NEW YORK -- Orioles veterans get a kick out of rookie Brandon Fahey.
They've watched his rise from scrawny unknown in spring training to utility option No. 1 with as much amazement as anyone.
"He's one of those guys who shows up in spring training and all of a sudden guys are like, 'Oh, he's fun to watch play,'" second baseman Brian Roberts said. "Those are the kind of guys you root for. They're always prepared. They're always ready. He knows how to play the game and when he's in there, he gives us a good spark. So yeah, we all enjoy him as a person, we enjoy him as a player."
Fahey, listed at 6 feet 2 and 160 pounds, has played second base, shortstop, third base and the outfield and appeared reasonably comfortable in each spot. Manager Sam Perlozzo routinely bats him second against right-handers, figuring the rookie can bunt, run and put the ball in play when needed.
"We don't know much about him the first day he came here, but in baseball, it don't matter how big you are if you work," shortstop Miguel Tejada said. "That's what he's doing. He has worked really hard. That's why he's doing so good now."
Fahey, who had two hits, an RBI and a stolen base in last night's win over the New York Mets, produced a signature at-bat in the seventh inning of Friday's game. He appeared overmatched by Mets reliever Aaron Heilman's fastballs but managed to foul them off instead of swinging through them. Finally, he timed one well enough to bloop it just over third baseman David Wright for the game-winning hit.
Fahey has said all season that he'll do anything he can to help the team and stay on the roster. That utility-man ethic could lead to a productive career, teammates said.
"Guys who have that label take pride in doing it well," Roberts said. "It helps them stay in the game awhile if you can do that. And it means a lot to the team. They're crucial to good teams."
Every day during the season's first month, Perlozzo seemed to face the same unpleasant questions about his bullpen. Closer Chris Ray jumped to a fantastic start but all too often, other relievers couldn't hold leads in the middle innings.
That's all changed since the club called up left-hander Kurt Birkins from Triple-A Ottawa and right-hander Chris Britton from Double-A Bowie.
After Britton pitched a perfect inning Friday, the pair were a combined 2-1 with a 1.87 ERA and had allowed runs in only five of 36 combined appearances. Since the Orioles promoted Birkins on May 2, the overall bullpen ERA has dropped from 6.47 to 4.63.
"I think the emergence of Britton and Birkins to be able to come in like they have has allowed us to get through later into games that we were having trouble with," Perlozzo said. "They've been able to fill those gaps that we were having so much trouble filling. So that's been key for us."
When Ramon Hernandez was ejected for arguing strikes Friday, Perlozzo found himself one step from a conundrum he had dreaded for much of the season.
He had no immediate problem, because Javy Lopez slid neatly into Hernandez's spot. But if Lopez had turned an ankle or felt a twinge in his back, the team's catcher would have been ... Kevin Millar? Fahey?
Managers love the security offered by a third catcher, especially when the backup often starts at designated hitter, as Lopez does. That's why the club carried light-hitting Raul Chavez, even though he rarely played.
But the Orioles finally decided they weren't doing themselves or Chavez any good and designated him for assignment. Hernandez and Lopez make a dandy combination most of the time, but if one or both were to go out mid-game, well, Perlozzo usually laughs at the idea of what would ensue.
No one else on the roster has professional catching experience. Millar's apparent willingness to do anything makes him the first line of defense. And Fahey has already shown himself to be a superb utility option.
"We heard that Fahey said he could catch and, personally, I'm more interested to see that one," Roberts said with a laugh.