BOSTON -- When Mike Flanagan moved to the bullpen last year, he turned what many thought could be a difficult adjustment into a smooth transition.
At the age of 39, he found a new lease on his baseball life.
Now, a year later and in a similar role, it's not quite the same -- for Flanagan or Orioles manager John Oates. Flanagan is not only the lone lefthander in the bullpen, he's the only one on the staff, and both the pitcher and the manager are having a tough adjustment.
On the surface, Flanagan's numbers -- four games, one inning, three hits, three runs and a 27.00 earned run average -- are ugly enough to cause concern. But before anybody gets a notion to write off the veteran, there are circumstances to be considered.
A year ago, when the Orioles compiled the worst pitching record in the big leagues, Oates had two luxuries he doesn't have today. He carried 11 pitchers during most of his tenure, compared to the 10 he now has available. And he had two righthanded and two lefthanded set-up men in front of closer Gregg Olson.
He had more maneuverability last year with an admittedly weaker staff. The individual most affected is Flanagan.
"I don't want to use him too early," said Oates, "because I want to have him ready when the game is on the line. His problem right now is that he hasn't thrown enough pitches, hasn't gotten enough innings."
The reason is the absence of Jim Poole, Flanagan's lefthanded bullpen partner a year ago, who is on the disabled list and at least a month away from being ready to pitch.
"I wondered how it would affect me," Flanagan said after last night's game with the Boston Red Sox was postponed because of rain (with a slight mixture of snow).
"At first I thought it [having only one lefthander in the bullpen] might cut down my appearances, but not my innings," said Flanagan. "But now I can see it's probably going to be the other way around."
With both Flanagan and Poole available, Oates didn't have to be picky about choosing his spots. And if either needed work, it was usually a simple matter to get him into a game. With only one lefthander available, Oates has to protect himself.
"I've probably thrown only about 25 pitches in 11 days, whereas my limit [last year] used to be about 40 pitches in three innings," said Flanagan. "The inning that I used to get just to keep sharp I'm not getting because he [Oates] has to be thinking about the next game."
And instead of appearing in the sixth or seventh innings, Flanagan now finds himself the late setup man in the eighth. That means he's closer to Olson's time, has less time to work out any kinks and a smaller margin for error.
In the Orioles' overall scheme, pitching has been the constant that has shown the most improvement. But it has come primarily from the starters, while the bullpen works one man (and one lefthander) shorter than it did a year ago.
It presents an interesting situation for Oates, who is comfortable with the righthanders he has in the bullpen. With an all-righthanded starting rotation, opposing lineups are loaded with lefthanders, which in turn creates an ideal situation for lefthanded relievers.