Rleal is set up to make roster


He would embrace any role

R. Lopez ready to go

Orioles notebook


FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Orioles reliever Sendy Rleal apologized for his broken English, but his message was perfectly understood.

Asked how it would feel to renew his role as Chris Ray's setup man again - this time in the major leagues - the 25-year-old Dominican Republic native shook his head and flashed a wide smile.

"If I get a chance to make the team, I'll pitch whatever inning," Rleal said. "But I like the seventh or eighth. Whatever inning I pitch, I am just going to be happy to make it."

No Orioles reliever has done more to improve his chance of making the Opening Day roster than Rleal has over the past four weeks. In seven innings this spring, the hard-throwing right-hander has allowed just four hits and one earned run while striking out seven. There are spots in the bullpen to be won, and Rleal has pitched his way into contention.

"I don't want to say whether anybody has an inside track," Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo said. "If he keeps pitching the way he is, he is definitely in the mix."

Rleal, who was signed in 1999 as a non-drafted free agent, dominated Double-A opposition the past two seasons. He was 4-0 with a 2.66 ERA and 60 strikeouts in 47 1/3 innings in 2004 and 4-4 with a 2.04 ERA and 75 strikeouts in 70 2/3 innings while serving, in part, as Ray's setup man in Bowie last year.

"He comes in there, throws a lot of strikes, gets guys out, changes speeds and locates really well," Ray said. "If he makes the team, I think he'll be a great asset to the bullpen. I don't think he ever gets rattled. I think he'll handle it real well."

R. Lopez to open?

Rodrigo Lopez talked to Orioles pitching coach Leo Mazzone every three to five days while he was pitching in the World Baseball Classic, and in their last conversation, Mazzone told the right-hander that he will pitch today against the Red Sox, 24 hours after returning to the team.

"I am back, and I am going to pitch against the Red Sox again," said Lopez, letting out a mock sigh.

Though Perlozzo hasn't announced an Opening Day starter and won't until after Daniel Cabrera returns from the World Baseball Classic, Lopez is in line to face the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in the April 3 opener.

Lopez received a warm welcome from many of his teammates when he returned yesterday. Mexico finished 3-3 overall and didn't advance to the semifinals, but it eliminated the U.S. team Thursday night.

"We celebrate Cinco de Mayo tomorrow," Lopez exclaimed when teammate Jeff Conine yelled at him across the clubhouse. "No wait anymore."

Lopez, who had a 3.86 ERA in seven innings pitched in the tournament, said he thinks the Mexican victory over the Americans will elevate baseball's stature in his country.

"[The Americans] have a better team, everything is better here - power hitters, better arms," Lopez said. "American and Mexico, for us, is such a big deal. I think it is going to help Mexican baseball to grow."

Work in progress

After working with converted first baseman Javy Lopez throughout the World Baseball Classic as the manager of Puerto Rico, St. Louis Cardinals third base coach Jose Oquendo is convinced the Oriole can be an adequate major league first baseman.

"Our goal, for the guys that have been behind the plate so much and then go to first, is to make them at least average and then after that, you can work from there," Oquendo said before the Cardinals' 7-0 win over the Orioles yesterday. "Definitely, right now, he could be an average first baseman. It's up to him in order to be above average, by working every day and not letting [himself] have a day off."

Oquendo said he was impressed by Lopez's work ethic at first, a factor he said led to drastic improvement throughout the tournament.

Around the horn

Infielder Leo Daigle, outfielder Keith Reed and catchers Ryan Hubele and Brian Bock were reassigned to minor league camp in Sarasota, leaving the Orioles with 51 players still in camp. ... Erik Bedard also will pitch today against the Red Sox. ... Perlozzo said Todd Williams, who will test his sore right calf muscle during a side bullpen session Tuesday, could pitch in as many as three exhibition games barring any setbacks, but the manager isn't sure that will be enough for the reliever to be ready for Opening Day. jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

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