Questions

Orioles Preview

Baseball 2006

April 02, 2006|By JEFF ZREBIEC | JEFF ZREBIEC,SUN REPORTER

Will the bullpen hold up?

With Todd Williams on the disabled list, the Orioles will start the season without a single reliever who was in the bullpen Opening Day last year. LaTroy Hawkins has the best resume of a group that includes a mix of unproven youngsters (Chris Ray and Sendy Rleal), and well-traveled veterans (Williams, Tim Byrdak and Jim Brower).

The ability of Byrdak, who resuscitated his major league career last season, to get left-handers out and the maturation of Ray, the Orioles' 24-year-old closer with no career saves, figure to be the most critical factors.

How long before Leo Mazzone's influence takes hold?

It has been tough to gauge the new pitching coach's impact on the staff this spring because four-fifths of the Orioles' starting rotation was away at the World Baseball Classic. Manager Sam Perlozzo has already tried to temper the expectations, telling people Mazzone's effect will be apparent more in the long term than short term. Ultimately, Orioles officials hope Mazzone will help veterans Rodrigo Lopez, Kris Benson and Bruce Chen find a level of consistency and speed the development of Daniel Cabrera and Erik Bedard. If he does that, the Orioles could have one of the better staffs in the American League.

How good can Daniel Cabrera and Erik Bedard be? Cabrera, an imposing 24-year-old right-hander, was predicted by many to have a breakout season in 2006, and that was before he dominated Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic. If Cabrera is locating Mazzone's signature pitch, the down-and-away fastball, he is virtually unhittable. When he's commanding all his pitches, Bedard can also control lineups, as he did early last season before injuring his left knee. There are questions about Bedard's attitude and durability; however, the Orioles remain high on the 27-year-old.

Which Miguel Tejada will show up this season?

The Orioles hope it will be the happy-go-lucky and focused Tejada, who drove in 150 runs in 2004 and had a .329 batting average with 19 homers and 62 RBIs at the All-Star break in 2005, not the one who had just seven home runs and 38 RBIs in his last 343 at-bats. The All-Star shortstop denied that his reported feud with Sammy Sosa, the Rafael Palmeiro steroids investigation and a sore shoulder were responsible for his on-the-field slump and clubhouse silence. A hot start and an enthusiastic Tejada would push his offseason trade request to the background.

Will Brian Roberts be the same player after his elbow injury?

Dr. Timothy Kremchek, who transplanted a ligament into Roberts' left elbow in September, says the second baseman will be as good as, if not better than, the player who broke through in 2005 with a .314 batting average, 18 homers, 73 RBIs and his first All-Star berth. It just might take some time. Roberts needed to learn how to catch a baseball again, and he acknowledges that he lost some strength.

He didn't appear in any spring games until March 21 and might not play full time upon his return, but his quick recovery has nonetheless been inspirational.

Can Corey Patterson resurrect his career in an Orioles uniform?

That the Orioles acquired Patterson, a one-time future star who had 24 home runs and 72 RBIs just two seasons ago, for two low-level minor leaguers shows how much the outfielder's stock had fallen with the Chicago Cubs. However, the 26-year-old impressed club officials this spring with his speed and defense. If Patterson cuts down on his strikeouts - he averaged 143 the past two seasons - the Orioles will have pulled a coup in acquiring him.

How will Javy Lopez handle DH duties?

Lopez has fought the idea of being the club's everyday designated hitter, but at this point he doesn't appear to have a choice. Lopez is entering his free-agent year, and it's his bat, not his glove, that is likely going to earn him a deal. In 224 career at-bats as a DH, he is batting .219. He had a disappointing spring, but Perlozzo hopes that enabling him to concentrate on his hitting, not his fielding, will get him going.

Can Sam Perlozzo instill a winning attitude in Baltimore?

Frequently referencing Orioles pride and vehemently defending an organization that has suffered eight straight losing seasons, he says all the right things. The clubhouse appears to be unanimously behind the manager, who has won praise from players with an honest, open and hard-working approach. The clubhouse appears both looser and more unified, but the true test will come on the field, when Perlozzo, entering his first full season as major league manager, has to keep his club at an even keel through the ups and downs of a 162-game season.

Can the Orioles compete in the AL East?

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