Beane is open to trading just about anyone, and Jaso seems to fit the profile the Red Sox are looking for in a backup, including being a lefthanded hitter. Jaso started 47 games this season for the A’s, who also used him at DH. He had a .767 OPS and hit .264 with nine homers and 40 RBIs.
8. Andrew Miller, LHP, Orioles — He is a strong union man who believes in the right of a player to seek the best contract for himself when he reaches free agency. Miller will go to the highest bidder and if that happens to be Boston, all the better, because that’s where he wants to play. But if the Red Sox aren’t close on the money, he’ll sign with the highest bidder. Major league sources believe the bidding on Miller starts at three years, $21 million.
9. Kenta Maeda, RHP, Hiroshima — He has told some Japanese media that when he’s posted he prefers to play for the Yankees or Red Sox. Both are likely to bid, but the final contract isn’t expected to come anywhere near the seven-year, $155 million Masahiro Tanaka got from the Yankees. It’s hard to peg where it goes, but the expectation is more like a six-year, $120 million-$130 million deal. — but that’s speculation from a source familiar with Japanese baseball.
From the Bill Chuck files — “Was it addition or addition by subtraction? The Cardinals played .533 ball prior to trading Joe Kelly and Allen Craig for John Lackey and .600 ball after.” . . . Also, “The Red Sox led the AL with 37 outfield assists. The Mariners were last with 14, followed by the Tigers with 15.” . . . Happy birthday, Billy Hatcher (54).
Nick Cafardo can be reached email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.