The All-Star break couldn't have arrived at a worse time for Orioles reliever Mike Timlin. It also couldn't have come soon enough.
On one hand, it interrupted his momentum. Timlin had recorded two saves during the three-game series in Philadelphia that proceeded the break. He retired all five batters he faced, striking out two on Sunday.
He looked the part of the $16 million closer the Orioles had sought when they signed him to a four-year deal in November 1998.
But the three-day layoff for the mid-summer classic also signaled that the season's second half was approaching, when Timlin has converted 18 of 19 save chances the past two summers.
How did Timlin, who had nine saves in 13 opportunities before last night's game against the Atlanta Braves, view the break this year?
"The only thing it did was give me three days to spend with my family," he said. "It was just a chance to rest and do what I need to do. The recent success, it's nothing that I'm doing different. I just have to go out and do what I can do."
Manager Mike Hargrove relieved Timlin of his closer's duties on June 25 after the right-hander allowed a grand slam to Seattle catcher Tom Lampkin in the eighth inning of a 4-2 loss.
Hargrove hasn't anointed Timlin the closer again, but ninth-inning leads will be passed along to him if he continues throwing like he did in Philadelphia.
"I think Grover was taking the time, when I was in a lull, to just give me a break. That's all he was doing," Timlin said.
"My confidence never wavered. I always knew I could do the job. It's just a matter of having the opportunity to do it. When it comes up, I'll take it.
"I knew it would come around. I'm not slamming anybody in the bullpen. Any guy out there could do the job that I've done. But I signed on here to be the closer and that's what I want to be. Everybody else probably wants to do the same thing I'm doing. It's just that I feel it's my job."
Ripken rehab stint?
Hargrove said no discussions have taken place regarding Cal Ripken going on an injury-rehab assignment before rejoining the club, but the subject could be broached soon depending on when he's ready to resume playing.
A club usually has a cut-off point at which it becomes necessary for a player to get some at-bats in the minors before facing major-league pitching again. "I think logic says yes," Hargrove said, "but with Cal, he's defied logic a number of times, so I hesitate to say yes.
"I think it's certainly something we'd discuss with him and talk about to see if that would be the right thing to do. But it hasn't been discussed so far."
Ripken was eligible to come off the disabled list Thursday. He intended to begin baseball-related activities this week as the next step toward a return.
"It's a day-to-day thing," Hargrove said. "There's no scheduled timetable."
It doesn't appear that outfielder Rich Amaral is close to coming off the disabled list, and not simply because the Orioles are delaying the move to see more of 21-year-old Luis Matos.
Amaral's calf muscle has been slow to heal, and he no longer is running before games. His activity is confined to hitting and throwing.
"It's been real frustrating," said Amaral, 38, who hasn't played since June 14. "I've got a couple tears in there that are healing, and until they do, I can't do anything. It's taking so darn long. I go out there and try to jog and I can't do it. I can't even play.
"I still have a spot in there they want to clear up before I even try to run again. It's been real frustrating."
Hargrove said he didn't anticipate Amaral coming off the disabled list "in the foreseeable future."
"It started out as a cramp. You just never know with these things. They can go from one day being terrible to the next day being better," he said.
Matos hasn't been in the lineup the first two games of this series, but will start today against left-hander Tom Glavine. That means Albert Belle probably will serve as the designated hitter. Hargrove said he also wants to give Matos some at-bats against right-handers.
Organizational curiosity over Matos, and the need for someone already on the 40-man roster, caused the Orioles to reach beyond the Triple-A level for a replacement for Amaral. It seems unlikely they'll let go, at least not anytime soon.
"If [Matos] is going to be here, we need to play him as much as we can," Hargrove said. "We'll see as we go along. I want to see him play."
No Maduro surgery
A second-opinion has confirmed that pitcher Calvin Maduro won't need surgery to repair a small ligament tear in his right elbow.
Maduro visited Dr. James Andrews last week in Birmingham, Ala., and was told the best remedy was time and rest. He plans on going to the minor-league complex in Sarasota, Fla., next week to begin rehabbing the elbow, and still hopes to pitch again this season.
Around the horn
Braves manager Bobby Cox began serving his five-game suspension last night.