In Ryan, Orioles get lots of relief

ORIOLES FOCUS

Baseball

A Look Inside

July 25, 2004|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

It was the kind of streak that probably needed to be broken to be fully appreciated.

Orioles reliever B.J. Ryan had gone 81 consecutive appearances without allowing a home run -- stretching all the way back to June 30, 2003 -- before Ken Harvey took him deep Monday night at Kansas City.

And it was only after Harvey hit that relatively meaningless home run, which trimmed the Orioles' lead to four runs in an eventual 7-4 victory, that reporters thought to check the record books.

Turns out, Ryan had quietly put together the longest stretch of appearances without surrendering a home run in franchise history. Don Stanhouse held the previous record after avoiding the long ball for 63 consecutive games from 1978 to '79.

That Ryan toiled so well in relative anonymity for so long shouldn't come as a surprise. Such is life for a middle reliever. As his bullpen mate, Jason Grimsley, said last week, "If I'm doing my job, I don't see my name in the newspaper."

Make no mistake, the Orioles are well aware of how valuable Ryan has become. This past week, major league sources said the team is willing to move closer Jorge Julio before Saturday's non-waiver trade deadline, in part, because they believe Ryan could step into the role as the team's closer.

Ryan, a 6-foot-6 left-hander, could be even more valuable on the trade market, but the Orioles consider him practically untouchable.

Asked if he could imagine life without Ryan in his bullpen, Orioles manager Lee Mazzilli said, "Oh man, it's not good. Those other guys have done well, but I really feel when [Ryan] pitches, they're not going to get a hit off him. And when it happens, you're shocked."

As Mazzilli said, the numbers are "frightening."

After striking out the side in the eighth inning last night, Ryan lowered his ERA to 1.69. He has allowed just 35 hits and 22 walks in 53 1/3 innings.

Against left-handers, the numbers are even scarier. Lefties have managed just two hits off him -- both singles -- in 62 at-bats, an .032 batting average.

Since right-handers are hitting .250 off him -- down from .273 last year -- the Orioles have grown increasingly confident Ryan could become a steady closer. They think he has the makeup to do it, but for now, they still like the way Julio is progressing. Julio has converted 15 of 17 save opportunities.

Mazzilli compared Ryan's potential evolution into a closer to Mariano Rivera's with the New York Yankees. Rivera had been one of the top setup men in baseball, setting up for closer John Wetteland in 1996.

"The problem," Mazzilli said, "is you have to have somebody to take his spot [as the setup man]."

The Yankees had Mike Stanton and Jeff Nelson setting up for Rivera by 1997. If the Orioles trade Julio, the primary setup duties fall to Grimsley, who has had a rocky ride since getting traded last month from Kansas City.

Ryan, 28, is making $1.3 million this season, and that figures to at least double through salary arbitration this winter. He'll be eligible for free agency after next season.

But even with other teams' scouts excited at the thought of landing him in a trade, Ryan doesn't sound the least bit concerned. He came to the Orioles in a 1999 trade deadline deal with the Cincinnati Reds for Juan Guzman.

"That's completely out of my control," Ryan said. "That's for the guys in the front office. My job is to just go out there and be ready to pitch."

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