Struggling Simon won't get every save chance

Notebook

Showalter to 'spread around' opportunities; Gonzalez, Uehara possible candidates

August 10, 2010|By Jeff Zrebiec, The Baltimore Sun

CLEVELAND —

A day after Alfredo Simon blew his third save chance in his past 10 tries, Orioles manager Buck Showalter acknowledged that he would like to "spread around" the opportunities to close games.

"I'm sure Simon will get some more opportunities along the way, but I feel like we have some other people capable of doing it other than him," Showalter said before Tuesday night's series opener against the Cleveland Indians. "We'll see what each night dictates."

Showalter said last week that he didn't plan to employ a set closer, but he used Simon to try to get the final out with his team leading in four of the seven games on the homestand. Nobody else got a save chance.

However, that will likely change because of Simon's struggles. The big right-hander has converted 17 of 21 save opportunities and has generally been one of the pleasant surprises during a difficult season. However, he has allowed runs in six of his past 10outings and surrendered four home runs and 14 hits in his past 7 1/3 innings.

In Monday's 3-2 victory in 10 innings over the Chicago White Sox, Simon was given the ball in the ninth to protect a one-run lead and watched Paul Konerko send his first pitch into the left-field seats to tie the score. The previous day, he inherited a three-run, ninth-inning lead and gave up a two-run homer to Ramon Castro before closing the game.

"He shouldn't feel like Konerko is picking on him. He's done that to a lot of good pitchers," Showalter said of Simon. "It's part of the learning process, too. Sometimes it's best to live and fight another day. He was trying to go down and away and the ball ran back, middle in. That's what guys like Paul do with those pitches. He has above-average pitches, but he's still got to locate them, too. Guys can turn around a bullet up here."

Showalter wouldn't specify whom he would go to in what he likes to call a "'W' situation" rather than a save situation.

"Some guys down there have shown that they are capable of getting big outs for us," he said. "We'll see what the situation dictates. We'll get a better grip today [on] where Simon is physically and everything, but we've got some options."

The Orioles signed left-hander Michael Gonzalez to a two-year, $12 million deal in the offseason to serve as their closer. However, he blew two of his first three save chances and then went on the disabled list for about 3 1/2 months with a left shoulder strain. In nine games since his return from the DL, Gonzalez has allowed two earned runs and six hits in nine innings (2.00 ERA), while making a case to reclaim the closer's role.

Right-hander Koji Uehara has been the Orioles' most effective reliever of late, allowing just one earned run in his past 11outings spanning 12 2/3 innings. During that stretch, he has struck out 14 and walked just one. However, the Orioles also have to monitor Uehara's workload closely because of the elbow injury that kept him out for an extended period this season.

"I think it's kind of evolving," Showalter said of Uehara's role. "[Pitching coach Rick Kranitz] and I were talking about it on the plane [ride] in and again today. You can't just put a blanket over it, X number of pitches, X number of innings. It was a pretty stress-free outing [Monday] night for him. He threw a lot of strikes. I think that's kind of evolving where he is physically. Not all of his problems have been an arm issue. We'd like to spread it around as much as possible if their outings allow you to, but the opposition usually has something to say about that."

Matusz makes it count

Monday's performance by Brian Matusz was not only the seventh straight quality start for the Orioles' pitching staff, but it was also the second in two outings for the 23-year-old left-hander.

Matusz, who had struggled this season after going 5-2 in eight starts as a rookie, limited the White Sox to one run and three hits in six innings.

What impressed Showalter was that except for the third, when he hit Juan Pierre with a pitch to lead off the inning and then gave up a run-scoring double to Alex Rios, Matusz wasn't as sharp as he was when he had similar numbers last week in a win over the Los Angeles Angels.

"I thought he was carrying a little less than normal stuff, and to get through that outing against a predominantly right-handed-hitting team was pretty impressive," Showalter said. "As good as his last outing was, and some that he's had here, this might have been more impressive."

As he watched Matusz from the dugout, Showalter recalled something Orel Hershiser once said to him. "[Hershiser said,] 'One pitch, I can compete with; two pitches, I can win; and three, I can dominate,'" Showalter said.

Bell awaits work with Crowley

Struggling third baseman Josh Bell was held out of the starting lineup for the series opener, but Showalter expects him to play the next two games. Bell went just 3-for-22 on the homestand, lowering his average to .167.

Showalter said Bell will get in extra work with hitting coach Terry Crowley before tonight's game.

Around the horn

Monday's win, secured on Brian Roberts' game-ending home run in the 10th inning, was the Orioles' ninth walk-off victory this season. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Showalter is the first manager since 1924 with three walk-off wins in his first seven games with a team. It was also their 10th extra-inning win, tying the Philadelphia Phillies for the most in the major leagues. Overall, they are 10-3 in extra-inning games. Â The Orioles had lost 20 straight games on Mondays before beating the White Sox.

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

Baltimore Sun reporter Don Markus contributed to this article.

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