O's Relievers Maintain an All-for-One Mind-Set

By Jeff Nelson
Special to The Washington Post
Monday, May 19, 2008

BALTIMORE, May 18 -- Based on the recent performances put forth by various members of the Baltimore Orioles' bullpen, a pecking order at the back end of games would appear to be forming.

But that, apparently, is just a mirage.

Orioles Manager Dave Trembley said there is no designated setup man behind closer George Sherrill, even if rookie Jim Johnson has looked worthy of the role lately, while others have not.

"I think it's still young in the season to start pinning roles on some of these new guys," Trembley said Sunday, after the Orioles lost a 2-1 game in the finale of their interleague series with the Washington Nationals.

"What I'm trying to do is go with the guy who's hot and not overuse guys. I used [Johnson] two days in a row, so I wasn't going to pitch him [Sunday]. And I've got some other options with guys down there, so I think we'll continue to move the ball around."

While the bullpen has been a strength -- the Orioles are 17-1 when leading after seven innings -- two veterans who were viewed as potential setup men to start the season have been inconsistent and could not pitch clean frames in a close game Sunday.

In the top of the eighth inning, with the Orioles behind 1-0, right-handed submariner Chad Bradford allowed two hits, two walks and what proved to be the winning run. He escaped further damage by getting Lastings Milledge to ground into a double play.

In 5 2/3 innings this month, Bradford has allowed nine hits, three walks and four runs.

After the Orioles closed to within 2-1, left-hander Jamie Walker started the top of the ninth by walking Elijah Dukes, who is 1 for 24 this season. Walker rebounded by striking out pinch hitter Willie Harris, then gave up a flare into right field by Wil Nieves. What could have been trouble was averted, however, when right fielder Nick Markakis caught the ball on a short hop and threw out Dukes at second base.

In Walker's previous two outings, he did not record an out in four at-bats and opposing batters entered Sunday hitting .400 against him this season.

Johnson, on the other hand, has a 1.13 ERA in 16 appearances and the former minor league starter has been used out of the bullpen in crucial situations recently.

Last Tuesday, the 24-year-old right-hander got Boston's Manny Ramírez to ground into a double play with the bases loaded. And this weekend, he struck out the side in the eighth inning to set up Sherrill's save on Friday and struck out Washington's Austin Kearns with the bases loaded in the eighth inning Saturday, leading to another Sherrill save.

Asked if he would like to assume the set-up job permanently, Johnson shrugged.

"Whichever way [Trembley] wants to throw me is fine," he said. "If it's in the fifth, the sixth, the eighth, it doesn't really matter. . . . If he starts dictating which guys are going to be in special roles, I think that can ultimately backfire if you need a guy to pitch" in a different situation.

Bradford had a similar view and said everyone in the bullpen views the eighth inning just like the seventh and the sixth.

The Orioles can use "whoever's going good at the time or it can depend on righty-lefty matchups," he said. "Of course, J.J.'s getting everybody out, so [the situation] doesn't matter with him."

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