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O's bullpen becoming reliable
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05/05/2002 7:56 pm ET 
O's bullpen becoming reliable
By Gary Washburn / MLB.com

Reliever Rick Bauer would prefer to start, but he is enjoying his role in the Orioles bullpen. (Don Wright/AP)

BALTIMORE -- Mike Hargrove spent most of Spring Training shaking his head when asked about the state of his bullpen.

Way back then -- it seems like years ago now -- the Orioles had no definitive closer and very few set roles. Rookie Jorge Julio, six-year minor-league free agent Willis Roberts and veteran left-handed specialist Buddy Groom were tabbed closer by committee. The long reliever was Rodrigo Lopez, who had all of six Major League appearances.

Hargrove kept saying he planned to patchwork his relievers together and hope for one productive unit.

    Jorge Julio   /   P
Height: 6'1"
Weight: 190
Bats/Throws: R/R

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The result of his shuffling has been mind-boggling. The Orioles bullpen is one of the best in the American League, as it seals wins by dousing late-inning rallies, like it did in Sunday's 3-2 win over Kansas City.

The concerns about bullpen roles have dissipated, replaced by a confidence that did not exist in Spring Training. The Orioles relievers are 4-1 with a 3.59 ERA, and are led by Julio who has seized the closer role.

Julio, just 23 years old and with 100 days of Major League service time, locked down his sixth save in seven chances with a perfect ninth, striking out two batters and lowering his ERA to 1.15, second-lowest among American League closers.

"The thing about Jorge Julio is that he is throwing strikes," Hargrove said. "And you usually get good results when you're throwing strikes."


"The thing about Jorge Julio is that he is throwing strikes. And you usually get good results when you're throwing strikes."
- MIKE HARGROVE

The key set-up man is Rick Bauer, a starting pitcher by trade who still has hopes of one day cracking the rotation. But he also said that he is savoring his responsibility in the bullpen.

On Sunday, he was given one of his stiffest tests since being recalled three weeks ago. Bauer relieved Calvin Maduro with one out and two on in the seventh and the Orioles ahead by just one run. He struck out Carlos Febles and Chuck Knoblauch to end the threat.

Bauer's role in the bullpen has grown immensely in the past two weeks. He initially was considered a long reliever or mop-up man. But the organization likes Bauer's makeup and strong arm so much that he now splits right-handed set-up duties with Roberts.

"I am getting more mentally into being a reliever," Bauer said. "Of course, I still want to be a starter. Who wouldn't? But I know that I have to come and get outs immediately. I have to throw strikes and keep guys from scoring. I like that role."

    Buddy Groom   /   P
Height: 6'2"
Weight: 207
Bats/Throws: L/L

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Meanwhile, Groom has compiled a 0.96 ERA with just one walk in 9 1/3 innings. Groom will turn 37 in July but appears to be peaking in his career. He has not allowed a hit to a left-handed batter this season and struck out right-handed hitting Joe Randa to end Kansas City's threat in the eighth.

While Hargrove does not like to compare his Cleveland clubs with this current Orioles bunch, he did say it was fair to put this bullpen in the category of his vintage Indians teams. That group was led by Jose Mesa, Paul Assenmacher, Paul Shuey and Mike Jackson.

"It's comparable, this is the same type of bullpen that we had in Cleveland," he said. "But you don't want to get carried away. People (here) have really fit into slots and roles. I'm really happy with the way they're pitching."

The bullpen's performance has cemented the confidence of the rest of the team. The starting pitchers said they realize when the game creeps into the late innings, the Orioles have a good chance of holding the lead.

    Scott Erickson   /   P
Height: 6'4"
Weight: 230
Bats/Throws: R/R

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"They are throwing the heck out of the ball," Scott Erickson said. "They are doing a good job of keeping the lead or keeping us close. You've got to hand it to them."

SEGUI UPDATE
Orioles designated hitter David Segui had a cortisone shot in his sore left wrist and he said it is reducing the pain. The next step is swinging the bat during batting practice Monday to see if it will hold up under game conditions.

    David Segui   /   1B
Height: 6'1"
Weight: 202
Bats/Throws: S/L

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"If I can swing without doing further damage, I will play," he said. "I don't care about the pain. I got pain-killers. I can deal with that. But I just don't want to do further damage."

The results of an MRI on the wrist have not been revealed but there is no damage to the bones surrounding the wrist area. Segui said he is concerned about the injury but hopes he can continue to play.

"This is just not a sore wrist. It's worse than that," he said. "The (shot) has taken some of the inflammation out of it. Yeah, I'm worried. Whenever you're a hitter and something affects your swing, you're worried."

BRADY'S RETURN
Monday will mark the first game for Brady Anderson in Baltimore since the Orioles parted ways with the veteran outfielder in the offseason. Anderson, who had his contract bought out in December, signed with the Cleveland Indians. Anderson, 38, played 14 seasons in Baltimore, including a 50-homer campaign in 1996.

"It will be weird seeing him in the other dugout," first baseman Jeff Conine said. "I know it will be weird for him, too."

REVENGE FOR 1988
The Orioles swept the season series with Kansas City and settled a 14-year-old score with the Royals. The Orioles lost the first 21 games of the 1988 season. In addition, they lost all 12 games of the season series with the Royals, the only time in the Orioles 48-year history that they were swept in a season series by an American League team.

Gary Washburn covers the Orioles for MLB.com and can be reached at gwashb7519@aol.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.



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