At the outset of this season, one of the Orioles' primary goals was to identify younger players for the future.
The losing record and last-place finish would be tolerable if proper building blocks were established. So the frustration level of Orioles manager Dave Trembley boiled over the past few weeks, not because of the continual losses, but because borderline major leaguers were getting ample opportunities and few were seizing them.
Yesterday, after the Orioles beat the Minnesota Twins, 7-3, to avoid a home sweep, Trembley saw some glimpses of what could be.
"I think today was a game that gives us something to be excited about for the future," Trembley said. "We had a lot of young guys that played and contributed."
Rookie starter Radhames Liz, who entered the game with a 7.75 ERA, pitched eight shutout innings for just his second win in six starts. He was supported by five Orioles home runs, two each from Nick Markakis and Oscar Salazar - as the Orioles secured a rare easy victory before an announced 18,559.
"Radhames had a good game, and we beat a good team," Trembley said. "That's got to give you some incentive for the rest of the season and also kind of be a benchmark for what the possibilities are."
The Orioles (66-82) were on the verge of their first shutout since Aug. 9, but closer George Sherrill, making his first appearance in nearly a month, allowed three runs in the ninth.
The key for Liz (6-5) was simple. He walked only one batter - something he had done just one other time in his past nine starts. He threw a first-pitch strike to six of the first 10 batters he faced and retired the first seven in order.
"We hoped he was going to walk some guys. He didn't, and he's thrown well against us before," Minnesota Twins first baseman and Most Valuable Player candidate Justin Morneau said. "He's a guy that's got as good of stuff as anybody in the league. He pitched today, he didn't just throw, and he threw pretty well."
Liz, who surrendered just five hits and only once allowed more than one base runner in an inning, said his goal was to make the Twins swing. "That was the deal," Liz said. "They were trying to get ahead because we did walk a lot of guys [Saturday]."
Liz, 24, isn't the only Oriole playing to impress for next year. Rookie Lou Montanez, 26, hoping to make the 2009 team as an outfielder, hit his second homer of the season in the fourth inning against Minnesota starter Nick Blackburn (10-9).
It followed Salazar's second homer of the day and third in two games. Salazar, 30, a journeyman corner infielder, has five homers in 45 big league at-bats this season as he tries to win a job as a right-handed reserve. Not a bad showing for a guy who two years ago was playing in an Italian professional league.
"I think Italy is like the last place you can be in baseball," said Salazar, ecstatic after his first multi-homer day in the majors. "There's no jobs [elsewhere], nothing to do in Mexico, so you have to go to Italy."
Trembley said he isn't promising anyone jobs for 2009. Still, it is what he yearns to see in a lost season: young players seizing chances, especially pitchers.
"The ball looked different coming out of Radhames' hand today, didn't it?" Trembley said. "That's not taking away from anybody else, but he looked like a major league pitcher today. That's the way it's supposed to be."