O's finally find relief in bullpen

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

`It's a real strength,' Hargrove says

manager refers to Julio as closer

April 26, 2002|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

A liability during four consecutive losing seasons, the Orioles' bullpen has been more than a pleasant surprise in 2002.

It's become a strength.

The club's relievers ranked fourth in the American League with a 3.05 ERA before yesterday, when newest addition Josh Towers gave up two runs in the sixth. Last year, they went 17-27 with a 4.36 ERA and 19 blown saves.

Who saw this coming?

The Orioles had three rookies in the bullpen before moving Rodrigo Lopez into the rotation. Another reliever, Willis Roberts, completed his first full season in the majors last year. The club failed to acquire a veteran closer during the winter, but Jorge Julio has taken hold of the job.

Manager Mike Hargrove referred to Julio as the closer for the first time yesterday after indicating in the past that the role was being shared.

Julio had saved the past two games before yesterday, giving him three for the season, and he also earned a win on April 19 at Tampa Bay after mishandling a 5-4 lead in the 13th inning. A leadoff homer by the Devil Rays' Bobby Smith is one of only two runs he has allowed in 10 appearances.

That's two more runs than left-hander Buddy Groom has allowed in seven games.

"I'm feeling fine. Everything's good," Groom said. "I'm going out there with the same approach every time. I'm trying to throw strikes. If they hit it, they hit it. I'll give up some hits, but hopefully not runs."

A starter in the minors, Rick Bauer has impressed Hargrove with his smooth transition to reliever. Bauer tossed two scoreless innings on Wednesday, a sinker being his most effective pitch, and has allowed runs in only one of six appearances.

"I'm not surprised. I'm more pleased than anything else because it is a mental adjustment," Hargrove said. "His role is the way we've used him the last two nights, a little bit late. We've got a long guy in Josh so we don't need him in that role.

"Rick fits real well in the bullpen. That's not to say he's in the bullpen forever. But right now his talent and his stuff translates real well out of the bullpen."

Turning his attention to the entire unit, Hargrove added, "It's a real strength right now. Given the people we have there and their abilities, I don't think what we've seen is out of the ordinary. I don't think they're overachieving."

Mora sits one out

Melvin Mora didn't play yesterday after being hit on the right leg Wednesday night by Boston pitcher Darren Oliver. Mora left the game after five innings but was available yesterday if needed.

Mora was hit about four inches above the knee.

"It's bruised and sore," Hargrove said. "He probably could play, but I'd hate to put him out there and in the third inning it gets worse and leaves our bench short."

Garabito watch ending?

Could the Eddy Garabito watch finally be nearing an end?

Garabito never made it to spring training because of difficulties obtaining his work visa in the Dominican Republic, but he was expected to have it yesterday, with instructions to report today to the minor-league complex in Sarasota, Fla.

Unable to produce a birth certificate, Garabito has seen Triple-A Rochester's season begin without him. He would have been the starting shortstop after failing to compete for a utility job with the Orioles.

Syd Thrift, the Orioles' vice president for baseball operations, provided the update on Garabito after speaking with Carlos Bernhardt, the club's director of Latin American scouting.

"I said, `Send him to Sarasota and let us know immediately,' " Thrift said. "There have been all kinds of problems and mix-ups. Next thing you know, he'll be retiring from baseball before he even plays."

Vizquel on Belle

In his new book released yesterday, Cleveland Indians shortstop Omar Vizquel takes a few swings at former teammate Albert Belle.

Referring to a 1994 incident in Chicago, when the Indians attempted to replace Belle's bat before it could be X-rayed for cork, Vizquel said, "The problem, of course, was that all of Albert's bats were corked."

Hargrove said he didn't believe that any of Belle's bats were corked with the Orioles.

Moriarty in spotlight

Mike Moriarty has appeared in only four games, which is no surprise considering his unheralded role as a rookie utility infielder. But at least he has gained some notice.

A photo of Moriarty appears in this week's Sports Illustrated. He's shown being upended by Chicago's Kenny Lofton at second base while extending himself for a wide throw.

"Well, I've got to get in there somehow," he said.

First hit for Fordyce

Brook Fordyce's single in the eighth inning was his first hit of the season in 18 at-bats.

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