Brower in 'pen, but O's not done

Trades, waivers watched

veteran invitee joins roster

March 29, 2006|By DAN CONNOLLY | DAN CONNOLLY,SUN REPORTER

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- The Orioles took a step toward shoring up their inexperienced bullpen yesterday, but enough uncertainty remains that they continue to check the waiver wire and discuss trade options for another reliever.

Before their final home game of the spring at Fort Lauderdale Stadium, the Orioles announced they had added right-hander Jim Brower to their 40-man roster, basically securing an Opening Day spot for the 33-year-old veteran who had been a nonroster invitee.

"I think that we need some experience out in the bullpen and he has done it before in the big leagues," Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo said of Brower. "We need a veteran guy out there to go with some of the possibilities we have, and he certainly is somebody we wanted. And we are tickled he is still going to be with us."

Brower joins first-year closer Chris Ray, veteran right-handed setup man LaTroy Hawkins and left-handed setup man Tim Byrdak as the only relievers with guaranteed spots in the bullpen. Not far behind is lefty Eric DuBose, who has spent parts of the past four seasons with the Orioles, and rookie Sendy Rleal, who has allowed just one run in nine spring appearances.

According to one club official, DuBose and Rleal have almost certainly made the team, leaving a three-way battle among John Halama, Eddy Rodriguez and Cory Morris for the final spot.

Being the only left-hander of the three, Halama, 34, seemingly has the inside track. But left-handed batters have hit better against him (.292 to .287) in his career than right-handers, negating the primary benefit of a third lefty in the bullpen.

Therefore, the likelihood has increased that the Orioles will trade for another reliever or find one on waivers as other major league rosters shake out.

"I would think if there is somebody out there that we feel is better than what we have, we would make an effort to get him," Perlozzo said.

Possible targets could include Detroit's Franklyn German, San Francisco's Tyler Walker, Pittsburgh's Ryan Vogelsong, Boston's Matt Ginter, Cleveland's Steve Karsay and the Los Angeles Angels' Kevin Gregg - all right-handers potentially available. The Orioles also had some interest in Juan Cruz, but the Oakland Athletics dealt him to Arizona on Sunday. The market for left-handers is almost nonexistent.

Club vice president Jim Duquette said no trade or waiver claim is imminent. However, the club likely has two spots open on its 40-man roster now that it has removed catcher Geronimo Gil and transferred pitcher Aaron Rakers to the 60-day disabled list.

"We are exploring the options outside of the organization and weighing that against the arms we already have," Duquette said. "If everything is equal, you stay with the guy you know who is within the organization. If there is one name out there that is compelling to make a trade for, we are open to that.

"Unfortunately, this time of year there is not a lot of quality available out there."

To trade for a reliever, the Orioles likely would have to give up one of three outfielders: Luis Matos, David Newhan or Corey Patterson.

The trade market for Matos is limited, and the team is not making Patterson widely available.

That leaves Newhan, who is batting .410 this spring. The Orioles are reticent to move him, however, because he can play several positions, hits left-handed and has experience coming off the bench.

Eventually, one relief spot will be filled by right-hander Todd Williams, the only bullpen holdover from last year's Opening Day roster. He is expected back from a calf strain next month. John Parrish, another 2005 holdover, is rehabbing from elbow-ligament replacement surgery and likely won't be back until May at the earliest.

With the exception of Hawkins, every Oriole ticketed for the Opening Day bullpen either started in, or was sent to, the minor leagues last season. And even Hawkins pitched two minor league games in 2005 as part of a rehab assignment.

"There's just a lot of question marks on how they will come out and how they will perform on the major league level," Perlozzo said. "We fully intend and hope that the guys that we take are good enough to pitch and not have to worry about them so much. Hopefully that will happen for us."

Brower, who ranked eighth among all National League pitchers in appearances over the past four years, began last season with San Francisco. He was released after posting a 6.53 ERA in 32 games and was picked up by Atlanta. He had a 4.20 ERA in 37 appearances under the tutelage of Braves pitching coach Leo Mazzone.

Now in a similar role with the Orioles, Mazzone first suggested the Orioles sign Brower to a minor league contract because "he can pitch every day."

Brower, who has allowed six runs in eight innings this spring (6.75 ERA), said he had several offers this offseason, including a spot on a 40-man roster. But he felt the Orioles presented a good opportunity for him to make the team and he wanted to work with Mazzone again.

"They called me and said Leo saw I was available and really wanted me over here and that's humbling," Brower said. "For a guy that has had so much success, you can't say no to him."

dan.connolly@baltsun.com

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