Fearless Ray proves worthy of bigger role


`Fire' of young reliever wins over Mazzilli, Miller


July 06, 2005|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK - Orioles manager Lee Mazzilli was curious last week about how rookie pitcher Chris Ray would respond to his first dose of adversity. Would he choke on it, or swallow hard and proceed as if nothing was wrong?

Ray has been so good since coming up from Double-A Bowie on June 13, adversity meant allowing two inherited runners to score in a June 27 game against the New York Yankees. He followed that outing with a scoreless inning against the Cleveland Indians on Friday and 1 2/3 shutout innings against the Yankees on Monday.

It looks like Mazzilli has his answer.

"This kid's got fire in his belly," he said.

Mazzilli seems certain to use Ray in more pressurized situations, even though the right-hander still is developing at age 23. He entered Monday's game in the sixth inning with the Yankees ahead 6-5 and kept the deficit at one run before the Orioles rallied to take an 8-6 lead.

"You feel like you have to protect him when he comes up and you want to put him in a situation where he can succeed early on. But I'm not too sure how much more protection he needs," Mazzilli said. "This kid's got some talent. To me, right now, I don't feel like I'm afraid to put him in any spot. That shows a lot of confidence in him."

Ray hasn't allowed a run in eight of his nine appearances. He retired all four batters he faced in Atlanta on June 25, striking out Andruw Jones with a 94-mph fastball, Julio Franco with a 96-mph fastball and Brian Jordan on a slider.

After hitting a batter and walking another Monday, Ray ran the count full to Jorge Posada before getting a called third strike on a slider.

"The kid's got an electric arm," pitching coach Ray Miller said. "He keeps everything right at the knees, and he isn't afraid to throw the ball over the plate.

"His fastball either cuts or sinks, 94 to 98. I saw 99 on the board once. He has a real tight slider and a good [split-fingered fastball]. And each time out he seems to relax a little bit more. He certainly isn't afraid.

"The first couple outings his velocity was limited a little bit simply by being too quick with his body, wanting to get it done, but he's got his feet on the ground now and he's going to be a good one."

Could he be a closer, the same job he held at Bowie?

"You never know about that until somebody does it," Miller said. "Does he have the equipment? Yes. And the size and the arm strength. He's got a lot of things going for him. But I've said for 100 years, if you want to have a good closer, have two."

In the meantime, Ray continues to take a simple approach. Nothing seems to faze him. Not bases-loaded situations, not grand expectations.

"I just try to keep the game where it is and give my team a chance to win," he said. "Obviously, it's different up here than it was at Bowie, as far as the level of play, but I just try to do what I was doing down there, try to get guys out and let our fielders take care of the rest.

"Right now, I'm just trying to get some innings and get used to pitching in the big leagues. I'll try to take advantage of the opportunities I get. All I can control is what I do on the mound. I go out there and give it my all."

So far, that's been enough.

Bedard to Bowie

Erik Bedard will report to Bowie today, where he's scheduled to throw two innings on an injury rehabilitation assignment.

Bedard, on the disabled list with a sprained ligament in his left knee, threw 50 pitches off a mound before Monday's game. After today's appearance, he'll go "start to start," Mazzilli said, before the club determines when he's ready.

"His arm strength is there. He's been throwing the whole time," Mazzilli said. "It's getting back into the rhythm of getting innings in, more than anything."

Around the horn

Catcher Javy Lopez has experienced some mild swelling in his right hand. He underwent surgery May 26 to repair a broken bone, and the Orioles are waiting to send him on a rehab assignment. ... Jay Gibbons was available to play yesterday after rolling his right hand while attempting a diving catch in Monday's game. ... Catcher Eli Whiteside, 25, made his major league debut yesterday and grounded into a double play in the seventh.

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