After missing the final 1 1/2 months of last season with a tear in his right labrum, an injury that he chose to rehabilitate rather than have surgery on, Jason Berken figured the questions about his health wouldn't quickly go away.
But as the Orioles reliever tries to work through a difficult stretch in which he had allowed runs in five of his past seven outings entering Thursday, he says he hasn't felt this good physically in a long time.
"I don't pay a ton of attention to velocity because I think it's an overused tool at times, but at the beginning of the year, my velocity was in that 88 to 92 [mph] range. Of late, it's been 93 and 94," Berken said. "So I feel like shoulderwise, the strength is there. My recovery time is great. The shoulder for me is a non-issue, a non-concern.
"For me, it's execution. That's all it is. I feel like I'm really close, and it's been a couple of pitches here and there that have hurt me."
In his first six outings this season, Berken allowed just one earned run on five hits and two walks while striking out 11 over 81/3 innings. In his past seven heading into Thursday, he had surrendered eight earned runs on 17 hits and six walks while striking out four over seven innings, leaving his ERA at 5.28.
"As a whole, I think the biggest thing is just getting the ball down in the zone and commanding the fastball better. When I've been getting beat, it's been fastballs left up in the zone. I just need to get it down," Berken said. "When you are consistently up, guys raise their eye level and they're going to hit those pitches. It's a small adjustment I can make. It's just a matter of locating and executing."
Ray makes his return
There were certain things Seattle Mariners reliever Chris Ray never realized about Camden Yards during his four years as an Oriole. He didn't know what the visiting clubhouse looked like. He didn't know how long the tunnel was that leads to both clubhouses. And he certainly didn't realize that the path from the visiting bullpen to the field is paved with cobblestones.
Other than that, Ray's first trip to Camden Yards since he pitched there regularly in 2009 has been like any other road trip for the 29-year-old reliever who made 191 appearances and saved 49 games during his Orioles career.
"I talked to the guys before the game [Tuesday], but it didn't feel any different pitching here than against any other club, really," Ray said. "It just seemed a long time ago."
In fact, Ray's last trip to the city was in December 2009, when he represented the club at its annual Christmas party for inner-city kids. While there, Ray was informed that he had been traded to the Texas Rangers for starter Kevin Millwood.
Ray's first season with Mariners has been a struggle as he had an 11.88 ERA in nine appearances entering Thursday. He did have a successful outing against his former team in Tuesday's series opener after entering a tie game with men on first and second and no outs in the 12th inning. He got Matt Wieters to fly out, struck out Mark Reynolds and then fanned Brian Roberts after J.J. Hardy's infield single.
Yankees game rescheduled
The April 22 Orioles-Yankees game, which was postponed because of rain, will be made up at 1:05 p.m. Aug. 27 as part of a day-night doubleheader at Camden Yards. The originally scheduled game that night will still be played at 7:05.
It is a separate-admission doubleheader, and tickets dated April 22 will be accepted only for the 1:05 game. Fans who cannot attend the 1:05 p.m. game may exchange their tickets for any game during the 2011 season, subject to availability.
The April 12 Orioles-Yankees game at Yankee Stadium was also postponed because of rain, but no makeup date has been announced.
Matusz on mend
Rehabbing pitcher Brian Matusz, who is scheduled to throw a bullpen session in front of team officials Friday at Tropicana Field, will pitch for Single-A Frederick on Monday and likely for Triple-A Norfolk on May 21. If all goes well, Matusz (strained left intercostal) could rejoin the Orioles' rotation May 26 or 27.
"Keep in mind, this guy didn't really have a ball in his hand for four weeks," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "He's basically going through spring training again. For everybody that may think we've been overly cautious, there are two sides to that."
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