Now, Huff 'just having fun'

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

August 11, 2008|By Childs Walker and Jeff Zrebiec | Childs Walker and Jeff Zrebiec,Sun reporters

Seattle Mariners bench coach Lee Elia worked with Aubrey Huff when the slugger hit his production peak for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

But in a recent conversation with Orioles manager Dave Trembley, Elia said Huff has looked better at the plate this season than at any other time in his career.

That will come as little surprise to Orioles fans, who have watched Huff become the team's best power source, reeling off a career-high 18-game hitting streak in recent weeks.

It has been a redemptive followup after Huff struggled his first season in Baltimore and offended fans with comments during the offseason about the city's nightlife.

"Yeah, I feel about the same as I did in my best years in Tampa," he said yesterday. "Somewhere along the line, I lost it a little bit. Who knows where it went?"

Huff said he is more relaxed this year.

"I lost a close friend in [former teammate] Joe Kennedy in the offseason, and I have a new baby on the way, so a season like that puts things in perspective," he said. "I'm just having fun playing again, not pressing so much."

Huff looked aghast at any mention of his hitting streak. "Not talking about it," he said, hoping to avoid a jinx.

But he seemed happy to discuss his team and season.

"It's hard to believe it's August already," he said. "I know we're below .500, but it doesn't feel that way. At this time last year, it felt like we had only won 20 games or something. But this is such a good group of guys. It's fun."

As it turned out, Huff killed any thoughts of a jinx early yesterday, extending his streak with a two-run homer in the third inning.

Change in philosophy

When Orioles starter Dennis Sarfate returned to the clubhouse after his disappointing outing last Monday against the Los Angeles Angels, a text message from his wife was waiting for him.

"She said, 'You're trying too hard,'" Sarfate recalled. "That's always been my thing. I just need to take a little pressure off myself and just go after guys. I think it might come to my approach, where I care too much and I'm trying to do too much and carry a huge load. It's not that hard. I'm going to go back out there [tonight] and get ready for my next start, but I'm just going to take a different approach next time and just have fun with it a little bit. I feel like I'm pressing a little too much."

In two starts since being moved from the bullpen to the starting rotation, Sarfate has logged just seven innings, allowing 10 runs (eight earned), eight hits - including two home runs - six walks and two hit batsmen. He will try to do better tonight against the Cleveland Indians.

Sarfate might have to deliver a quality start to keep his rotation spot. If prospect Hayden Penn hadn't suffered an injury during his last start at Triple-A Norfolk, he might have supplanted Sarfate already.

"He's just got to throw more strikes," manager Dave Trembley said of Sarfate.

"I've started before," Sarfate said. "Now, I'm going to face guys two or three times, and you just can't pump heaters all day long. I know I've got a good fastball, but I've got to be able to throw my curveball for a strike. I had a good changeup in between innings and in the bullpen [last Monday], and I didn't throw one. That just comes back to me getting behind and wanting to go after them with my fastball.

"It's something that I just have to forget about and really just stop caring as much. I have to stop being at 99 percent and maybe drop it down to 85 until I have to kick it back up. It's a learning process."

Around the Horn

Former closer Chris Ray, rehabilitating an elbow injury, pitched an inning in the Gulf Coast League on Friday. He threw 17 strikes in 22 pitches in his first live action since surgery last August and will throw another inning tomorrow. Trembley said recently he doesn't expect Ray to join the Orioles this year.

childs.walker@baltsun.com

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

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