By Pete Kerzel
“Some guys here knew me when I managed in the minor leagues. I'll probably seem a little … less tolerant,” Trembley said. “My tolerance when I managed in the minor leagues was next to nil. Here, you give [players] a lot of credit. I think you're going to have to earn that credit now. In a lot of ways it was a balancing act here, a very fine line. You don't want people to feel uncomfortable; you don't want to intimidate people.”
But as the Orioles move from a phase of reconstruction into an era they hope will demonstrate their ability to compete in the American League East, Trembley’s goals and attitude must also be modified.
In two and a half seasons since replacing Sam Perlozzo as the Orioles’ skipper, Trembley has compiled a 172-244 record (.413) and finished fifth in the division in each of his two full seasons. His laid-back style, often criticized by fans as a lack of passion, has resonated with his players, particularly the younger ones on whose shoulders the Orioles’ future now squarely rests.
Some fans were surprised president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail decided on the final weekend of a dismal 2009 season to pick up Trembley’s club option for next year.
MacPhail had said earlier in the summer that the only thing working against Trembley coming back was a second-half collapse. The Orioles promptly went out and lost 13 straight September games, breaking the skid the night before Trembley found out he was returning.
But Trembley’s players -- especially some of the rising stars he managed in the minors during tours with the Orioles’ Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Ottawa affiliates -- said the September swoon couldn’t be blamed on the field boss.
When closer George Sherrill was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers for two prospects -- right-hander Steve Johnson and third baseman Josh Bell -- on July 30, the already tired bullpen was thrust into chaos, with players forced into roles for which they weren’t prepared. Then an August trade sent first baseman Aubrey Huff to Detroit for a minor league pitcher, robbing Baltimore of its cleanup hitter.
“It’s kind of stacked against him, trading his cleanup hitter and trading an All-Star closer,” said right-handed reliever Jim Johnson. “Getting nothing but young guys coming in here and shutting people down at the end of the year. I don’t know what [or] who’s going to be successful. The 13 games we lost … in a row probably hurt, but I think he did the best he possibly could.”
Right fielder Nick Markakis is one of the young veterans who endorsed Trembley’s return. Markakis struggled after the Huff trade and a season-ending ankle injury sustained by center fielder Adam Jones. But like his manager, Markakis knows production is the only way to compensate for loss.
“Everything gets weighed on them when the reality of it is it’s all the players,” Markakis said. “You look at Dave’s situation and the way he’s handled the young guys and the team and I think he’s done a pretty damn good job. You can only do so much and the rest of it’s up to the players. He’s not an idiot. He’s baseball-smart and a good manager.”
Successful managers are baseball’s version of chameleons, able to adjust their thinking and machinations to the team they lead. A guy skippering a fast club has to learn how to make use of speed and when to put runners in motion to keep a defense off balance. Leading a slugging club makes a manager more adept at playing to his hitters’ strengths. Teams packed with power pitchers are managed differently than teams with weak rotations and thin bullpens.
So Trembley -- aware the Orioles are expected to win more frequently while still grooming young players for long major league careers -- will have to alter his style to accommodate a different result.
“I look at it now as if everybody has graduated. Everybody has been given [and] there are not going to be any more givens,” Trembley said. “I think the guys who have played here before have to step up now, not that they haven't. They have to step up more than a manager or a coach and say, 'Hey, this is not permissible, this is not acceptable.' Or we're never going to change what's existed here the last 12 years.”
Markakis hopes one thing that doesn’t change is Trembley’s penchant for sometimes shedding his calm demeanor and animatedly standing up for his charges.
“He sticks up for his players. … He gets himself tossed out of quite a few games protecting his players and arguing calls,” Markakis said. “As bad as it is out here losing-wise, he goes out there and stands up for his players. You like to see that in a manager.”
As soon as he found out he would return in 2010, Trembley began the process of speaking to core players, guys like Markakis, Jones and second baseman Brian Roberts, to set the stage for what he hopes will occur next season.
The skipper pointedly called out his starting pitchers, telling them he expected them to be physically ready to pitch when spring training begins in February in Sarasota, Fla. He also put on-the-bubble guys like right-handers Matt Albers (whose conditioning has been called into question) and Dennis Sarfate (recovering from injuries) on notice that they have to pitch better.
In Trembley’s mind, whatever the Orioles are able to achieve in 2010 begins with starting pitching. That’s what failed him for much of last year’s 98-loss campaign, when starters couldn’t go deep into games and put too much of a burden on the bullpen.
“I want to do better; I think I can do better. I think I got a little better idea, a little clearer,” Trembley said. “People say: ‘Why don't you not use your bullpen so much?’ I say make sure the starting pitchers do better. I'm going to make sure they understand it. Don't run out of gas in the fifth inning.”
Issue 143: November 2009