Reyes gets no roster relief

Chances of making O's hurt by poor spring, bullpen competition

`Haven't seen Al at his best'

Reliever set back by flaw in mechanics

March 21, 2000|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- With Sunday's game against the Boston Red Sox canceled because of a rain-soaked infield, Orioles reliever Al Reyes trudged to one of the back fields along with the other pitchers who were cheated by the elements. Within the confines of the cage, he would simulate an inning to remain on his spring schedule.

It had the feel of a real game, except there was no pressure. And no hitters. And no three-ball counts. And no home runs disappearing over the fence or line drives finding every gap.

For a few precious moments, Al Reyes skirted trouble. He could step off the mound and not feel as though he had just thrown batting practice.

Once considered almost a lock to accompany the Orioles north, Reyes is fighting for his major-league life. He's allowed 12 hits and walked six in only 8 1/3 innings, and opponents are batting .324 against him. He's given up three homers, as many as starter Sidney Ponson has in 3 2/3 fewer innings.

Two of them came in one inning against the Texas Rangers on Friday -- a two-run shot and a grand slam. Only one run was earned, but they all conspired against him. His 4.32 ERA still carries an air of respectability. It's as deceiving as a corked bat.

"I haven't seen Al at his best this spring. I don't think any of us have. Al needs to do that," manager Mike Hargrove said. "Al needs to give us something to hang our hats on, and it needs to happen pretty soon."

Bad news has come to him in many forms. Hargrove's desire to open the season with an 11-man staff, which brings him another stride closer to Triple-A Rochester. The emergence of Jose Mercedes, who hasn't given up a run in 11 innings. The presence of Tim Worrell, who is 2-0 with a 1.00 ERA.

"I know there's competition in the bullpen, but I'm trying to do what I can to help the team win," said Reyes, 28, who was born and still lives in the Dominican Republic. "I never seem to have a good spring training. But the things that happen, it's better that they happen in spring training instead of the season."

Reyes had issues long before arriving in Fort Lauderdale. After not allowing a run in 11 of his first 14 appearances with the Orioles, he constructed a 9.00 ERA in his last 13 games.

New pitching coach Sammy Ellis got his first extended look at Reyes when he reported to camp in February. Ellis observed Reyes throwing in the bullpen and spotted a red flag.

"He said to me, `You need to work a little bit on your mechanics.' Right now I'm trying to do what he told me to do," Reyes said.

"When I'm in the stretch, I'm breaking too soon. They want me to stay back a little longer before I throw home. When I get everything together, I think the results will be better."

But how far away is Reyes from reaching that point? He's lost right now, and he doesn't know how to get back.

"He's having a hard time getting his timing and rhythm," Ellis said. "Whether it's correctable, I don't know. But he's not comfortable. He's told us that. We've got to try to make him comfortable in the next two weeks."

Asked how this can be done, Ellis said, "I don't know. I have some things I'm going to talk to him about. But I don't think that's etched in stone. I don't think there's any definite answer. We've just got to hope we can get him throwing the way he was when he was pitching here last year. When he came over here, he was throwing good."

When he came over, in a trade with the Milwaukee Brewers for pitcher Rocky Coppinger, he wasn't in such disarray.

"I feel different," Reyes said. "Everything's not going the way I want them to go. I'm trying to do the best I can, but right now I can't do anything about it."

He better find a way soon. Only 12 days of spring training remain on the ledger. Available space in the bullpen is limited.

As each game passes, so are Reyes' chances of getting to Baltimore.

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