It's not that Nick McCurdy doesn't relish his newfound role as setup man for the Class A Frederick Keys. He just wishes there were a few more victories to set up.

Despite his team-leading 2.87 ERA, the 6-foot-3 power pitcher has become all too accustomed to entering the game in a mop-up role for the last-place Keys.

"It's tough when you're down 8-2 or 7-0," McCurdy said. "You're coming in as a reliever thinking, 'Definitely keep them from scoring any more because you've got to have an opportunity to score seven.' "

The former 35th-round draft pick from Oklahoma State has done his job well, holding opposing hitters to a .226 batting average in 22 appearances, striking out 28 and walking 13.

After struggling for three years as a starter, the right-hander finally feels like he's found a home in the bullpen.

"It's opened my eyes, and I think the coaching staff's eyes that I'm definitely a reliever if I move on in the future," said McCurdy, who was 7-17 as a starter his first three years in the Orioles' organization, including 1-6 last year with Frederick. "I think I've got the stuff for the bullpen, not for a starter."

With a fastball clocked as fast as 93 mph and a hard, biting slider, McCurdy feels he's capable of blowing through opposing lineups the first time through. It's been when hitters have seen him two or three times in a game and have begun to time his fastball that he has gotten into trouble.

McCurdy first found success as a reliever for two seasons at Jefferson Davis Community College in Alabama. Once he transferred to Oklahoma State, however, he was converted into a starter, where he remained until this season.

Now, relieving has become as big a part of his life as deer hunting -- a passion of his during the offseason in Alabama.

"I can come in and just throw," McCurdy said. "You've still got to pitch, but you don't have five days to dwell on your past outing. It keeps your confidence up because you're in there every other day."