Despite spending $42 million to strengthen their bullpen following the 2006 season, the Baltimore Orioles didn’t come close to getting the desired results.
They used a different philosophy this past summer, and so far, the relievers have been the team’s biggest strength.
Baltimore seeks its third straight win Saturday night when it continues a four-game series against the visiting Seattle Mariners.
Signing relievers Danys Baez, Jamie Walker and Chad Bradford to big contracts after the 2006 season didn’t pay off for the Orioles (2-1), who finished 70-92 - the franchise’s 10th straight losing season. A bullpen that posted a dismal 5.71 ERA was among the biggest culprits.
While Walker and Bradford pitched effectively in spurts, Baez, signed to a three-year, $19 million contract, was a bust, going 0-6 with a 6.44 ERA before he was sidelined late in the season with a right elbow injury.
Adding to Baltimore’s bullpen woes were the struggles of closer Chris Ray, who didn’t pitch again after going on the 15-day DL in July with an elbow injury.
Both Baez and Ray are likely to miss the entire 2007 season following elbow surgeries.
Knowing they would be without their closer and set-up man, the Orioles acquired current closer George Sherrill from Seattle (2-2) in the Erik Bedard trade, and picked up relievers Dennis Sarfate and Matt Albers from Houston as part of the Miguel Tejada deal.
The Orioles’ bullpen worked 8 2-3 scoreless innings in the first two games of the season against Tampa Bay, allowing two hits with two walks and six strikeouts.
They worked 2 1/3 more shutout innings in Friday’s 7-4 victory over Seattle before Aquino gave up a two-run homer to Richie Sexson in the ninth. Sherrill recorded the final two outs against his former team for his second save in as many chances.
“You get pitching, defense and timely hitting, you’re going to win,” Orioles manager Dave Trembley said.
Baltimore’s bullpen has a 1.50 ERA in 12 innings.
Ramon Hernandez had his first three hits of the season, including a homer, and Kevin Millar and Melvin Mora also went deep for the Orioles, who climbed above .500 for the first time since last April 25, when they were 11-10.
Adam Loewen (2-0, 3.56 ERA) makes his first appearance in nearly a year for Baltimore. The left-hander, who turns 24 on Wednesday, was limited to six starts last season after suffering a stress fracture in his left elbow. He pitched effectively before the injury, allowing three earned runs or fewer in five of those six outings.
“I said this the last two years: This is the biggest year of my career. I want to see where I stack up in the league,” Loewen said. “It’s just a real exciting season for me, one that I can’t let get away.”
Loewen made his only career start against the Mariners on July 31, 2006, when he gave up five runs in six innings of a 10-5 loss.
Miguel Batista (0-0, 0.00) makes his first start of the season and his second appearance for Seattle (2-2). Batista was pressed into duty as a closer on Wednesday against Texas, after J.J. Putz went on the disabled list earlier in the day. The veteran right-hander worked a perfect ninth for his first save since he had 39 for Toronto in 2005.
Batista led Seattle with 16 wins last season, and finished just behind Jarrod Washburn for the team lead with 190 innings pitched. Batista is 0-3 with a 10.95 ERA in three career starts against the Orioles - all coming during the 2004 season with Toronto.