MINNEAPOLIS -- Closer Mike Timlin watched helplessly while the Orioles' bullpen played a starring role in four consecutive late-inning defeats. He can only hope that things will be different when he comes off the disabled list, probably tomorrow.
Timlin is scheduled to throw in a simulated game situation before today's series finale against the Minnesota Twins at the Metrodome. If all goes well, he'll come off the DL in time for tomorrow's opener of a three-game series against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays at Camden Yards.
Even though he has been sidelined through the first two weeks of the regular season with a torn abdominal muscle, Timlin said he feels the bullpen's pain.
"You get into the rhythm of the game whether you play or not and you feel how the game's going," he said. "Sometimes, it just kills you when you can't do anything about it."
By most accounts, the impact of Timlin's injury has killed the Orioles' fast start. The club entered last night's game mired in a four-game losing streak, though the club held substantial leads in three of those games. Even an average performance from the Orioles' questionable bullpen and the club might have come into last night's game with an 8-2 record.
Timlin's return will allow manager Mike Hargrove to move right-hander Mike Trombley back into a setup role and give the club the opportunity to match up better in the seventh and eighth innings. Timlin seems confident that he will be able to make a difference, but he knows better than to offer any guarantees.
"You don't know," he said. "I hope that's the case. I feel that's the case. All indications point that way, the way I've been throwing."
If Timlin hasn't been able to contribute to the reconfigured bullpen, he is quick to defend it.
"This is not a bad bullpen," he said. "It's not worse than last year. It's just how things have gone. The hit that Buddy [Groom] gave up last night [Friday] went off [Mike] Bordick's glove. That's a play that he makes 90 percent of the time. It was a seed [a hard-hit ball], but he usually makes that play. That's just the way things go sometimes."
More bullpen talk
Hargrove concedes that he has become increasingly concerned about the performance of some of his relievers, but he still believes it's too early to draw any hard-and-fast conclusions -- or to call any of them into the manager's office for a heart-to-heart.
"I'm reluctant to do that yet. Some people are pitching out of their roles," he said. "If this continues and doesn't settle down soon, I'll talk to them both individually and as a group. But with individuals, I think if you do that too soon, you can create a problem."
Don't misunderstand. Hargrove clearly isn't going to put up with this level of failure much longer.
"The fact is, we've got to go out there and get people out," he said. "You take a four- or five-run lead into the eighth inning, you should win. Realistically, of the four games we just lost, we should have won three of them."
Second baseman Delino DeShields left the team and traveled to Delaware to be with his mother after a death in the family.
"He came to me yesterday before the game and said he had to go home and help his mother," Hargrove said. "He said he'd rejoin the team on Monday."
It has become clear that last night's starter, Calvin Maduro, and Friday night's starter, Jose Mercedes, are in competition to see which one retains a place in the rotation upon the return of right-hander Scott Erickson from elbow surgery.
Mercedes gave up four runs over six innings on Friday night in a performance that Hargrove insisted did nothing to hurt his status in the rotation.
"He didn't hurt himself at all," Hargrove said. "I'd have liked to see him throw a few more strikes, but he did his job. He had good stuff. He threw some nasty sliders."
Maduro also pitched well last night, creating a dilemma for the manager. One of them will start on Wednesday and the other probably will move to the bullpen. The situation could become even stickier if right-hander Jason Johnson continues to pitch well at Triple-A Rochester.
Johnson, who originally was pencilled in as the No. 4 starter in the major-league rotation, pitched well in each of his first two starts for the Red Wings.
First baseman Will Clark continues to recover from a muscle spasm behind his right shoulder blade. He was not in the starting lineup last night, but that was in part because replacement Jeff Conine had three hits in Friday night's game.
Clark could start today, but Hargrove was noncommittal on his lineup for the final game of the series.