Relievers try to zero in on securing jobs

The Baltimore Sun

VERO BEACH, FLA. -- While the Orioles deliberate whether to start the season with 12 or 13 pitchers, their leading candidates to earn a spot jostle for placement on firmer ground.

Jeremy Guthrie, Todd Williams and Rob Bell began yesterday with a combined ERA of 1.07, and it dropped after the Orioles had completed an 8-0 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Guthrie threw two scoreless innings in relief of starter Steve Trachsel, and Williams struck out three and held the Dodgers without a run in the ninth despite allowing a hit and walking a batter. Bell made the trip but didn't pitch.

Closer Chris Ray, Danys Baez, Jamie Walker, Chad Bradford and Scott Williamson will fill five of the spots, assuming they're healthy enough to pitch on Opening Day. That leaves two or three vacancies, depending on how the Orioles construct their roster and whether they're willing to play with a short bench.

Guthrie, who is out of options, has enough supporters in the organization that he's expected to make the club, though manager Sam Perlozzo offered no guarantees yesterday. Guthrie has allowed two runs in 12 innings this spring.

"He's pitched well enough, up to this point, to make himself a serious [contender] for a spot on this team," Perlozzo said.

Last week, vice president Jim Duquette suggested the Orioles were likely to keep a second left-hander, which enhanced John Parrish's chances of sticking. If they also want to retain Williams and carry seven pitchers in the bullpen, they won't have a traditional long reliever.

"I don't know exactly what they're looking for," said Bell, who hasn't allowed a run in nine innings. "I mean, if Jeremy Guthrie makes the team and he's the long man, I don't know how many long men you keep. I don't know exactly what their plan is. It's tough enough to be a baseball player, let alone GM.

"I know that I can fit into a number of different roles here with this club. What they're expecting out of me or what they want out of me, that hasn't been completely addressed yet."

Williams has permitted 12 hits in 7 1/3 innings, but only one of the four runs off him is earned.

"I came here in the best shape of my career," he said. "I've been doing things early and staying here late to do my work. I'm proud of the fact that I've stayed on my program. Pitching-wise, I've given up some hits, but most of the hits have been ground balls, so I'm walking out of my games with a positive attitude.

"I don't know what else I can do."

Markakis on a tear

The wind assisted Nick Markakis in the first inning. After that, he didn't need much help.

Markakis homered twice, tripled, singled and drove in four runs. His opposite-field shot in the first off Brett Tomko was carried by a strong gust.

"The first one was questionable," said Markakis, who's hitting .404. "I hit it good, but it was probably one of those spring training home runs. Kind of makes up for the ones you hit hard right at people."

Markakis cleared the center-field fence in the third and tripled in the fourth, both times scoring Corey Patterson. He singled in the sixth and would have collected another RBI, except Trachsel was the lead runner and wisely held at third.

"No home-plate collisions," Trachsel said.

Trachsel impressive

The weak link, statistically, in the Orioles' pitching chain this spring, Trachsel shut out the Dodgers on two hits over six innings - easily his longest and most impressive outing since signing as a free agent.

"My location was really good today, especially down in the zone," said Trachsel, who had an 8.18 ERA in four previous starts. "It's an extension of what we've been working on since I got here. I was definitely ahead in the count a lot better today as well."

Trachsel still is trying to tighten his curveball, which he described as "loopy." He didn't throw his sinker except in the bullpen and between innings.

"My changeup has been good all spring, which is probably not normal for me," he said. "My fastball location gets better. If it keeps getting better every time out, I'll be real happy."

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