Worrell squeezes in O's bullpen

Ex-Athletic is seen as the final piece to a rebuilt relief corps

`More competition the better'

Minor-league contract doesn't assure a spot

February 05, 2000|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

The Orioles completed an off-season's heavy lifting yesterday afternoon by signing free-agent reliever Tim Worrell to a minor-league contract. Though Worrell did not receive a guaranteed deal because of a filled 40-man roster, the right-hander immediately becomes favored to win the seventh and final spot in the Orioles' renovated bullpen.

A veteran of four organizations in seven major-league seasons, Worrell, 32, compiled a 2-2 record and 4.15 ERA in 53 relief appearances for the Oakland Athletics last season.

He approached dominance against right-handed hitters, allowing only a .229 average.

"We've got some other guys trying to make the team also. But we had some good reports on Worrell. I felt based on what he had done last year it was a good fit," said Orioles vice president of baseball operations Syd Thrift.

Worrell's contract pays him a $700,000 base salary should he make the team.

Thrift had previously addressed the team's most obvious need for a setup man by signing former Minnesota closer Mike Trombley to a three-year, $7.75 million deal and later added left-handed middle reliever Chuck McElroy through a trade that sent disenchanted specialist Jesse Orosco to the New York Mets. (Orosco, 42, requested the deal and waived his no-trade status.) Another A's free agent, left-hander Buddy Groom, then signed a two-year, $4 million contract.

Trombley is expected to serve as the right-handed bridge to incumbent closer Mike Timlin; Groom will likely be used against selected left-handed hitters; McElroy and Worrell will be used in middle relief and Al Reyes in long relief.

"We feel much more comfortable about it than we did when we looked out in September," said Thrift.

After converting 18 of his last 19 save opportunities in 1999, Timlin will report to spring training Feb. 17 as the only holdover from last April's season-opening bullpen.

The Orioles ranked sixth in American League pitching last season despite a bullpen that crafted a 17-27 record, 4.91 ERA and 33 saves, better only than the Kansas City Royals. The bullpen's wins were the fewest in the AL.

Worrell, brother of former Los Angeles Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals closer Todd Worrell, was drafted by the San Diego Padres in 1989 and spent five seasons in the National League before his trade to the Detroit Tigers after the 1997 season.

The Indians traded former Oriole Geronimo Berroa for Worrell and outfielder David Roberts in June 1998 before dealing the pitcher to the A's that July.

Manager Mike Hargrove has long been an advocate of a seven-man bullpen, a tendency that Worrell's signing would appear to cement.

Including Worrell, the projected bullpen worked 452 games last season.

Until yesterday's move the Orioles had considered using the staff's final vacancy as a "developmental" slot to be filled by one of several highly regarded prospects -- Brian Falkenborg, Calvin Maduro, Gabe Molina and Matt Riley. Worrell's presence would give the Orioles a balanced alignment of four right-handers and three left-handers. It also would suggest a diminished chance that the Orioles will re-sign left-hander Doug Johns.

Johns' contract was not renewed in December.

Thrift emphasized Worrell "still has to make the team. He knows it. The more competition the better. I don't know whether he's the favorite or not. I've told him everybody has the same shot to make the team. He's got talent. He's got to apply it."

The Orioles likewise appeared to have rejected the thought of opening the fifth spot of their rotation to a spring free-for-all by signing free agent Pat Rapp to an incentive-laden $750,000 contract last week.

Thrift had previously touted Maduro and minor-league free agent Jose Mercedes as favorites in the competition. Thrift said earlier this week that Jason Johnson is still projected as the No. 4 starter with the more experienced Rapp slotted at No. 5. Worrell also has started in his career.

Worrell becomes the most visible of 13 nonroster invitees to camp. Former Cleveland Indians outfielder Wayne Kirby also will attend.

The Orioles yesterday also announced the signing of left-handed journeyman Rick Krivda to a minor-league contract. Krivda, 30, originally signed with the Orioles in 1991 and went 9-14 while appearing with the club in 1995-97.

He split 1998 between the Indians and Cincinnati Reds before going 6-8 with a 5.71 ERA for the Kansas City Royals' Triple-A affiliate in Omaha.

Worrell file

Age: 32

Born: July 5, 1967

Height/weight: 6-4, 231

Throws/bats: Right/right

Major League service: Six years, 102 days

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