For the Orioles to remain competitive with New York and Toronto in the American League East, the bullpen is going to have to start performing better.
Help could have come from Vaughn Eshelman, a Rule V draftee taken by the Boston Red Sox in December. All he did was beat the Yankees in his major-league debut Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium.
The former Orioles farmhand, pitching his first game above the Double-A level, threw six innings of three-hit ball in an 8-0 win.
Not bad for Eshelman's first major-league start and for a player who went 11-9 at Bowie last season.
Orioles general manager Roland Hemond did not bemoan Eshelman's recent success; he reveled in it.
"If you don't have good prospects, then you don't have a problem with your 40-man roster," said Hemond, who also had Rich DeLucia and Francisco Seneaux taken in the Rule V draft. "To me, it means we have made some tremendous strides in our player scouting and development."
It was an embarrassment of riches. Hemond said the Orioles had too many other young pitchers to protect -- Jimmy Haynes, Brian Sackinsky, Scott Klingenbeck, Joe Borowski and Billy Percibal.
"You can't protect them all," said Hemond, who said Eshelman's 1993 surgery on his ulnar nerve was not a factor.
Under the Rule V draft, a team can purchase any player not kept on another team's 40-man roster for $50,000. If the player does not stay on the major-league roster for the entire season, he can be reclaimed by his original team for $25,000.
There are many Orioles officials who would like to get Eshelman back from the Red Sox, just as Baltimore returned Russell Brock to Oakland.
"[Eshelman] keeps doing what he did last night and they're never getting him back," said Edward P. Kenney, the Red Sox director of player development and administration.
Kenney said the Red Sox targeted seven or eight unprotected players during the off-season and Eshelman was at the top of the list.
Boston planned on keeping Eshelman as a 10th or 11th pitcher, a left-handed emergency reliever, not a Yankee Stadium starter.
Injuries to Tim VanEgmond and Zane Smith changed Red Sox manager Kevin Kennedy's plans. Eshelman started.
The sinkerballing, control pitcher kept the ball low and threw strikes, walking two and striking out one.
"He earned all the money we paid to get him last night," Kenney said. "Anything he does after this is a bonus."
Eshelman is not the first player the Orioles would like to have back from the Rule V draft. Last year, the team lost pitcher Jose Mercedes to the Milwaukee Brewers.
Former farm director Doug Melvin said he decided to protect Rick Forney, who pitched a no-hitter at Bowie last season, instead. Melvin also backed up the team's decision not to protect Eshelman, remembering the left-handed pitcher's ineffectiveness against lefty hitters.
"They had a tough decision to make," said Melvin, now the Texas Rangers GM. "If it wasn't Vaughn Eshelman, it would have been Billy Percibal."
Hemond, particularly with his team's recent bullpen woes, would not mind Eshelman back.
"It's still early in the season," Hemond said. "He did have a good first start, to his credit."