Ray aces another test: a 1-run save

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Young closer says saves all same to him

Perlozzo defends lineup

April 17, 2006|By CHILDS WALKER | CHILDS WALKER,SUN REPORTER

A one-run lead. A fearsome hitter coming to the plate. The ninth inning of the Orioles' Saturday game against the Los Angeles Angels certainly seemed like dangerous territory for a rookie closer.

But Chris Ray struck out Vladimir Guerrero and rapidly dispatched two other batters to earn his fourth save overall and his first protecting a one-run lead. Manager Sam Perlozzo no longer seems surprised when his young reliever thrives under pressure.

"I'm sure he's glad to get that out of the way," Perlozzo said of the tough save. "But I don't think Chris Ray thinks about it that much. ... He seems pretty focused and he's obviously throwing the ball very well. He's done great."

When asked if protecting a one-run lead seemed like a milestone, Ray said: "Not really. I mean a three-run save or a one-run save, my mind-set's really the same. I just want to go out and throw strikes. I consider every appearance the same. I don't try harder on one than the other."

Not that three-run leads aren't nice.

"I mean, it feels a little different because you only have one run to play with," Ray said. "But as far as concentration and intensity, it's the same on both accounts."

Ray's early dominance has been a major plot line in his team's solid start. He shined as a rookie, posting a 2.66 ERA and striking out 43 in 40 2/3 innings. But he's been even better in 2006, allowing no runs and no walks in six appearances. Ray uses an unorthodox whipping delivery to fire 96-mph fastballs low in the strike zone. He keeps hitters off balance with the occasional slider.

"I think what's helped me so far this year is just getting ahead of guys," he said. "Not walking people and putting those extra guys on base, making them hit their way on, keeping the ball down early in the count so if they do hit it, it's a groundout or a weak fly ball."

Simple formula

Perlozzo continues to face questions about his ever-changing lineup. Yesterday, Javy Lopez started at catcher and Luis Matos played center. Jay Gibbons shifted to designated hitter and Kevin Millar sat. Corey Patterson remained anchored to the bench.

"They all tell you they have to get in there to break out of it but there's only X amount of spots for all of them to get in there," Perlozzo said. "The best thing they can do is take advantage of it.

"Swing the bat a little better, you get to play. ... "

Lopez said Saturday that he didn't know how he'd break out of a 5-for-26 slump if Perlozzo kept him on the bench. But the manager defended his choices.

"The only two guys that have any kind of gripe are [Chris] Gomez and Patterson," Perlozzo said. "I feel like the other guys have gotten an equal chance to produce."

"And those two guys haven't said a word," he said of Gomez and Patterson, who have played as late-inning defensive substitutes. "They're professionals and they're ready late in the game."

Roberts scare

The Angels' Adam Kennedy rolled over Brian Roberts' left leg during a force play at second base yesterday.

Roberts appeared gimpy after the play but stayed in the game. He said that he was afraid he had twisted his knee but that the discomfort went away quickly.

Honors for Surhoff?

Former Oriole B.J. Surhoff was one of 46 nominees for the inaugural class of the College Baseball Hall of Fame in Lubbock, Texas.

Surhoff was a two-time All-American at the University of North Carolina. He batted .392 for his college career.

The list of nominees is littered with former Orioles, including Joe Carter, Will Clark, Pete Incaviglia, Fred Lynn and Keith Moreland. The class will be announced later this month and inducted in early July.

childs.walker@baltsun.com

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