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Mariners Hope Williams Can Provide Relief

Lou Piniella has found a way to deal with the pitching shortfalls of his Seattle Mariners. He and General Manager Woody Woodward fire the pitching coach.

Nardi Contreras became the latest scapegoat--burned by the inflammatory Mariner bullpen and replaced by Stan Williams, who follows Sammy Ellis, Bobby Cuellar and Contreras as the fourth pitching coach in Piniella’s six years as Seattle manager.

“I think [Williams] will lighten the pitchers up some,” Piniella said. “Nardi is a great guy, a hard-working guy. But he was serious all the time, and when the situation got tight with the bullpen, Nardi had no way to help them find release.”

The Mariners had lost five in a row when they made the change. A flawed bullpen was already threatening the sanity of their potent lineup. The signing of a free-agent reliever (Rod Beck or Randy Myers) last winter might have insured another division title for the Mariners, but that would have been an admission that the deals of July--for relievers Heathcliff Slocumb, Mike Timlin and Paul Spoljaric (at the expense of Jose Cruz Jr., and others)--were ill-advised.

Williams, a former Piniella teammate and his pitching coach with the Cincinnati Reds, is a throwback, but whether he can kick-start some confidence remains to be seen. In addition, Sweet Lou informed each of his relievers Wednesday that he doesn’t intend to be so sweet anymore.

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“I tried to use a positive approach for awhile, [but] I’m going to be saying a few things to a few people from now on, and if they don’t like it, that’s too bad,” Piniella said. “Maybe they’ll get angry and take it out on a few more batters than they have.”

The Mariners got solid relief in streak-breaking wins at Cleveland and Minnesota on Wednesday and Thursday, but a succession of blown saves has convinced Piniella this won’t be easy--no matter how many times he changes pitching coaches.

“I’m thinking seriously of having relief pitchers start games, and having the starter for that day come in about the third inning,” he said. “Really, what do we have to lose?”

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American League officials are muttering about a new book by umpire Durwood Merrill, in which he takes shots at players and managers despite the fact he is still active. It’s titled, “You’re Out, and You’re Ugly, Too,” and compounding the potential conflict is that Ken Griffey Jr. provides a fawning introduction.

A reference to Texas Ranger closer John Wetteland is typical: “Wetteland is an ulcer waiting to happen,” Merrill writes. “Check out the guys in the Rangers dugout [when] Wetteland takes the mound. You’ll think they’re watching ‘Poltergeist.’ They’re all hiding their eyes.”

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The AL has guaranteed to repay the Tigers for any lost revenue resulting from the schedule flop in which the Tigers are playing host to the Yankees this weekend and going to Yankee Stadium next weekend, providing the stadium passes safety inspections.

The reimbursement might compensate some for the short-notice hit at the gate, but Detroit officials questioned why this three-game series couldn’t have been played at idle Shea Stadium, keeping it in New York, the original site. AL officials said they ruled out Shea because of a desire to use AL parks to preserve the integrity of the schedule.

Of course, integrity took a beating when the Yankees played all of their home games at Shea while Yankee Stadium was being renovated in both 1974 and ’75.


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