Perlozzo tries bullpen changeup with little success

Faces change, frustration stays same as O's mix of kids, journeymen has AL's worst stats

May 05, 2006|By JEFF ZREBIEC | JEFF ZREBIEC,SUN REPORTER

The process usually starts somewhere around the fourth inning. Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo will be advised of his starter's mounting pitch count and begin mapping out how he'll use his bullpen the rest of the game.

On most nights this season, the answers have been few and the anxiety has been plenty.

"If you look to your pitching coach or your bench coach and say, `Who do you like?' and you get no answer - really your stomach is in a knot," Perlozzo said. "You're going to have to try to figure out how to do it. When you get guys that can't do that, you end up with one-inning [stints] with all your [relievers]. Before long, you're wearing them out every night trying to get one win"

If there's anything that has consumed the Orioles' rookie manager, that has tested both his patience and his imagination, it has been the club's much-maligned bullpen, statistically the worst in the American League and the second worst in the major leagues.

Even after Orioles relievers carded 4 1/3 scoreless innings Wednesday night against Texas, a stretch that ended when John Halama served up a walk-off home run to Mark DeRosa in the 12th inning, the bullpen's ERA was a robust 6.08 before last night, better than only the relief corps of the San Francisco Giants.

The Orioles' bullpen is also last in the league in WHIP, the ratio of walks and hits to innings pitched, and has the worst strikeout to walk ratio. Opponents were hitting .302 against Orioles relievers going into last night.

"All you have to do is look at the scoreboard around the league from night to night, at all the [lopsided] scores," Orioles executive vice president Mike Flanagan said. "It's not just us having some problems."

The Orioles do appear to be the team most often searching for solutions. They have added seven different relievers since Opening Day, a list that includes journeymen like Halama and Julio Manon, to unknown youngsters like Chris Britton and Kurt Birkins. As it was, the Orioles' bullpen on Opening Day did not include a single pitcher who was on their Opening Day roster a year earlier.

"That's a lot of change, but they are trying to get it right," said LaTroy Hawkins, the Orioles' prime setup man who had a 4.61 ERA entering last night. "It's unfortunate that the team has to suffer, but as a whole, it will come together. You have to have faith, man, but we're in this together. You can't point fingers."

Perlozzo and the front office haven't, frequently citing the inability of Orioles starters to go deep into games as putting undue strain on the relievers. The Orioles are 12-2 when leading after six innings. It's when the starters have been lifted early and the middle relievers have been asked to keep the game close, where the bullpen has faltered.

Hawkins, acquired in an offseason swap with San Francisco for disgruntled left-hander Steve Kline, was the Orioles' lone major addition to the bullpen for 2006, breaking from past offseasons when the club spent money on free-agent relievers (Kline, Steve Reed, Mike DeJean to name a few) who contributed little.

They pursued Minnesota left-hander J.C. Romero, but the Twins wanted third baseman Melvin Mora. They came close to signing Braden Looper before backing out with medical concerns.

The Orioles felt that Chris Ray, Todd Williams and Hawkins would be an effective trio from the right side, and that Tim Byrdak and Eric DuBose could handle late-inning matchup situations against lefties. They were confident that they could fill the other two spots with either young relievers, like Sendy Rleal and Aaron Rakers, or a veteran spring training invitee, such as Jim Brower, Ricky Bottalico or Vic Darensbourg.

"At least on paper, there was a lot of depth and possibilities," Flanagan said.

Losing Williams, perhaps the team's best reliever in 2005 aside from B.J. Ryan, to a shoulder injury on the second day of workouts was a bad omen. The right-hander then injured his calf and didn't return until late last week. Rakers was lost for the season with a torn labrum and Ryan Keefer also was unavailable with an arm injury.

Byrdak had to get surgery to remove bone chips in his pitching elbow and is on the 60-day disabled list. And DuBose was rocked in his only two outings, leaving Perlozzo without a matchup lefty in a division with David Ortiz, Hideki Matsui and Jason Giambi.

Brower pitched so poorly - he gave up two runs or more in eight of his 12 outings - that he was designated for assignment. Bottalico and Darensbourg are no longer in the organization.

All the developments have forced Perlozzo to rely mostly on young and unproven pitchers to get key outs. Halama, Hawkins and Williams are the only current Orioles relievers who have pitched more than one full season in the big leagues.

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