The Braves haven’t decided on a manager for 2017, but Roger McDowell won’t be back as their pitching coach after the team declined an option on his contract.
General manager John Coppolella made the announcement Friday in a three-paragraph statement that included this quote: “Roger is a terrific coach and an even better person. We wish him and his family nothing but the best in the future.”
Thus ended the 11-season tenure of McDowell, 55, a former major league reliever who has drawn high praise from most Braves pitchers over the years. Most recently, veteran closer Jim Johnson cited his comfort level with McDowell when Johnson decided to skip free agency and sign a two-year extension with the Braves on the last day of the season.
“Wow,” former Braves pitcher Peter Moylan said after hearing McDowell was let go. “I owe everything to Roger, he turned me into the pitcher I am today. I was a raw as ahi tuna when I got called up and he was the guy who showed me the way. I hope I can repay him some day.”
Former Braves pitcher Kris Medlen was similarly surprised by the news and said, “I thought he was great. Relatable.”
A person familiar with the situation said at least one high-ranking team official wasn’t satisfied with the development of young pitchers under McDowell, particularly in recent seasons. With the team’s ongoing rebuild centered in large part around the many pitching prospects it has acquired through trades and draft picks, the Braves are expected to hire a pitching coach with a strong reputation for working with young pitchers.
One of the top candidates for the managerial position, Bud Black, is a former major league pitcher who was lauded for his work with up-and-coming pitchers as manager in San Diego.
Black or Braves interim manager Brian Snitker is expected to be named Braves manager, and whomever gets that job is likely to have a lot of input in the hiring of the new pitching coach, or given full authority to select him.
Other Braves coaches haven’t been notified yet of their status for 2017, but the coaching staff is expected to remain largely intact if Snitker is manager. There would likely be more changes if Black gets the job.
Braves coaches Terry Pendleton, Eddie Perez and Bo Porter all interviewed for the Braves managerial opening, but John Hart, the team’s president of baseball operations, acknowledged it would difficult to hire a member of Snitker’s staff as manager after the outstanding job that Snitker did getting the team turned around following its terrible start in 2016.
Perez has drawn interest from the Colorado Rockies for their managerial opening and is expected to interview for the job.
McDowell was hired by the Braves in 2006 after longtime pitching coach Leo Mazzone left to take the same position with the Orioles under his friend, then-Baltimore manager Sam Perlozzo. McDowell continued in the position after Bobby Cox retired as manager following the 2010 season and was replaced by Fredi Gonzalez, who was fired this year on May 17.
Medlen, a former 10th-round draft pick who rose to prominence under McDowell’s tutelage during the 2012-2013 seasons, had a similar first reaction as Moylan upon hearing the coach was let go by the Braves.
“Uh…wow,” Medlen said. “It was great knowing he had been through the grind of big league baseball and was a great voice for when you were going through the ups and downs of a season. He kept you pretty even keel when you being tough on yourself and took the time to help out when you felt like you were having some issues physically or mentally on the mound.”
One possible candidate to replace McDowell is former Triple-A Gwinnett pitching coach Marty Reed, particularly if Snitker becomes permanent manager. Reed was promoted to the major league staff in May when Snitker was bumped from Gwinnett manager to replace Gonzalez. Young pitchers consistently praise Reed, as do Snitker and Braves officials.
Braves coaches have traditionally worked under one-year contracts, but former GM Frank Wren gave McDowell a two-year deal after the 2013 season — the Braves led the majors in ERA that year — when McDowell was being pursued by other teams and was reportedly close to being lured away by the Phillies.
Braves pitchers lowered their team ERA for five consecutive seasons through 2013, ranking among the top four in the major leagues each of those seasons including a majors-best 3.18 in 2013.
After the team ERA ticked up to 3.38 in 2014, it mushroomed during the rebuild to 4.41 in 2015 (27th in the majors) and 4.51 in 2016 (24th in majors).
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