Closer Julio soars higher by keeping the ball low for O's

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Orioles closer Jorge Julio is concentrating on keeping the ball low in the strike zone, with pitching coach Mark Wiley providing constant reminders, and the results lately have been good.

Julio has 18 saves in 22 chances, including two in the current series. He got four crucial outs in Thursday's 6-5 win over the Blue Jays, as starter Jason Johnson paced in the clubhouse, and made sure Friday's frenetic rally wasn't wasted by getting a double play and strikeout in the ninth inning to preserve an 8-5 victory.

The radar gun showed Julio at 100 mph while striking out Vernon Wells in the ninth inning of Thursday's game. He threw two 99-mph fastballs to catcher Tom Wilson before striking him out with a slider.

Wiley noted that Julio has a tendency to rock back on the mound, trying to put a little extra on his fastball. "[Thursday] he was staying back so good," Wiley said, "that the ball started to have major sink to it."

Manager Mike Hargrove said his closer seems to be throwing with minimal effort, rather than getting too pumped up and losing his command.

"I don't think anybody can consistently throw 99 [mph] pitch after pitch," Hargrove said, "but he certainly has that in his arm."

Julio has lowered his ERA to 3.78 since losing consecutive games May 18 and 20 by allowing three earned runs and eight hits in 1 2/3 innings. He also blew a save June 6 in St. Louis, dropping to 0-4 after giving up two runs in the eighth inning.

"He's getting better balance and throwing with better leverage," Hargrove said. "Basically he's slowed things down and he's not trying to rush right out of the set position. And he's throwing strikes.

"He's getting good angles on his pitches and that comes from being a little more sound mechanically."

Who is All-Star?

The Orioles find out tonight how many All-Star representatives they'll have for the July 15 game in Chicago.

Melvin Mora, who continues to lead the American League in hitting, should make it as a reserve. But what about pitcher Sidney Ponson, who won his 11th game last night?

"I learned a long time ago not to even start trying to guess who would and who wouldn't," Hargrove said. "I think Melvin deserves it. I think Jay Gibbons deserves to make it, and Sidney deserves to make it. I think we have more than one guy who should be there this year, and I probably couldn't have said that the last few years."

Aruban prospect

The pipeline to Aruba might be siphoning another player into the organization.

Center fielder Rayon Lampe, 16, worked out for the Orioles again yesterday. He'll be a high school senior and is eligible to sign with any club.

"We like him very much," said Jesus "Chu" Halabi, the Orioles' Caribbean scouting supervisor.

"A lot of teams are interested. He can run. He has a good, strong arm and he can hit. He knows everything to do with the bat. He can go to the opposite field and he can drive the ball. And he's so young."

Halabi, who signed Ponson and former Orioles Eugene Kingsale, Calvin Maduro and Radhames Dykhoff out of Aruba, has worked with Lampe for the past four years.

"He's a very, very good kid," Halabi said. "He loves to play the game and he loves the Orioles."

Waiting on Segui

David Segui remained out of the lineup last night, but he did some hitting before the game to test his sore right knee.

Segui indicated on Friday that he probably would undergo a magnetic resonance imaging test if the knee didn't improve enough to allow him to play.

"It's still a day-to-day thing," Hargrove said. "I know there have been discussions about an MRI, but I don't know that one is imminent."

Once again, Hargrove's bench consisted of backup catcher Geronimo Gil, rookie infielder Carlos Mendez and Rule 5 shortstop Jose Morban.

"You do what you do with what you've got," he said. "I like our team the way it is. I don't know of many guys in our lineup that I'd necessarily want to pinch-hit for."

Hargrove said if Segui was healthy, he probably would have pinch-hit for catcher Brook Fordyce in the eighth inning Friday. Fordyce hit a tie-breaking two-run double.

100 club

The Orioles have three players on pace to exceed 100 RBIs this season: Gibbons, Jeff Conine and Tony Batista. No player in the organization has reached that mark since Albert Belle in 2000.

"They're all capable of doing that. I don't think it should surprise any of us," Hargrove said.

Conine drove in 105 runs with the Florida Marlins in 1995. Gibbons' career high is 69, set last year. Batista had 114 RBIs with the Blue Jays in 2000.

All Greek to them

The Orioles have placed outfielder Nick Markakis, their first-round pick in this year's draft, and infielder Chris Lemonis on the temporarily inactive list so they can play for the Greek national team in the European Championships. Orioles majority owner Peter Angelos is funding the Greek team.

Sun staff writer Joe Christensen contributed to this article.

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