Patience has Pie fulfilling his potential
New batting stroke, confidence paying off for outfielder
BALTIMORE -- Felix Pie just needed time and opportunity, twin factors that seemed hard to come by as recently as early July. The Orioles had seen Pie struggle in the first two months of the season and had seen rookie Nolan Reimold pass him on the depth chart, spurring questions about his spot on the big league roster.
With Cesar Izturis nearing a return from the disabled list and with Pie out of options, any roster move would've meant exposing him to waivers and perhaps losing him. Baltimore solved the problem by trading Oscar Salazar to San Diego, buying more time for Pie and allowing him the chance to blossom during the season's homestretch.
Pie hit .333 with a .394 on-base percentage and a .651 slugging mark during August, and he's kept right on hitting since Adam Jones went to the disabled list with a sprained left ankle. Pie credits hitting coach Terry Crowley for re-shaping his swing and for working tirelessly with him while the chips were down.
"This guy worked all year with me, working hard every day in the cage. I can't explain how hard he worked with me," said Pie recently. "This year, I've learned a lot about the game. Baseball's tough, but you can make it easier when you put yourself in good position. You have to learn to be patient. If you have ability, you're going to be good in this game. All you have to do is play hard every day and work hard. And you'll see the difference."
Crowley credited Pie for working hard, and he said that the pair basically rebuilt the outfielder's swing from scratch in order to make it shorter. Crowley said that adjustment gave Pie a split-second longer to see the pitch and to evaluate whether he wanted to swing at it, which in turn allowed him to hit the ball with more authority.
"The amount of time that it takes him to get from Point A to Point B is much shorter," Crowley said. "It's a fraction of the time it took before, and now he can get his foot down and be real short to the ball as it's traveling to home plate. It's mathematics. He cut down the time, and he also learned the mechanics of hitting instead of just swinging and saying, 'Well, whatever happens, happens.' He actually had to learn the mechanics over time and repetition."
This Pie, Crowley insists, is worlds beyond the player that showed up late to Spring Training. The Orioles acquired Pie from Chicago last winter for a player to be named later, and he came in at a raw stage of development. Crowley could see the live talent Pie possessed, but he couldn't make it rise to the surface without a little more refinement.
Pie batted just .157 with a .216 slugging mark during regular playing time in April and bounced back to hit just .250 with a .308 on-base mark in May. Baltimore went to Reimold at that point, and Pie became a part-time player seen more behind-the-scenes than on the field. In fact, Pie had just 15 at-bats -- and got seven hits -- in June.
And while he may not have played often, Pie was learning the game from his veteran peers.
"It was difficult for me because it was my first year in the American League," Pie said. "The veterans helped me -- guys like Melvin Mora, Cesar Izturis and Danys Baez. Those guys helped me a lot, and so did [third-base coach] Juan Samuel. I've learned more about the game, and I have to play the game hard and play the game right."
Pie didn't hit a home run in June or July due to limited playing time, but he saw more time in August with both Reimold and Jones nursing various injuries. Then, with Pie just 3-for-16 during the month, something clicked. The 24-year-old hit for the cycle on August 14 in a 16-6 win over the Angels and has kept on hitting.
Pie went into Monday's off-day with five home runs in his past 12 games and seems to be firming up his place in the organizational blueprint. And as far as Crowley's concerned, it boils down to effort and preparation.
"He's worked as hard as anybody I've ever been with," said Crowley. "Hours in the tunnel, when some people in his same position would've been overly disappointed or bitter that they lost their playing time. But Felix never stopped working and improving, and lo and behold, he gets another chance and he's making the most of it."
Pie is waiting for his pitch and doing damage, and Crowley can't help but view the situation from a higher angle. Nobody ever doubted Pie's potential, even if it sometimes looked like he'd never get a chance to fulfill it.
"Nobody had seen him before and he came in a little bit hyped, so I don't think people were too quick to judge him. In my opinion, things were going a little bit fast for him," said Crowley. "He wasn't quite ready for Major League competition and let's just say that he needed more time. He's proven that the organization made a wise decision to trade for him and to be patient with him when it would've been very easy to send him out. And it's a decision that this year has supposedly been about -- developing young players to be better in 2010."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.