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Orioles sign LHP to minor league deal, hope to add another

Looking to augment their left-handed bullpen depth, the Orioles have agreed to a minor league deal with one pitcher and are among five teams left in the mix for the best remaining southpaw reliever on the market.

The Orioles on Tuesday signed Clay Rapada to a minor league deal with an invitation to spring training. Rapada, 29, had a 4.00 ERA in 13 September appearances in 2010 for the Texas Rangers, and lefties have hit just .186 against him during his big league career, which spans parts of four seasons.

The Rapada signing will not preclude the Orioles from remaining in play for Joe Beimel, the 33-year-old veteran lefty who has a minor league offer from the club, or from potentially re-signing 36-year-old Mark Hendrickson, who has pitched the previous two seasons with the club.

"We're still pursuing other pitchers as well," said Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail. "We're still in the hunt for lefties."

Rapada was given his unconditional release Jan.14 after making 13 relief appearances in September for the American League-champion Rangers, and pitching three times in the A.L. championship series against the New York Yankees.

Lefties went just 1-for-19 (.053) with two walks and four strikeouts against him during the 2010 regular season. He faced three batters in the ALCS, registering a strikeout and allowing a single and a walk. Those numbers came after he compiled a 1.82 ERA in 50 appearances for Triple-A Oklahoma City.

The Virginia native, who was signed by the Chicago Cubs as an amateur free agent in 2002 and made his major league debut for them in 2007, also pitched parts of three seasons with the Detroit Tigers. In his big league career, the sidearmer has held left-handed hitters to a .186 average — 13-for-70 with one homer, 11 walks and 18 Ks against him.

"We just felt it was important to get more left-handed in the bullpen," MacPhail said. "He has a unique delivery and he's enjoyed some success throughout his career. We're happy to have him in the fold."

For now, Michael Gonzalez is the primary lefty in the bullpen with Rapada competing for the specialist role with Pedro Viola, who has pitched in just 11 major league games; and Troy Patton, who has four games of major league service and is now facing DWI charges in Texas.

If Beimel is signed, however, he immediately becomes the overwhelming favorite for the second lefty spot. An industry source said Beimel has received serious interest from five teams, including the Orioles, Boston Red Sox and another American League team, and could make a decision this week. The Orioles have offered only a minor league deal with a spring invitation at this point, but it's possible a guaranteed roster spot could be dangled before a decision is made.

That may not make a difference, however, because Beimel's opportunity to make the 2011 Orioles seems iron-clad.

In 2010, he went 1-2 with a 3.40 ERA in 71 games for the Colorado Rockies and has made 60 or more appearances in each of his past five seasons. Left-handed hitters batted .221 with a .275 on-base percentage against Beimel in 2010, while righties hit .329 against him. In his career, lefties have hit .259 (.320 OBP) versus Beimel while right-handers have hit .288 (.367 OBP).

It is unclear how many of the five teams have offered Beimel a big-league deal. He settled for a minor-league offer with the Rockies last year and didn't sign until March in each of the past two offseasons.

A western Pennsylvania native who went to Duquesne University, Beimel has pitched with six different major league clubs since making his debut with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2001.

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

dan.connolly@baltsun.com

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