Open to new closer's role

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Kohlmeier accepts sharing job

Hargrove: just giving him help

May 18, 2001|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

One week into the season, Orioles reliever Ryan Kohlmeier already had gotten a save and his first major-league win. Again handed the closer's job after taking such good care of it last summer, he seemed intent on keeping it.

Now, he must be willing to share.

Manager Mike Hargrove again bypassed Kohlmeier in the ninth inning of Wednesday's 3-2 victory over the Detroit Tigers, allowing Mike Trombley to pass a one-run lead to left-hander B.J. Ryan as Kohlmeier stood in the bullpen. Ryan picked up his first save, with a double play extinguishing the Tigers' rally and extending the Orioles' winning streak to three games.

Kohlmeier was recognized yesterday as the club's Rolaids Relief Man during a pre-game ceremony, his reward for going 13-for-14 in save opportunities last season. The timing was ironic. He already had figured out that the closer's role no longer was exclusively his, though he never met with Hargrove to confirm it.

"I'm totally OK with it," Kohlmeier said. "I'll be the first to say I haven't been throwing as well as I should be this year. He's got to do what's best to win games. It's fine with me. Whatever spot he wants to put me in, I'll go out and pitch as well as I can, whether it's closing, setting up, long relief, whatever."

Hargrove indicated yesterday that Kohlmeier would continue to be used in the ninth inning, rather than in a set-up role.

Kohlmeier was 6-for-8 in save chances this season going into last night. He had been scored upon only once in his past seven appearances, with two hits allowed in that span, but one of them was a game-tying home run to New York's Paul O'Neill on Sunday. He responded with a perfect ninth inning in Tuesday's 11-3 win over Detroit.

"I do feel like I'm throwing a lot better," said Kohlmeier, who had allowed nine earned runs and 14 hits in 15 2/3 innings before last night, with 10 walks and 15 strikeouts. "I'll still have an occasional batter where I fall behind 2-0 and struggle to get back. It's going to happen to anybody. But the past couple of weeks have been night and day compared to what it was a month ago. I'm happy with the way things are progressing now."

Trombley recorded two saves on the road, protecting leads in Minnesota and Tampa, with Hargrove looking at matchups rather than making the automatic move. Kohlmeier's last save came on May 1, which was followed by two more scoreless innings in his next two outings before O'Neill's blast. He had allowed base runners in his first nine appearances before turning in his first perfect inning on April 25.

"Ryan has been a little streaky this year, and that probably has as much to do with this as anything," Hargrove said after Wednesday's game. "It's not that I don't have confidence in him, but there are good situations and bad situations. He's a young guy trying to establish himself and get his feet on the ground. It's tough to go out in tough situations every time out and accomplish that."

Asked about Kohlmeier again yesterday, Hargrove said, "It's really nothing different than what we've been doing the last week and a half. Ryan's still the closer; he's just going to have some help out there. We're trying to take as much pressure off him as we can."

Gibbons takes a seat

Greg Myers served as the designated hitter again last night for the sixth time in the past seven games.

With Myers occupying that role and David Segui regaining his starting job at first base, rookie Jay Gibbons is finding it harder to get at-bats after becoming a regular presence in the lineup. He hasn't been there since May 9, and is 2-for-18 since hitting his first major-league home run on May 2.

"I just looked at the numbers and figured my playing time definitely would get hurt by this, but I go out there every day and hopefully will get in the lineup every once in a while," he said. "Things happen, so you never know. David's a great player, he's a great hitter. I'll just wait my turn."

Gibbons, who's hitting .218 in 78 at-bats, could be playing every day in the minors if not claimed by the Orioles in the Rule 5 draft. He's required to stay with them all season or be offered back to Toronto for $25,000.

Knuckling under

The Orioles' hitters had to adjust to a knuckleballer last night, the Tigers' Steve Sparks, who also faced them last month in Detroit. Sparks took the loss in that game after allowing five runs and walking seven in six innings.

"There's nothing you can do to prepare yourself to hit a knuckleball," Hargrove said. "I wasn't a great hitter, but I was a pretty decent hitter. Usually, when I went to swing at a pitch, I was going to get a piece of it. I might not hit it hard, but I knew I was going to make contact. The knuckleball was the only pitch that I ever swung at that I wasn't real sure I could hit.

"We had [umpire] Al Clark behind the plate one time in Texas when I was hitting off Charlie Hough. Hough threw a ball that broke to the right off the plate. Their catcher lunged out and caught it, and Al called it a strike. I turned around and said, `Al, that ball was two to three feet off the plate.' He looked at me, took his mask off and said, `Obviously, Mike, I'm having as much trouble calling it as you are hitting it.' That pretty much sums it up."

Around the horn

Tigers bullpen coach Ed Ott returned to the club last night after spending two nights at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center. Ott left the ballpark on Tuesday after complaining of chest pains. ... Last night's lineup was the 38th used by Hargrove in 41 games.

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