The smile Bowie Baysox pitcher Sendy Rleal wears lets people know he's enjoying the 2005 season. And the 25-year-old from the Dominican Republic should: His 2.26 ERA going into last night's home game against the Altoona Curve is the best on the staff. So are his 14 saves.

Rleal (4-4) is in his second season with Bowie, the Baltimore Orioles' Class AA affiliate. His ERA has dropped steadily since 2002, when he made the change to relief pitching, and his top three pitches -- fastball, change-up and slider -- continue to improve.

For most of the season he's been hitting his spots and batters haven't been hitting much. But Rleal can make it interesting at times. Example: Tuesday night, top of the 10th inning in a tie ballgame in front of the home crowd, Rleal allowed Curve outfielder Rich Thompson to reach second base by way of a single and a sacrifice. He struck out the next two batters, ending the threat.

"You have to have confidence," Rleal said. "If you don't have confidence, you don't have nothing."

Rleal is also confident that if he can wiggle into a spot with the Orioles, he would be able to produce and stick around. David Stockstill, the Orioles' director of minor league operations, is confident as well.

Said Stockstill: "There's always that chance [he could be called up at the end of the season]. He's pitching very well. If we need him, I believe he'll be ready. I believe he'll be a major league pitcher in the near future and I believe he'll be a good one."

-- Daniel Lyght

RLEAL