ANAHEIM, Calif. - B. J. Ryan can now slip into and out of middle innings with little notice. For a pitcher who has been to Rochester and back this summer, it is perhaps the ultimate compliment.
The Orioles left-handed reliever heads to Texas with seven consecutive scoreless appearances covering 7 1/3 combined innings. The stretch is a facsimile of how Ryan began the season and an abrupt reversal from the floundering May and June that earned him a return to Triple-A.
Considered a future fixture within a remade bullpen, Ryan is 2-3 with a 6.48 ERA in 32 appearances covering a total 33 1/3 innings. Opponents are hitting only .250 against him but Ryan's weak spot has been inconsistent command which has left him with 26 walks.
"I don't think it's anything mechanical. It's more a matter of confidence," said Ryan, who can't remember an adjustment in his delivery as being responsible for his recent success. "When you start going bad, it becomes a tough cycle. It's tough to pitch when you're in there only once a week. But it's hard to get in a lot of games if you're pitching bad."
Just as Ryan's confidence seemed to be destroyed by allowing a game-winning home run to New York Yankees catcher Jorge Posada on May 5, his return seemed to be galvanized by an Aug. 25 appearance against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in which he escaped a one-out bases-loaded jam.
"Sometimes with young pitchers it just takes one good outing," manager Mike Hargrove said before last night's 3-1 win over the Anaheim Angels. "He's got better command, better consistency and better velocity. He looks like he did earlier in the season."
Ryan possesses enormous potential but also carries unconventional mechanics that make it difficult to deconstruct his delivery. When at his best, Ryan throws 90-91 mph with sinking action. After allowing runs in only one of his first 11 appearances this season, he fell into a profound funk in which he allowed runs in seven of nine appearances covering only 3 2/3 innings to earn an option to Rochester. A lowlight arrived May 14 when he walked all four batters faced against the Boston Red Sox.
The Orioles believe Ryan, 24, projects as a left-handed setup man with the ability to occasionally close. The role is currently held by Buddy Groom, who is signed through next season.
"Confidence does a lot for you," said Ryan. "It seems like when things are going bad, every mistake you make gets pounded. When things are going well, you can leave a ball up and they pop it up."
Hargrove isn't about to declare himself a candidate as Manager of the Year but he can say sincerely that his remade clubhouse has put an optimistic tint on a fourth-place season.
The Orioles are 22-21 since July 28, when they began a four-day clubhouse purge consisting of five trades. No longer hostage to three-run home runs, they have offered a more energgetic, albeit inconsistent offense while starting pitchers have allowed three earned runs or less in 18 of their last 24 games.
"We play the game a little better every day," said Hargrove. "Ever since the first of August, we've held our own and in some cases done a little better than that."
Around the horn
Ryan Minor started at third base last night for the first time since being recalled from Rochester on Tuesday. He went 0-for-4 to drop his average to .143. Mark Lewis sat for only the second time in 13 games. ... Cal Ripken returned to the lineup as designated hitter after sitting on Sunday. Going 1-for-4, Ripken is 6-for-24 (.250) with three doubles and four RBIs since leaving the disabled list. Last night's appearances marked the 10th time in his career Ripken has worked as DH. ... Hargrove confirmed Jay Spurgeon would start the opener of today's doubleheader against the Texas Rangers. John Parrish will start the second game. ... The Orioles have had just two streaks of four consecutive wins or losses in the second half compared with 10 in the first half. ... Anaheim first baseman Mo Vaughn struck out twice, raising his AL-high strikeout total to 160. ... Troy Glaus became on the third player in the 40-year history of the Angels to draw at least 100 walks during a season. The others were Brian Downing in 1987 and Tony Phillips in 1995.