During his two seasons in Baltimore, pitcher Chuck McElroy has played the good soldier so convincingly, he should receive combat pay instead of a major-league salary.
The Orioles want him to start after 603 relief appearances, and McElroy obliges, winning twice in September. Convinced he'll remain in the same role, he prepares over the winter to work out of the rotation, only to go back to the bullpen for good after five starts.
McElroy's lucky now if he's even asked to warm up.
He did it twice during Wednesday's game against Anaheim, but didn't get the call in a game the Orioles led 8-0 after two innings before winning, 12-5. The bullpen phone hadn't rang for him since his last appearance on May 17, only the second for McElroy since his final start exactly two weeks earlier.
Manager Mike Hargrove explained McElroy's inactivity as the product of being the club's only long reliever, an asset that must be protected in case he's needed after a starter makes an early exit. McElroy, in turn, wonders why three other relievers were used Wednesday, including rookie Chad Paronto, who began to warm with him in the fourth inning as Willis Roberts continued to labor.
"Believe me, it's frustrating," said McElroy, who also warmed up last night. "I guarantee if you talk to a lot of guys who have been through this situation, or are going through it, they'll tell you they're frustrated. I'm healthy. If something's wrong, I'd like to know. But I don't let it get me down."
Told of Hargrove's explanation for the sporadic use, he said, "It's a good point, but I feel sometimes an inning, just to stay strong, would help. There's only so much throwing on the side you can do. There's only so much catch you can play to stay sharp. You get in a situation where you go out there to face hitters and the game's on the line, if you're not sharp, your control isn't there and it's embarrassing because you know that's not you."
McElroy spoke with pitching coach Mark Wiley while the Orioles were in New York, hoping perhaps to gain a better understanding of his status on the team. "Just to see what was going on," he said. McElroy pitched later that night, throwing four scoreless innings May 11 after relieving Roberts.
"That's the only time I've talked to them," he said. "I'm not the type of guy who's going to go in there [Hargrove's office] and start talking this and that, because I've been with teams where you talk to them, and they tell you what you want to hear. And they never backed it up. I don't bad-mouth anybody, because that's not me. You never burn any bridges.
"All I can do is keep myself mentally ready and prepared for when I do get out there. It's frustrating, but I don't lose any sleep at night. I've done everything that they've asked. And I'm pretty sure my time will come, but I'd like to get it done now."
Fordyce shakes off pain
The foul tip that struck Brook Fordyce in the groin area during Thursday's game against Anaheim didn't keep him out of last night's lineup, though the Orioles catcher had a mild headache that he blamed on being hit.
The impact left Fordyce bent at the waist for several seconds. "I was surprised I didn't throw out my back," he said. "I couldn't move."
Fan turns over HR ball
Rookie Jay Gibbons had given up hope of retrieving the ball from his first major-league home run. So imagine his surprise when a fan who chased it down on Eutaw Street handed the souvenir to him before last Saturday's game at Camden Yards.
And what did the fan, who earlier had requested items from various players and a television interview in exchange for the ball, want in return this time?
"He came over to the dugout and said, 'Hey, Jay, here's your ball.' I asked him if he wanted anything for it, like a bat or something. He said, 'No. I'm sorry, it was a whole misunderstanding and I'm terribly sorry. Here's your ball and enjoy it.' And that was it," said Gibbons, who connected off Tampa Bay's Ryan Rupe on May 2.
"He was very nice about it. I'm happy to have it."
The ball sits in a locker inside the Orioles' clubhouse, but that's only temporary. It will be sent to Gibbons' father, who can place it alongside the one from his son's first major-league hit.
Gibbons belted his second home run in Thursday's 6-4 win over the Angels. He had been 0-for-11, and 1-for-19 - a slump Hargrove blamed on Gibbons' sore left wrist and the inclination of young players to put pressure on themselves.
Gibbons said the tendinitis developed from overswinging and, perhaps, from lifting weights. "I have good days, I have bad days. You've just got to be kind of careful. I've been getting treatment every day for about an hour, and it's really helping."
Around the horn
Hargrove wrote out his 43rd different lineup in 47 games. Delino DeShields, who hadn't batted lower than third, hit seventh. Jeff Conine started at third base. ... Mike Kinkade was presented with his Olympic ring before the game. He was a member of the gold-medal-winning U.S. team in Sydney.