Orioles' Rapada ecstatic to return to major leagues

Lefty reliever called up from Triple-A as Jakubauskas goes on disabled list

April 18, 2011|By Kevin Van Valkenburg and Dan Connolly, The Baltimore Sun

Pitcher Clay Rapada tried not to be disappointed when he wasn't a part of the Orioles' 25-man roster at the end of spring training. He understood the team wanted some relievers who could go an inning, possibly longer, and his specialty is situational — getting left-handed hitters out.

But when the team called him up Monday from Triple-A Norfolk and put Chris Jakubauskas on the 15-day disabled list with a strained right groin, Rapada was so excited to be back in the major leagues, he declared himself available for any role.

"If they want me to pick up the [trash] cans, I'll be like, 'Hey, no problem,'" Rapada joked.

Rapada, 30, is 3-0 with a 4.71 ERA in 46 major league games that span parts of four seasons. Last year, Rapada pitched in 13 games with the Texas Rangers, compiling no record and a 4.00 ERA in nine innings. In his career, left-handers have hit just .186 off the sidearmer (with a .305 on-base percentage) in 83 plate appearances. Right-handers have hit .292 off him (with a .418 on-base percentage) in 79 plate appearances. He allowed just one hit and two walks while facing 21 lefties last year.

With the Minnesota Twins, Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees in town on this homestand, the Orioles felt they needed someone capable of getting left-handed hitters out, and thus far Michael Gonzalez hasn't been able to get the job done (0-1,10.38 ERA).

"It seems like [teams] have been getting more and more comfortable stacking left-handers back to back [against us]," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "Hopefully, [Rapada] will help us some in that regard. He's also a guy who has an ability to defend himself against right-handers. We feel confident he's a guy who can, at times, pitch a clean inning as well."

Rapada did one better Monday night against the Twins, pitching 1 1/3 perfect innings and striking out three.

Showalter said Rapada was promoted because of how well he had been pitching for Norfolk. He allowed one hit and one walk while striking out three and picking up a save in two scoreless innings for the Tides. His appearances were limited because struggling Norfolk did not have many late-inning leads.

"Certainly he's had a lot of success against left-handers last year, and over his career," Showalter said. "Sometimes that doesn't translate in the big leagues, but it did last year. This is a guy who was on an American League championship playoff roster, so we'll see where it takes us."

Rapada thought might have an opportunity with the Orioles this year because of his relationship with pitching coach Mark Connor, who was a special assistant in player development with the Rangers.

"When I was going through the offers [this offseason], opportunity to make the big league team was my No. 1 priority. And when it came down to it, I definitely felt this was my best chance," Rapada said. "Having a relationship with Mark Connor, he was like, 'You have the opportunity to win a job here.'"

Jakubauskas hits DL

Jakubauskas suspected something was wrong with his right groin near the end of the Orioles' series against the Yankees, but he and the team decided to give it a few more days to see whether he could play through it. But when Jakubauskas jumped to grab a come-backer against the Cleveland Indians in an attempt to turn a double play, the injury felt serious enough that he and the team decided it was best to deal with it now instead of letting it linger and potentially get worse.

"We were going to try and give it a couple days in Cleveland and New York," Jakubauskas said. "But it hung around a couple days, and we made a decision, a collective decision, that it was probably better to miss two weeks now than two months later if it became something more serious. I don't want to put the guys in a hole if I go in hurt and come out hurt and put us in a deeper hole. It's not too serious, I don't think."

Jakubauskas, 32, allowed six runs in 71/3 innings over three games with the Orioles this month. On April 9, he made his first big league appearance since April 24, 2010, when he was struck in the head by a line drive in his only game with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

"It's more frustrating than anything," Jakubauskas said of his injury. "This is not how I want to start the year, but things happen. I am just glad it is not as bad as I thought it was. It was pretty sore in New York, but it has gotten progressively better every day. But it is not to the point where I can go out and let it go 100 percent. I have two weeks to get it healthy and let it get stronger."

Injury roundup

Showalter said pitcher Brian Matusz threw from 60 feet and 90 feet Monday and did it without pain. But the manager cautioned that even when Matusz is able to throw off the mound, he's still going to have to accomplish a lot — including, most likely, making multiple minor league starts — before he's ready to pitch in the majors.

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