- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 17, 2007

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — With every home run allowed by the Baltimore Orioles last season, Leo Mazzone’s reputation took another hit.

Mazzone worked wonders with the Atlanta Braves’ pitching staff before coming to Baltimore last year to join his longtime friend, Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo. Mazzone hoped to work magic with an eager group of pitchers, but instead he ended up nervously rocking on the dugout more than ever before.

Orioles starters ranked 13th in the 16-team American League with a 5.40 ERA, and the bullpen went 19-25 with a 13th-ranked 5.25 ERA. Baltimore yielded a major league high 216 homers — the second-largest total in franchise history — including a league-leading 12 grand slams. The Orioles also gave up at least four runs in an inning 56 times, another dubious category in which they led the majors.

All in all, it wasn’t exactly the kind of season that will inspire the esteemed pitching coach to write a sequel to his 2003 book, “Leo Mazzone’s Tales From the Braves Mound.”

Mazzone did, however, make headway with young starters Erik Bedard, Daniel Cabrera and Adam Loewen. He also paved the way for first-year closer Chris Ray to earn 33 saves in 38 tries.

Now, as he begins another spring training with Baltimore, Mazzone has every reason to believe he will enjoy far more success the second time around.

“It’s like night and day. You come in and you see some familiar faces,” he said. “There’s no feeling-out process and that sort of thing. It is different.”

Perlozzo had no complaints about the fashion in which Mazzone ran the staff last year. In making that assessment, the manager threw out the unsightly numbers and focused more on the advances made by some of the young pitchers.

“Well, I thought that Leo did a great job last year, quite honestly,” Perlozzo insisted. “A lot of the guys we wanted to do well took strides forward.”

Bedard set career highs in wins, innings, starts and strikeouts. Loewen went 6-6 in his first big league season, Cabrera took another step in his development and Ray held the opposition to a .193 batting average.

Perlozzo expects even more this season, simply because Mazzone has reached a comfort level that wasn’t there a year ago.

“For Leo’s sake, talking to him, he’s much more relaxed this year, knows where he’s coming from,” Perlozzo said. “He made the comment that it’s nice to see some people that he recognized. He’s much more excited this year.”

Ray had a similar observation.

“His main goal in spring training last year was to get to know the guys, get to know their plusses and weaknesses,” the reliever said. “Now, coming in this year, he knows what we need to work in spring training. He can pinpoint a few more things to help each person’s game.”

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