Ray adjusting to new setup


Closer entering games in eighth because of bullpen's struggles


September 16, 2006|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,Sun reporter

DETROIT -- Ideally, Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo wouldn't need first-year closer Chris Ray for anything more than a three-out save. The reality of the situation, however, is that Ray has been far and away the Orioles' top reliever, and when the game is on the line, Perlozzo feels that Ray is his best option, even if it is the eighth inning.

With LaTroy Hawkins unavailable for the past two weeks, Ray has been asked to get more than three outs in five of his past six save opportunities. He has blown two saves during that span, but in both of those failed conversions, including Thursday night against the Boston Red Sox, he inherited base runners.

"It's not a matter of liking it or disliking it," said Perlozzo when asked about using his closer for more than three outs. "It's a matter of if you want to try to win the game or not and the availability of your [relievers]. What's causing that is your guys aren't shutting down for one inning for you."

Ray, 24, acknowledged that multi-inning saves have forced him to adjust his game plan.

"You can't go out there and go full-out right away because you know you have to get more than three outs," said Ray, who has 31 saves. "But pitching is pitching, and you still have to go out and do your job. It's been kind of inconsistent this year as far as when I am getting the ball. I think Sammy feels that he has gotten me some days off so he can use me for more than one inning."

About a month ago, Ray acknowledged that he suffered from what pitchers call a "dead arm," affecting his velocity and command. He said his arm feels better now, although his slider hasn't been as sharp as it was for the first half.

"I've realized that a lot of hitters are starting to attack my fastball early in the count, so I am trying to throw more off-speed pitches especially to left-handers," Ray said. "I'm throwing my split a lot more. My slider, the second half of the season, has been kind of flat. It isn't getting that downward plane that it had before. So I am relying more on my fastball than I had been."

Gomez looks ahead

In the past six seasons, Orioles utility infielder Chris Gomez has played for five different major league teams, so offseason uncertainty is something the veteran has grown accustomed to. He's expected to have more of it in the months ahead as Gomez is unlikely to return for a third season in Baltimore. Brandon Fahey is expected to be the club's utility infielder next season barring any major changes.

"If I was a betting man, I'd probably think I'll be somewhere else, but you never know," said Gomez, 35, who started his major league career with the Detroit Tigers in 1993.

It's been a difficult season for Gomez, who missed more than two months with a broken bone in his left hand after getting hit by a pitch from Tigers reliever Joel Zumaya. When he returned, he found playing time hard to come by. Gomez has started only 23 games and has just 94 at-bats.

"Getting injured for that long for a guy in my situation really hurts going into an offseason," said Gomez, who started his sixth straight game and went 2-for-4, extending his hitting streak to nine games. "Hopefully, I can finish strong and get some playing time and I'll have something to fall back on in the offseason, for other teams to look at."

Back to normal

For the first time in about 2 1/2 weeks, Perlozzo had both Corey Patterson and Jay Gibbons back in his starting lineup. Patterson hadn't played since spraining the AC joint in his right shoulder while making a catch against the center-field wall on Aug. 29 in Texas.

Gibbons, hampered by injuries since late May, had missed the past five games with a pinched nerve that resulted in a stiff neck. jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

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