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Stronger bullpen a new source of relief


MILWAUKEE -- A week into June, the Orioles' bullpen was a mess. Closer Doug Jones and setup man Jesse Orosco were throwing well, but because of middle relief problems, the Orioles often couldn't get from the starters to Jones and Orosco.

But the Orioles added veterans Terry Clark and Mark Lee from Triple-A Rochester, and now the bullpen is a strength. "Big-time," Orosco said. "They've been big-time. I've been saying that for awhile, watching these guys throw."

Jones said, "The experience has been a contributing factor for us. I think there was a lot of pressure on the young guys [Armando Benitez and Brad Pennington] early.

"Everybody is more comfortable now. Everybody knows their roles."

Lee usually is the first lefty out of the bullpen, in the sixth and seventh inning. Orosco faces the critical left-handed hitters late in the game -- like yesterday, when he struck out Milwaukee's Dave Nilsson and B. J. Surhoff to start the ninth inning. Clark pitches in the seventh and eighth innings, like on Monday, when he got Nilsson to hit into an inning-ending double play in the eighth with the Orioles leading, 2-0.

Jones is the closer; his save yesterday was his 11th of the year. After allowing six runs in his first 3 2/3 innings, he's given up just five runs in his last 20 1/3 innings.

"They've just been outstanding," said Orioles manager Phil Regan.

The bullpen is particularly important to the Orioles now, when the club's rotation is hurting. Instead of Kevin Brown throwing eight or nine innings, the Orioles are going with the likes of John DeSilva or Scott Klingenbeck for five or six innings, and the relievers have picked up the slack:

* On June 20, Mike Oquist relieved starter Arthur Rhodes and gave the Orioles a chance to come back against the New York Yankees and win, 8-7.

* On June 23, the bullpen worked the last 2 1/3 innings in relief of Mussina.

* On Monday, Clark and Jones followed Jamie Moyer in the Orioles' 2-0 victory.

* On Tuesday, the bullpen contributed 3 2/3 shutout innings in relief of DeSilva.

* And yesterday, after Mussina threw eight innings, Orosco and Jones finished off the Brewers.

"I feel really good about our bullpen right now," Regan said.


Doug Jones: He has converted nine straight save opportunities, and his save yesterday moved him into 12th place on the all-time list, with 227, one more than Hall of Famer Hoyt Wilhelm.

Jesse Orosco: He has 13 strikeouts in his past 8 1/3 innings, allowing just two hits over that span. For the year, Orosco has struck out 24 in 18 innings and compiled a 3.00 ERA.

Terry Clark: Phenomenal. Orioles manager Phil Regan said he "just feels confident" when Clark pitches, and no wonder: Clark hasn't allowed a run in nine appearances.

Mark Lee: He has had a couple of poor outings but for the most part, he's helping the Orioles get through the middle innings. He has a 3.38 ERA in 11 games, and even has one save.

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