Eric Wedge, who will be introduced as the Mariners' manager at a news conference Tuesday afternoon, gets the endorsement of Carl Willis, Mariners pitching coach who likely will be retained to work with Wedge.
Carl Willis may not be an impartial observer, having served seven years on Eric Wedge’s Cleveland Indians coaching staff and likely to rejoin Wedge in Seattle.
But Willis exudes enthusiasm when discussing Wedge, who Monday was officially named the Mariners’ new manager. Wedge will be introduced at a Tuesday news conference at Safeco Field.
“He’s very, very energetic, very, very intense, and very passionate about baseball,” Willis said by phone from his Durham, N.C., home.
Willis was Wedge’s pitching coach at Class AA and Class AAA as he moved up the Cleveland managerial chain, then served in that post all seven seasons with Wedge after he was named Indians manager in 2003.
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Willis, fired along with Wedge after the 2009 season, joined the Mariners’ organization in 2010 as minor-league pitching coordinator. He was elevated to the major-league staff as interim manager Daren Brown’s pitching coach on Aug. 9 when Don Wakamatsu and Rick Adair were fired.
By all indications, Willis, who won a World Series ring pitching for the Twins in 1991, will retain that post under Wedge. Willis, 49, was coy in his comments but said he was very interested in joining Wedge’s staff.
“We have a close relationship,” he said. “I enjoyed the players in Seattle. It was a difficult year, and people look at 101 losses, but I truly believe with a couple of the right acquisitions, this club is not that far away from being able to contend.”
And Willis believes Wedge, 42, is the right person to guide them there.
“You hear it said about all managers that they want to see things done the right way. Eric really tries to see that through, and it starts with the environment he tries to create and how we teach and instruct during spring training, and preparations for games and series. There’s just never a lack of preparation or thought in anything he does.”
Wedge’s challenge in Seattle could be even greater than the one he inherited in Cleveland, where the rebuilding Indians went 68-94 his first year, 80-82 his second, and 93-69 his third. He’ll take over a Mariners team that lost 101 games for the second time in three years, and has finished last in the American League West in five of the last seven years.
“In 2003, the Indians were at a very similar point, beginning the phases of a rebuilding situation,” Willis said. “I don’t know that the Mariners aren’t a little further along right now. Certainly you can look at Ichiro and (Chone) Figgins at the top of the order; you can run out a Felix (Hernandez) on opening day. … I think a couple of additions and you can compete in a hurry.
“This isn’t something new for him. I think the process of coming back to compete for a division title (in Cleveland) went a little quicker than people expected.”
Wedge also got an endorsement Monday from Indians president Mark Shapiro, who both hired and fired Wedge while Cleveland’s general manager.
“I think his strengths are good for any team,” Shapiro said by phone. “He is extremely consistent as a person and leader. In a game that’s played 162 times, consistency is a big strength. Also, he’s very strong and tough, but he balances that by being fair. He’s extremely intelligent, disciplined and well-prepared.”
In a Mariners news release announcing his hiring, Wedge said: “I think this is a terrific opportunity, and I am excited to be a part of it. Seattle is a great city for me and my family. With the fan support, the ballpark, the ownership and management, the Mariners are in a great position to be very successful.”
Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik said in the release: “Eric brings the energy, passion and leadership that we think is important as we move forward.”
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or firstname.lastname@example.org