Ball exits yard, but confidence stays for Ray

The Baltimore Sun

SEATTLE -- As a first-year closer last season, Chris Ray was perfect in his first 18 save opportunities. He thought about that stretch yesterday less than 24 hours after he gave up a walk-off home run to Vladimir Guerrero for his fourth blown save this season. What he concluded was that not much has really changed since last season, except the results.

"When you look at the numbers part of it, my strikeouts have been up this year," said Ray, who blew only five saves last year, and didn't blow his fourth until Sept. 14. "The biggest thing is my luck is down so far this year. Like that pitch [to Guerrero] was up; instead of guys swinging and popping it up, it's a home run. I just got to keep plugging away and make better pitches.

"That's really how it is. At the end of the year if you take back a few pitches, you could lower your ERA substantially. That's just the way the game is. That's why it's so important to minimize your mistakes because most of the time you're not going to get away with it."

Ray stressed again yesterday that he remains confident and the fact that he has already given up a major-league high three walk-off hits this season will be long forgotten by the time he takes the mound next.

Ray's teammates also came to his defense, maintaining that they still have confidence in the 25-year-old closer.

"That's going to happen," reliever Jamie Walker said. "He's got a good makeup. [Stuff] happens and he'll be back. We're behind him 100 percent. It's not easy. He faced a pretty damn good hitter yesterday."

Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo said the club is sticking with Ray, though he acknowledged that they don't have much of a choice. However, Ray's numbers in save situations and with runners on base have become a great concern for the club.

In save situations this year, Ray has an 8.18 ERA spanning 13 2/3 innings. In nonsave situations, he has yet to allow an earned run in 13 innings. With nobody on base, Ray is holding opposing hitters to a .157 batting average, a .181 on-base percentage and a .171 slugging percentage. With runners on, hitters are batting .345 against him with a .486 on-base and a .724 slugging percentage.

"The only thing I can think of is I'm not giving myself enough time to lift my arm out of the stretch," Ray said. "I'm kind of rushing a little bit instead of taking my time and getting my arm up where it needs to be so I can put it in the location I want."

Gibbons sits again

Though Perlozzo said the club has not discussed sending struggling designated hitter Jay Gibbons to the minor leagues to work on rediscovering his swing, he acknowledged that it is an "interesting thought."

As a player with six years of service time, Gibbons would have to consent to the assignment, so it could be a moot point anyway.

"There's no punishment around here," Perlozzo said. "We want people to get better and get back on track. It's an interesting thought, but I've never thought about that."

Gibbons was not in the starting lineup yesterday after playing the previous two games. He didn't have a hit in his past 22 at-bats and was also just 4-for-38 in his past 12 games going into last night. Perlozzo spoke to Gibbons during batting practice yesterday in an attempt to relax the player, who is hitting just .205 with three home runs and 12 RBIs.

"He's going to come out and hit early tomorrow," Perlozzo said of Gibbons. "I wish I knew the exact answer what his problem is. I'd guess a lot of it has to do with his confidence level right now and being able to relax at the plate and just let himself do what he needs to do."

Burres back to 'pen

After his start tonight, Brian Burres will return to the bullpen to serve as the Orioles' long reliever, at least on a temporary basis, Perlozzo said. Because the Orioles have two off days within the next week, Perlozzo will skip Burres' spot the next time it comes up in the rotation.

The Orioles don't need a fifth starter until they face the Arizona Diamondbacks on June 16 at Camden Yards.

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