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In Relief, Orioles' Arms Have A Leg Up

By Jorge Arangure Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 6, 2005; Page D09

BALTIMORE, April 5 -- The Baltimore Orioles won't ask their young starting pitchers to expect to pitch only six innings per outing, but it wouldn't be such a bad idea if they did.

The Orioles' bullpen runs deep, from a long man who was considered a top candidate for the rotation, to the middle men -- a side-winding right-hander and a free-spirited left-hander -- to the new closer, who is generally regarded as the most intimidating left-handed reliever in baseball. And there is Jorge Julio, one of the most sought-after bullpen arms in baseball, the former closer and now the setup man.

Jorge Julio, now the set-up man behind closer B.J. Ryan, is part of a deep Baltimore bullpen. (James A. Finley - AP)

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"I still think we want to have our starters pitch complete games," Orioles Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Jim Beattie said. "I don't think anyone should go out thinking [anything different]. I think you're pushing it if you have the pen pitch the seventh, eighth and ninth innings. You try to get two outs in the seventh. If you get in trouble, then we have the arms. I think our bullpen sets up very well."

Starter Rodrigo Lopez threw six scoreless innings in Monday's 4-0 Opening Day win against the Oakland Athletics. The game was secured, though, with three shutout innings from the bullpen. B.J. Ryan, in his new role as the closer, pitched a perfect ninth.

"We have guys that throw sidearm, lefties, righties, guys who throw over the top and guys who throw really hard," Ryan said. "You can mix and match with everybody. It's a good bullpen. It's deep. There's a lot of guys who want the ball and can take the ball four or five days in a row. It's going to build confidence for the starters to know they can go out there and pitch and if something happens, they've got a lot of guys who can take care of it."

Baltimore intended to improve its depth over the winter, but when it failed to land a starter through free agency or trade, adding depth to the bullpen became crucial.

"I think we wanted to [improve the bullpen] especially if we wanted to give B.J. Ryan the closer job," Beattie said. "We wanted another left-hander."

Left-hander Steve Kline, who limited left-handed hitters to a .209 average over the past three years, became the team's first significant addition. He was added in December. Steve Reed, the situational right-hander with a career 3.51 ERA, was signed a month later.

The task then became determining a closer. The team considered Ryan the favorite, and Julio's forearm injury during the spring made the decision easier.

"I think a little bit was the inconsistency of Jorge Julio, but also the domination by B.J. in the eighth inning," Beattie said.

As Julio's setup man last season, Ryan finished with a 2.28 ERA. Left-handed hitters had a .094 batting average against him.

"I just try to keep it simple," Ryan said. "I'm not going to go out there and over-think. I know it's the ninth inning. You just go out there and pitch. You're seven guys deep down there and they all want the same thing. We all want to put up zeros. Whatever it takes to get a win and whoever has to pitch where, we have a lot of capable guys to do it. The ninth inning is important, but man there's guys who are throwing in the fifth, sixth or seventh inning that get some huge outs."

Ryan will be a free agent at the end of the season. Beattie said the team has had some conversations with Ryan's representative about an extension. Any extension likely would be incentive-laden since Ryan is entering his first season as a full-time closer.

Last year, Julio finished with a 4.57 ERA, the second consecutive season he had finished with an ERA above 4.00. He is still considered a talent and several teams have inquired about his availability. For now, he starts the year as the Orioles' setup man.

On Monday, he threw a scoreless eighth inning, setting up Ryan in the ninth.

"I don't think you always have an ideal thing where you think this is the way it's going to be forever," Baltimore Manager Lee Mazzilli said. "That's the way it worked out [Monday]. Julio came in and did a good job. That has to be one of our strengths."

Mazzilli also has left-hander John Parrish, who one scout this spring said was on the verge of a breakout year, and Todd Williams, who was effective last year after being signed as a minor league free agent. Long man Rick Bauer is available should a starter not be able to reach the sixth. The Orioles wouldn't like that scenario, either.

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