Things are looking up in Aberdeen, where the IronBirds have won three in a row and five of seven through Saturday to improve to 17-27 in the Single-A New York Penn League.
Much of the improvement can be attributed to their pitching duo of right-hander Radhames Liz and left-hander Garrett Olson. Liz and Olson both throw in the low-to-mid-90s.
In his second year in the Orioles' system, the 22-year-old Liz (5-3) gave up two hits and struck out nine in six innings of a 6-1 win over Batavia on Thursday.
On Friday night, the 6-foot-1, 200-pound Olson (2-1, 1.24 ERA) stopped the Muckdogs on three hits, with four strikeouts in six innings of a 2-0 victory.
"They're literally blowing everyone away," said David Stockstill, the Orioles' director of minor league operations. "They're special, with outstanding arms and are very mature."
Their efforts may be contagious because Bradley Bergesen got his first win Saturday night by working five innings (eight hits, one strikeout) in a 3-0 win over Batavia. Blake Owen (1-1, 0.48 ERA) notched his seventh save.
Mechanically, Liz is a bit unor- thodox the way he comes off the pitching rubber. The 6-2, 170-pound right-hander falls toward the first base side, with his right foot crossing over his left, a la former St. Louis Cardinals great Bob Gibson, and finishes straight up.
"I told our people when I first saw him last year that he throws a lot like Bob Gibson did," Stockstill said.
"But we are looking to get him a little more rhythm and fluid so there is less stress on his arm from being straight up."
Liz doesn't have the kind of fastball, size and athleticism that Gibson had, but the native of the Dominican Republic throws 93-94 mph and occasionally hits 97, according to Stockstill.
Liz leads the league in ERA (0.96) and strikeouts (71 in 47 innings) as he works on improving his curveball and changeup.
Olson, 21, who has struck out 27 in 29 innings, was the Orioles' first-round sandwich pick out of Cal Poly and signed for $650,000. His fastball is 88-91 mph, and he mixes it well with what Orioles scout Dean Albany said is "an above average major league curveball, and he has above average life on his fastball. There's nothing that will keep that kid out of the big leagues."
Second baseman Bernie Castro took over the International League lead in hits (132), is third in batting average (.324), fifth in stolen bases (29) and 13th in runs (64) for the 58-56 Lynx, which had won three in a row through Saturday.
Right-hander Tony Fiore (8-3, 3.61 ERA) started the winning streak with a 4-3 win over Scranton on Thursday. Fiore gave up eight hits in eight innings.
Penn is back at Bowie and has struggled.
"This has been a pretty good pitching staff and I look for good things to come from Hayden [Penn], now that all the trade talk pressure is off," said Bowie pitching coach Larry McCall on Wednesday before Penn (5-5, 4.22 ERA) went out Friday night and struck out 12, giving up two hits in a 7-1 win over Erie.
Starters Cory Morris (6-4, 2.64 ERA), Eric DuBose (8-10, 3.25 ERA) and Ryan Keefer (5-3, 2.93 ERA), along with relievers Scott Rice (4-1, 2.69 ERA), Chris Piersoll (5-0, 1.45 ERA) and Sendy Rleal (3-3, 1.86 ERA, 13 saves) have thrown well.
Outfielder Nick Markakis, who was batting .300 with 12 homers and 62 RBIs at Single-A Frederick before being promoted to Bowie, has had at least one hit in the six games he has played and is batting .409.
"I'm excited to be up here at Bowie," said Markakis, who has two homers and nine RBIs in six games. "The pitchers' location is better, and they have better off-speed stuff. You have to be patient, sit back on the pitch and wait, and drive the ball."
The Keys (21-16, .568) were within a half-game of Northern Division-leading Lynchburg (24-18, .571) through Saturday in the Carolina League.
James Johnson notched his league-leading 10th win (10-6, 3.47 ERA) last week and also leads in strikeouts (131 in 127 innings) for the Keys. Adam Loewen (6-7, 3.89 ERA) also won for the fourth time in five starts.
Luis Ramirez (8-5, 2.54 ERA), Kevin Hart (7-7, 5.05 ERA) and Carlos Perez (9-6, 3.86 ERA) are first, third and fifth in strikeouts in the South Atlantic League with 128, 123 and 116, respectively.
Outfielder Jason Fransz (.297) is on a tear for the league-leading Shorebirds (27-13) with six homers and 19 RBIs in his past 13 games to increase his totals to 17 homers (10th in league) and 79 RBIs (third).
Stu Musslewhite, 22, a shortstop, is batting .319. His average is seventh in the Appalachian League (for those who qualify). Rene Aqueron is hitting .437 in 87 at-bats.
Orioles farm report
Ottawa's Andy Mitchell, a 26-year-old right-hander, is 8-0 in 61 2/3 innings. He's made 37 relief appearances and no starts.
After dropping 79 points to .234, Bluefield catcher Brandon Snyder, the Orioles' No. 1 draft pick, went 8-for-18 in five games to climb 46 points to .280.
Frederick's 20-year-old Nate Spears, who is batting .295, has the Carolina League's best fielding percentage (.977) for second basemen and 12 errors in nearly 400 chances.
Baysox outfielder and leading hitter Peter Bergeron (.289) would be a .300 hitter if he fared better on the road (.248).
Thursday has not been good to the IronBirds, who are 14-24 (3-4 this season) since they started playing in 2002.
Locals Chorye Spoone (1-3, 5.87 ERA) and Brandon Erbe (1-0, 3.75 ERA) gave up a combined four hits, four walks and eight runs in 3 2/3 innings of Bluefield's 8-1 loss at Johnson City (Tenn.) on Saturday. Spoone took the loss in his first start.
The Lynx (58-56 through Saturday) need 16 wins in their last 30 games to give manager Dave Trembley 1,300 career victories (his 1,284 are third-most among active minor league managers) in his 19 years.
Position: Left-handed pitcher
Size: 6 feet 6, 230 pounds
Hometown: St. Michael's
High school: St. Michael's
College: Charleston Southern
Pro-team: Mississippi Braves in the Double-A Southern League, Atlanta Braves affiliate.
Drafted: 2001, second pick of second round, 65th player overall by Detroit Tigers; signed for $620,000.
Statistics: 3-9, 5.24 ERA, 92 2/3 innings, 107 hits, 42 walks, 51 strikeouts in 17 starts.
Skinny: A native of Green Bay, Wis., who grew up on the Eastern Shore, he's a fifth-year pro and was acquired by the Braves from Detroit in a 2003 trade.