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Mazzilli, Orioles on Solid Ground After Strong Finish

A new standard was set in 2004. Will the Orioles build on it?

Mazzilli's staff will also return, including veteran pitching coach Ray Miller, who orchestrated a dramatic turnaround after being hired on June 26 to replace Mark Wiley.


Javy Lopez, right, slides across homeplate on a hit by Jay Gibbons as the Orioles win 3-2 over Boston. (Chris Gardner - AP)

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Before Miller's arrival, Orioles pitchers were last in the American League with a 5.34 ERA in 69 games. They ended with a 4.70 team staff ERA. Starting pitchers under Miller improved their ERA by almost a full run.

Starting pitching likely will be Baltimore's biggest concern heading into next season. Rodrigo Lopez and Sidney Ponson certainly will have spots in the rotation, but the other three spots are still in question. The Orioles could choose to upgrade the staff with the availability of potential free agents such as Carl Pavano, Kevin Millwood, Eric Milton, Matt Clement and Derek Lowe.

Which of their young pitchers remain in the rotation will be determined by who Baltimore acquires. Daniel Cabrera, Erik Bedard, Matt Riley and Rick Bauer all experienced success at some point in the season, but there likely won't be room for all of them, all least not initially. Beattie said he knew his decision to start the season with two rookies, Riley and Eric DuBose, and one pitcher with limited experience, Kurt Ainsworth, in the rotation could cost the team.

"I think it was necessary for us to do because we didn't have the resources to sign the impact players we wanted to get," Beattie said. "I'll take the criticism, but people in a year or two will say it was a nice step."

Mazzilli, in order to improve an offense that was in the top three in batting average and hits, said he hopes to add a powerful right-handed batter during the offseason. But offense likely will not be an emphasis for the Orioles.

"We have a better offense than" the Yankees and Red Sox, catcher Javy Lopez said in Spanish. "The numbers say it all."

Mora this season became one of the premier players in the AL, ending the season with 27 home runs and 104 RBI. Lopez, playing in the AL for the first time in his career, hit .316 with 23 home runs and 86 RBI. David Newhan, given the opportunity to start for the first time in his career, established himself as an everyday player. And Tejada finished the season with the best offensive numbers of any shortstop, earning AL MVP consideration despite playing on a third-place team.

"I like the pressure," Tejada said. "When I came here, I knew I had to do something for this team."

Only a few questions remain. Palmeiro, whose contract did not vest because he didn't play in 140 games in the field, said he would like to return. The team also doesn't have a set closer for next year. Jorge Julio lost his closing job to B.J. Ryan, who established himself as the best left-handed reliever in baseball. The team has asked Julio to come to Baltimore in December to work on his conditioning.

But for the first time in a long time, optimism exists in Baltimore.


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