O's bullpen says Trembley earns save

The Baltimore Sun

SEATTLE -- The process starts before each game when Dave Trembley seeks out his relievers in the clubhouse or on the field and tells them what to expect in the hours ahead. His message is usually clear and concise.

"[Chris] Ray and [Jamie] Walker had pitched three days in a row and [Paul] Shuey had pitched two and been up once, so I said, 'You guys aren't pitching tonight,' " Trembley said before the Orioles' series opener against the Seattle Mariners on Monday. "Then, I told [Danys] Baez, 'You're my closer tonight, and [Chad] Bradford, you got the eighth.' "

When Trembley took over as interim manager after Sam Perlozzo was fired June 18, he talked about instilling a winning attitude and doing things the right way. He mandated that his players take infield practice before series openers and stretch as a group rather than in two units.

But also among his priorities was soothing the tired arms and damaged psyches of his bullpen, a group that underwent a $42 million overhaul in the offseason.

"We're trying to make everybody feel important, make everybody know that they're major league pitchers and they have some worth as far as making contributions to what this team is all about," Trembley said. "That goes back to the first day when we talked about maybe healing some wounds a little bit. That related particularly to the bullpen."

Trembley has tried to use Walker and Bradford less and Ray only in save situations or tie games. He has showed faith in the struggling Baez and John Parrish, and he used Shuey and Rob Bell in about every conceivable role, from multi-inning to tight, late-game situations.

He has promised his relievers that when they warm up, they're going into the game. And he has done it while preaching a message that the sum is greater than its parts.

"I think it's about communication, I really do," Trembley said. "I think it's respecting them. What those guys thrive on is competition, but they only want to compete when they're at the top of their games. They don't want to compete when their arm's sore, their back's sore, they've thrown five of the past six days."

There still have been tough times for the bullpen, which has compiled a 4.89 ERA (third worst in the major leagues), a statistic that has given more credence to industry criticism of the Orioles' front office for its aggressive bullpen expenditures.

Orioles relievers also have piled up a major league-high 22 losses. In contrast, the St. Louis Cardinals and Mariners each have five, one fewer than Ray and the same number that Baez has accumulated.

In Trembley's managerial debut against the San Diego Padres on June 19, the bullpen gave up seven earned runs in 3 1/3 innings. On Wednesday, Bradford issued a bases-loaded walk to allow the winning run in the eighth inning, derailing a gritty four-run comeback against the Mariners. In between, though, the Orioles have gotten mostly solid relief work.

In 26 games with Trembley at the helm, the bullpen has a 4.22 ERA. That compares with a 5.16 ERA through the first 69 games under Perlozzo. "Maybe it has something to do with the way we're being used, I don't know," Bradford said. "But I do know that everybody feels good with what's been happening."

That wasn't always the case under Perlozzo. Relievers grumbled that they were asked to warm up too often without being used. "It seemed that we were up a lot, just in case," Walker said.

They felt Perlozzo became too reliant on Bradford, Walker, Ray and Baez, and that he would use the other relievers - such as Scott Williamson, Kurt Birkins and Parrish - only when the game was out of hand. Ray, in his second year as the Orioles' closer, was used five times in a little more than the first two months to close out leads of four runs or more.

"I think allowing my arm to rest and not throwing me out there in four- or five-run games helps me in the long run," Ray said.

Bradford, Walker, Ray and Baez were all on pace to break the club record for appearances - 76 by B.J. Ryan in 2003 and 2004 and Tippy Martinez in 1982 - through 60 games.

"I don't want to say anything of what happened in the past, but what's happening right now is we have great communication with the manager and the management," Baez said. "They tell you what part of the game you're going to have and what kind of role you're going to have that day. That's the way it should be."

Perlozzo, however, often didn't have a choice. He was hampered by the starters' inability to go deep into games early in the season. Orioles starters went at least seven innings in only four of the first 27 games.

The bullpen lacked a suitable long man for parts of the season, and the struggles of Baez and Ray at the back end also proved crippling.

"If you look at it, we had four guys that were on pace to throw like 100 games, and that won't work out," Walker said. "You can't use the same guys all the time. But I don't think it was Sam's fault. The starters got beat up early and ... we couldn't get anybody out, so you have to go to the next guy. ...

"The game dictates it pretty much, but my opinion on Trem is that he runs the bullpen pretty well. He's very prepared, very detailed and very calm. He demands the respect."

Walker, signed as a left-handed specialist, is pitching about once every two games under Trembley, virtually the same level of activity under Perlozzo. But Walker has a 0.87 ERA in his past 13 appearances as opposed to 3.55 in his first 35.

Bradford has seen his workload decrease under Trembley, appearing in one of every 2.5 games, rather than one in every 1.8 games under Perlozzo. The submariner has a 1.50 ERA in 11 games since Trembley took over. With Perlozzo, Bradford had a 3.76 ERA in 38 games.

However, Walker and Bradford each have made 49 appearances, one off the American League lead held by the Toronto Blue Jays' Scott Downs, and they remain on pace to set a franchise record.

Lately though, Trembley has used Shuey, Baez and even Bell, the veteran long man, to get some key outs late in games.

"It's slowed down, which is good," Bradford said. "But that goes back to using everybody. Everybody down there is getting used. People are getting a chance to get out there and contribute."

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

Better relief

Orioles relievers Jamie Walker and Chad Bradford have posted better ERAs since Dave Trembley became interim manager:

Pitcher ....................Through 6/17 .......... Since 6/18

Walker .......................... 3.55 ........................... 0.87

Bradford ...................... 3.76 .......................... 1.50

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