No set closer, Showalter says


Simon still likely top choice in save situations, but new manager isn't averse to mixing it up

August 04, 2010|By Dan Connolly, The Baltimore Sun

The days of the Orioles having a set closer -- someone who will get the ball in save situations, no matter the circumstances -- are over, at least for now.

Alfredo Simon, who has converted 15 of 18 opportunities for the Orioles, is still the likely No. 1 choice in save situations, but as new manager Buck Showalter proved in his debut Tuesday night, he'll get creative if it means securing the victory.

"In a perfect world, of course," Showalter said about employing a set closer, "if you have got the right guy. I look at it as the priority for the Orioles is to win a game. If that creates some different roles along the way, then we'll do it."

On Tuesday in the Orioles' 6-3 win over the Los Angeles Angels, Showalter used left-hander Michael Gonzalez in the eighth inning and again in the ninth for two outs -- against a left-handed hitter and a switch-hitter -- before turning the game over to Simon for the final out, which no longer qualified as a save situation.

Previous Orioles managers would surely have gone to their closer to start the ninth, but Showalter liked the matchups he had with Gonzalez, and it worked out perfectly. His having a plan and sticking to it impressed Gonzalez.

"I have got to commend [Showalter] for the type of man he is," said Gonzalez, who has allowed just one run in eight innings since coming off the disabled list July 21. "He came up to me straight-up, man-to-man, and let me know what he was thinking. That's all you can ask for, a straight shooter."

Gonzalez signed a two-year, $12 million deal to be the team's closer in the offseason but pitched in three games and blew two save tries before missing three months with a shoulder strain.

He has been relegated to a lesser role in his return, partly because Simon, a former starter, has fared well in ninth-inning duties. Now that Gonzalez is back and pitching well, the closer situation becomes muddied.

"I know Gonzo was the closer before, so I don't know what's going to happen," Simon said. "But I have to do my job no matter what, no matter what inning I pitch."

Said Gonzalez about discussing the situation with Showalter: "He said, 'This is what we're going to do. My big thing isn't about who is going to be getting the saves. I want to get a 'W.' And I am right behind him on that. If that's the way he feels, if he feels that Simon is going to get the job done, then that is fine. I don't have any problems with that."

Two more picks in fold

The Orioles have agreed to terms with two more of their top 10 draft picks, pending physicals and the hashing out of a few contractual details.

Fifth-round pick Connor Narron, a shortstop-third baseman, and ninth-round selection Parker Bridwell, a right-handed pitcher, are in Baltimore to take physicals this week. If all goes well, they will report to the club's minor league complex in Sarasota, Fla., this weekend and will begin playing for the Gulf Coast League Orioles in the middle of next week, after the contracts are announced.

Details have not been revealed, but both are expected to sign for above-slot money.

Narron, the son of former major league player and manager Jerry Narron, is a switch-hitter who had committed to play at North Carolina. He hit .317 with seven homers and 30 RBIs in 27 games in his senior season at C.B. Aycock (N.C.) High. He has spent the past five weeks at Athletes' Performance Institute in Texas working out, his father said.

"He wants to play, he loves it and he works at it," said Jerry Narron, who spent years with the Orioles organization as a minor league manager and player and a big league coach under Johnny Oates in 1993 and 1994.

"He is continuing in the family business, and he couldn't be at a better place. I am excited for him. I really am."

Bridwell, a three-sport star at Hereford (Texas) High, had committed to Texas Tech. The 6-foot-4, 187-pound pitcher went 7-2 with a 2.26 ERA and struck out 116 batters in 65innings as a senior. Bridwell and his father took in an Orioles game in Texas in July.

When the two deals are completed, the Orioles will have agreed to terms with 33 of their 49 selections from the June draft, including five of their top 10 and nine of their top 15.

Jerry Narron on Showalter

Narron, who managed the Cincinnati Reds from 2005 to 2007 and the Texas Rangers from 2001 to 2002, has an interesting perspective on the Orioles' recent managerial hire, and not just because his son might play in the big leagues someday. Showalter replaced Narron as manager in Texas.

"I think they made a great choice. He has been in the position to build or rebuild ballclubs before," Narron said. "He knows what it takes. He is a baseball guy, and I think the Orioles made a great choice."

Taking it easy with Roberts

Showalter said he would love to play second baseman Brian Roberts all the time, but he will be careful with the veteran, who missed more than three months with a herniated disk in his back.

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