SEATTLE -- When he was studying videotape of his struggles recently, Orioles closer Chris Ray's attention was grabbed, not by something he was doing, but rather by a tendency of the hitters he was facing.
"I was just looking at it and guys were taking huge cuts on the first pitch," he said. "They were just waiting and expecting the fastball."
That led Ray to conclude he needed to do a much better job of mixing up his pitches, especially early in counts. The 25-year-old credits his ability to do that for his recent string of effective outings.
Ray, who didn't pitch last night after appearing in three straight games, hasn't given up a run in five straight outings. During that period, Ray was 1-0 with three saves and a 0.00 ERA, and had allowed just one hit and two walks, while striking out 10 batters in five innings.
It has been more of what the Orioles have expected from their second-year closer, who before this stretch had allowed runs in seven of 10 outings. That prompted interim manager Dave Trembley to say that Ray would likely not be used in every save opportunity.
"I'm coming in and mixing up my pitches a lot more, instead of just throwing fastball, fastball and fastball," said Ray, who has 16 saves in 20 opportunities. "That's my best pitch, but I need to mix it up so hitters keep guessing. It causes a lot of swings and misses and it causes a lot of mis-hits. Now, if I throw a slider on the first pitch, that could be in the back of [a hitter's] head."
Trembley credited Ray's recent improvement to three factors - better mechanics, better fastball location and more confidence. Ray has slightly altered his mechanics in an effort to slow his delivery with men on base.
"I thought before he was rushing, getting out there too quick. His arm was dragging. He had a different arm slot on different pitches. Then, his pace between pitches was way too quick," Trembley said. "But he's slowed himself down. He's had a good fastball. I think the last few times he's pitched, it's been strike one a lot. ... When he was going through that rough spell, it would be ball three and 3-2 and it seemed to be a hittable pitch. He's staying out of hitters' counts and he's pitching ahead. He's staying around the strike zone when he's getting two strikes."
Ray said he finally feels the way he did last season, when he saved 33 games in 38 opportunities.
"I expected a lot from myself, too. I expected to do the same as I did last year if not better," he said. "But I feel like I'm getting into a groove. If I make a bad pitch, I know what happened and I can make an adjustment and correct it."
Loewen drops by
Because his Surrey, British Columbia, home is just two hours away from Seattle's Safeco Field, Adam Loewen took a break from his rehabilitation schedule to reunite with his teammates last night.
Loewen had season-ending surgery to repair a stress fracture on his left elbow on June 14, and he has been spending most of his time at home.
"It's good to see the guys," he said. "I've been away for like two weeks now, so I get baseball withdrawal. I just want to be around the team and support them whenever I can."
Loewen said his rehab is going well, though he won't know when he can resume throwing until Aug. 6.
"I just started running about two weeks ago and I have full range of motion now in my arm," he said. "I go in about three times a week to downtown Vancouver and work out with one of the [Los Angeles] Lakers' trainers there. He works on my range of motion with me, and we do like a pool leg workout after that."
Around the horn
Trembley said Bruce Kison, who had been helping out in the bullpen, has resumed his scouting duties and that Orlando Gomez has been appointed the interim bullpen coach. ... Shortstop Miguel Tejada, who's on the disabled list with a fractured left wrist, arrived at Safeco Field around game time and is expected to do soft toss or hit off a tee tonight. He will get X-rays next Tuesday and then begin the second phase of his rehab program, Trembley said. ... Trembley said he likely won't make a decision on Garrett Olson's future in the rotation until later this week.