McDowell guides rookies to strong campaigns
Perez, Wisler showing that veteran pitching coach can shape young hurlers
ATLANTA -- Pitching coach Roger McDowell's strong reputation was not damaged as the Braves went through a significant portion of this season's final two months feeling the adverse effects of carrying a young starting rotation and a makeshift bullpen filled with first-year players and veteran castoffs.
But McDowell's standing as one of baseball's top pitching coaches has certainly been validated as Williams Perez, Matt Wisler and some of Atlanta's previously-maligned relievers have turned things around in impressive fashion over the past couple weeks. Following the lead Wisler had provided on Tuesday night, Perez concluded his rookie season with six scoreless innings in Wednesday night's 2-0 win over the Nationals.
"Roger has been tremendous," Perez said through interpreter Alex Cotto. " When I came back [from the disabled list], I had a couple things wrong with my mechanics and Roger told me we're going to be going after it and get it right. His work with me is what has helped me get to this point and finish on a high note."
Perez made his Major League debut in May and enjoyed one strong month in Atlanta's rotation before he took a liner off his left foot on June 26 and spent a month on the disabled list. After returning on July 31, he produced a 9.87 ERA over six starts and was briefly demoted to Triple-A Gwinnett.
Over the past few weeks, Perez has benefited from a few mechanical alterations and the adjustments he was forced to make after opponents benefited from the chance to get a few looks at him. He produced a 2.35 ERA over his final five starts and enhanced his bid to return to Atlanta's rotation next year.
McDowell certainly didn't serve as a coddling presence as Perez struggled and Wisler posted a 9.49 ERA over the seven starts he made from Aug. 1-Sept. 3. Instead, he demanded accountability and provided the guidance that has proven beneficial as the Braves have allowed one run or less during each of their past five home games.
"[McDowell] can be quite a stern presence, but if you can get past that and you don't want to be pampered or coddled throughout your whole career, then I think he's fantastic," said veteran Peter Moylan, who produced a perfect seventh inning in Wednesday's victory.
Wisler will enter Sunday's regular season finale against the Cardinals having produced a 3.12 ERA over his past four starts. This turnaround has mirrored the one produced by Matt Marksberry, a rookie reliever who allowed 12 earned runs through his first 17 career innings and just one run over the six innings that have followed.
Though it was tough to deal with the growing pains so many of Atlanta's young pitchers felt throughout August and September's earliest days, McDowell's determination to remain diligent in his guidance has provided the Braves reason to feel better about what their more experienced pitching staff might provide next year.
"I can't speak high enough of Roger," Moylan said. "He was my first pitching coach here. He's helped me so much. Even now, I'll chat with him about certain things with pitch selection and going back to basics. He gives the constant reminder that pitching is tough, but if you go back to basics it can be a lot easier."