Orioles' Parrish finds groove

Oft-injured reliever is in running for one of last bullpen spots

March 21, 2007|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN REPORTER

FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. -- This hasn't been the smoothest spring training for Orioles reliever John Parrish, but it's clear he's more comfortable on the mound. And in his own skin.

Parrish followed a poor outing with 1 2/3 perfect innings last Wednesday, and he struck out three batters in the eighth Saturday. He's making a hard charge for one of the last bullpen spots, a quest that has become more obtainable now that the Orioles seem inclined to keep a second left-hander.

"The decision's up to them," he said. "I can't determine anything besides going out there and pitching well and seeing what happens."

At least he's pitching again. Parrish has spent parts of five seasons with the Orioles beginning in 2000, but he's still fighting for a job in camp and trying to establish himself enough that doubts about his ability and staying power will disappear like a curveball with a heavy drop.

He'd be on firmer ground if he hadn't undergone ligament-reconstructive surgery on his left elbow in July 2005 and missed all of 2006 because he needed another procedure to clean out the elbow. Parrish also missed the 2002 season after tearing a ligament in his right knee during an exhibition game.

Finally healthy again, Parrish has allowed four runs and eight hits in 7 2/3 innings, with 12 strikeouts. He could join free-agent acquisition Jamie Walker as the second left-hander, especially if the Orioles decide to break camp with 13 pitchers and only three bench players.

"I'm pretty confident right now," Parrish said. "I'm throwing strikes, and I'm feeling good about that. I know what I'm doing out there now. My confidence hasn't gone anywhere. I'm not worried about competition at all."

Parrish has an option remaining and could begin the season in the minors if the Orioles can't make room. But that scenario might be fading.

"I think Johnny has been around for a while," manager Sam Perlozzo said. "If he can maintain composure and control out there, there's no reason for him to have to start down there."

Facing the New York Mets on Saturday, Parrish struck out three batters in the seventh inning, but had to face a fourth when a ball skipped past catcher Adam Donachie. He ran the count to 2-2 before getting the out, but also gave up a two-run homer to Carlos Beltran.

"Anything he threw was right there," Donachie said. "I basically didn't have to move the glove. The strikeouts were off his slider. He was snapping them off pretty good. They were nice and tight. One batter, he threw, like, seven sliders and never gave him a fastball. All of them were tight, breaking real hard at the end. He was throwing hard and had command of almost every pitch."

"He's always had great stuff," said J.R. House, who has also caught Parrish this spring. "Unfortunately, he's had some injuries that he's had to battle through. But his arm seems to be 100 percent recovered. It looks like he's ready to go."

Or maybe he's not going anywhere. The Orioles hold Parrish in such high regard, they've resisted trading him despite numerous inquiries this spring.

"This is the best I've seen John pitch," said bullpen coach Dave Trembley, who managed Parrish at Double-A Bowie. "John has been pitching this spring instead of just throwing. I think the layoff has tempered him. He's really worked on his mechanics. He stays back over the rubber. He's always had a great arm -- plus fastball, sharp slider, but he was a little wild. He was a flier, a jumper, out of control, high and low. But not anymore."

Parrish walked 17 batters in 17 1/3 innings in 2005 and 35 in 36 1/3 innings in 2000. Managers couldn't trust him with runners on base. They loved the arm, but not the drama.

"I used to just rear back and throw," he said. "Now, I'm taking my time, and I feel every pitch and I throw every pitch with a purpose. I've always been overaggressive. I felt like I didn't breathe when I was out there and I never took my time."

Parrish became his own tutor during the winter, a pitcher having a heart-to-heart with himself. He has been in the organization since the Orioles chose him in the 25th round of the 1996 draft. Seemingly in a rush whenever he took the mound, he's in no hurry to leave them.

"It's been a long time with the Orioles," he said. "They see something in me that I finally see in myself, so we're going to go with that."

roch.kubatko@baltsun.com

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