Liz makes strides

The Baltimore Sun

Orioles manager Dave Trembley took the ball from pitcher Radhames Liz last night, patted him a few times on the shoulder and said, "Nice going, nice going."

It was a kind and heartfelt send-off for a rookie whose confidence appeared to show some cracks after his most recent start, and who did enough in his return to warrant a little love.

Melvin Mora's bases-loaded single in the fifth inning delivered two runs and broke a tie, and Liz improved on two straight poor outings to lift the Orioles over the Toronto Blue Jays, 8-3, before an announced 12,772 at Camden Yards.

Liz worked into the sixth inning for only the second time in his past six appearances, allowing three runs in 5 2/3 innings. He walked six batters and threw only 44 of 89 pitches for strikes, but he again benefited from the Orioles' generous support. They have scored six runs or more in six of his past seven starts.

"I'm happy with what I did," he said. "I know I walked a lot of guys, but all my pitches were working - my slider, my changeup - and when I walked guys, I slowed down everything and threw the pitch I had to throw."

A late addition to the Orioles' lineup, Adam Jones hit a two-run homer in the third inning that gave the Orioles a 3-1 lead before the Blue Jays scored twice in the fifth.

Brian Roberts' one-out double in the bottom half sparked the decisive rally, which included Luke Scott's RBI single off reliever Brandon League, and Ramon Hernandez added a two-run shot in the eighth.

Jones, who missed Sunday's series finale against the Detroit Tigers with a swollen right ankle, drove the first pitch from Toronto starter Jesse Litsch (8-7) over the right-field fence for his sixth home run.

A separate injury almost felled Jones in the fifth. Unable to run down Alex Rios' run-scoring double in right-center field, Jones slammed into the fence and crumbled to the warning track before slowly rising to his feet. Rios cut the Orioles' lead to 3-2, and Rod Barajas' sacrifice fly tied the score.

"I was in between jumping and I just didn't jump," Jones said. "I didn't have any choice but to run into the wall."

At least Liz (4-2) didn't hit the proverbial one until the sixth. He couldn't get through four innings in his previous two starts, reaching his nadir on July 12 in Boston, when he allowed eight runs in 2 1/3 innings, including three homers.

The Orioles (48-50) continue to debate whether Liz should remain a starter or evolve into a reliever. The idea of slipping him into a bullpen role gains momentum each time he struggles to keep his delivery compact as his innings increase in a game.

"I think it gives us an option," Trembley said. "There is not a consensus of opinion yet which direction we want to go with that, but that is an option."

Trembley has noted Liz's tendency to pitch backward in terms of strategy, working both sides of the plate early, falling behind in the count and bringing the ball to the middle. Trembley compares that pattern to "stepping in the ring of fire" and reminded his young starter to establish the fastball first and then expand the zone.

"He was trying to locate more in the middle of the plate and down [last night], either down in or down and away," said Trembley, whose team escaped last place in the American League East. "The times before, it looked like he was pitching on the chalk lines of both batter's boxes and then he'd fall behind and groove it. Tonight was more in tune with what we're talking about."

Liz threw two bullpen sessions since facing the Red Sox before the break. But the Orioles were just as interested in his head as his right arm.

"He just looked a whole lot more confident pitching here," Trembley said. "His ball-strike ratio obviously is not going to get him by at this level. He's going to get burned at some point because these guys are too good of hitters. They're going to make you pay for those walks. But as long as he located, he's headed back in the right direction."

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